Toma has its origins in the Alpine pastures, gradually spreading towards the lowlands over the centuries. It is Piemonte’s best-known cheese, and probably one of its oldest. It is certainly the cheese that best represents the character of this region. The age-old and deeply rooted relationship between Piemonte and its Toma is reflected in the language and local history. The first records regarding the production and use of cheese in Piemonte date back to the 11th century, when it was primarily an ingredient of “pastus”, food distributed to the poor or workers. It seems the most popular cheeses were those with a particularly pungent taste, regarded as “the cheese of the poor”. Pantaleone da Confienza explained why this was so in his “Summa lacticinorum “…while they ripen a process of fermentation takes place, causing them to develop a particularly pungent taste and making them very useful for the poor, first of all because since they are so strong, they can eat so little… Secondly, they are regarded as useful for the poor because meals that contain those cheeses are so spicy they have no need for spices or salt”. Over the centuries cheese became popular among people from all the social classes but it was not until the early 1600s that certain strict religious rules forbidding the use of cheese on days of “abstinence”, and the initial prejudices of physicians and members of the aristocracy, who
regarded it as heavy vulgar food, were completely overcome. Toma Piemontese, a cheese that originated in the mountains and valleys, gradually spread to the plains due, or rather thanks to the herdsmen. Their contribution in this respect is recorded in a work called “I margari della Provincia di Torino” (the herdsmen of the province of Turin). There is certainly no question as to Piemonte’s role in ennobling the name Toma.
The area in which Toma Piemontese DOP can be produced and ripened encompasses the administrative area of the provinces of Cuneo, Torino, Biella, Novara, Verbania, Vercelli and a number of communes in the provinces of Asti and Alessandria as established in the Production Regulations.
Toma Piemontese DOP can be made from whole or partially skimmed milk (the latter is used to produce the half-fat version). The cheese is placed in special cells to ripen for a period of minimum 15 days for the small size and minimum 60 days for the large size., although connoisseurs prefer
more mature cheeses that have been allowed to age for 6 to 8 months. Toma Piemontese comes in two sizes: large and small, weighing between 1.8 and 8 kg. It has a pale yellow to russet brown rind, depending on how long it has been allowed to ripen, and a taste that ranges from sweet to intensely fragrant in the half-fat version.
“Pocia” with Toma Piemontese
Ingredients: (serves 6)
• 500 g maize-meal
• 1/2 savoy
• 300 g pork meat
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• 100 g butter
• 1 clove of garlic – Salt – Pepper
• 600 g Toma Piemontese D.O.P.
Cut the savoy in slices and the pork meat in small cubes. Chop the garlic and fry in oil into a large saucepan. Add meat, gently fry for a while, then add savoy and simmer over a moderate heat. Add salt and pepper. Boil water in a separate saucepan, add salt and gently pour the maize-meal to make a “polenta”. Cook until thick (45 minutes circa), always stirring
by using a wooden spoon. When ready, add savoy and pork meat to the “polenta”, then 200 g Toma Piemontese and gently mix. Pour the “Pocia” into a terracotta pan. Prepare a Toma fondue, melting 400 g Toma in a bain-marie with some milk. Put the “Pocia” into hot oven for some minutes. Pour the Toma fondue over just before serving.Very good the day after too, cut into thin slices and grilled.
Recommended wine to accompany this recipe:
Roero Bianco (Sauvignon).