The cheese known as Toumin dal Mel is emblematic of the Val Varaita, an Alpine valley of villages, sanctuaries, chapels and dense woods, including Alevè, the most extensive stone-pine forest in the Alps. The Val Varaita has two main geographic points of reference: the peak of Monviso, a constant backdrop, and the Varaita River, which cuts through the valley.
Families in the mountains here traditionally kept a few cows for making butter and cheese. Toumin itself has a specific date of birth: 1895. Two enterprising women decided to stop making butter, which was hard to store and sell, and instead began making a traditional type of cheese called toma, using full-fat milk. They chose a smaller size than the traditional cow’s milk tomas, and their “toumin” (small toma) proved an immediate success. From their hamlet, the highest in the Frassino municipality, the cheese began to be made in nearby villages, becoming the main source of income in the valley for at least 100 years. The market in Melle, slightly further down in the valley, became the destination for anyone who wanted to buy Toumin for resale in and around the larger towns of Cuneo and Saluzzo. Hence the name Toumin dal Mel.
Toumin cheeses are cylindrical in form with a diameter of around 10 centimeters and a height of just 1 or 2 centimeters. They weigh around 200 grams and have a soft white paste with sparse, almost non-existent eyes. After a few days of aging the cheese forms a soft, porcelain-white skin, covered in a thin layer of white mold.
The production technique has been passed down from mother to daughter over the last century. Liquid calves’ rennet is added to raw, freshly milked cow’s milk. The curds are broken into fairly large granules, then placed in molds and salted. Traditionally Toumin cheeses age on wooden shelves, on top of bamboo mats and covered by cloths, and must be turned often.
The cheeses are ready after three days but are at their best after five or six, and in some cases can age for up to a month. Young cheeses have a fragrance of fresh milk, while more complex notes of musk and forest floor develop in mature Toumins. Their flavor is initially mild and milky, becoming more intense over time.
Toumin dal Mel tends to be eaten on its own, to allow its delicate flavor to shine, but it can also be used in local dishes, for example in a sauce with melted butter for ravioles, the Val Varaita’s traditional gnocchi.
Toumin dal Mel is made all year round
To prevent this historic cheese from disappearing, it is essential to involve new producers, particularly young farmers and cheesemakers who have the courage to take a chance on this product and this area.
The Presidium has been started with the objective of working together with the Toumin dal Mel Consortium to safeguard the authentic recipe (with raw milk and without the use of selected commercial starter cultures), to promote sustainable and high-quality livestock farming (animals grazing outdoors in the summer and fed hay supplemented by cereals in the winter) with a focus on animal welfare and to support the hard work of small-scale producers willing to follow this path.
Since 1974, the Toumin del Mel Festival has been held every year in Melle on the second Sunday in August.
Melle and Frassino municipalities and Valmala hamlet in Busca municipality, Val Varaita, Cuneo province, Piedmont region
Presidium supported by
Comune di Melle, Comune di Frassino, Comune di Busca
Piero Giuseppe Garino
Borgata Val Curta, 2
Tel. +39 340 7668527
Via Provinciale, 34
Tel. +39 340 0539395