With the recent cold snap and our pending trip to the Auvergne mountains, what better time to enjoy a week or two of hearty, cheese-based suppers here at Food Wine Central?
Tartiflette made its annual appearance; a baked dish originating from the Haute Savoie region of the French Alps. This simple but delicious meal has just 4 ingredients: potatoes, lardons, cream and Reblochon cheese (see recipe here). And when you think of warming cheese dishes, there has to be a fondue somewhere on the menu; that iconic dish of Switzerland that I first encountered in a mountain restaurant in the Vaud canton during the late 1980s (remember when the table-top fondue set was a ‘must-have’ in every trendy household).
The traditional Swiss fondue was made with cheese leftovers melted in a pot that hung over the open fire, then hunks of bread would be dipped into the deliciously warm Swiss dish. Later versions added white wine and sometimes kirsch to give it an extra kick! To make life easier for the busy Swiss, they can now buy packs of ready-grated fondue cheese with not an open fire in sight!
Gruyère cheese is the ‘single malt’ choice in the Vaud but elsewhere in Switzerland they blend Gruyère with Emmental and other cantons combine Vacherin & Appenzeller to give a fusion of flavour.
As an accompaniment, the local white Chasselas wine is an ideal match for all these cheese combinations.
The French Fromage
In the French Alps, fondue savoyarde, is a classic well known dish; but what does it take to make the authentic version? Like their Swiss counterpart, the Savoie cook will often use Gruyère & Emmental, but it is the addition of Beaufort that will give it that extra Alpine smoothness. This mountain cheese is made from the milk of the Abondance and Tarine cows that graze in the Alpine meadows during the summer. The tranquillity of these lush pastures is transformed into the highly popular and exciting ski runs of the Savoie during the winter ski season!
In the Jura département of France, the local Comté cheese is used for their fondue Jurassienne (this cheese is also occasionally added to the fondue savoyarde). My favourite mélange is Comté, Gruyère and Emmental in equal proportions with assorted sizes of bread chunks for dipping.
The ideal accompaniment is a glass of crisp, white Savoie wine that complements it perfectly. My preferred choice from Yapp Brothers of Mere in Wiltshire can be found here – Savoie l’Orangerie.
The Italian Job
Across the border you can enjoy the Italian version called fonduta; made in the Aosta Valley using the local Fontina cheese. Eggs, milk, butter, wine and kirsch are added to the French and Swiss recipes, giving it a far denser consistency.
According to Patricia Michelson in her book “The Cheese Room”, fonduta calls for a heavier wine such as a white from the Piedmont e.g. Arneis or even a red could work well here e.g. Gamay, Pinot Noir or perhaps a vin chaud (mulled wine).
The French Fast Cheese
If you’re looking for a quick, molten cheese-fix without the cheese-grating and potato-slicing, go for a Vacherin Mont d’Or cheese from the Jura region. It comes in box a bit like camembert: wrap it in foil and bake in the oven on a medium heat for 20 minutes; then open it up, cut a circle in the top and dip some crusty bread into the warm melted oozing deliciousness.
Matched with a glass of Touraine Sauvignon or Bourgogne Aligoté, you will have a simple yet decadent supper.
We shall be taking our fondue equipment to the Auvergne so we can enjoy a traditional warming French fondue as it was intended – after a day of enjoying the cool crisp fresh mountain air. In the meantime we’ve tucked into ‘truffade auvergnate’, another cheese, potato and bacon combo, the key ingredient of which is the local Cantal cheese. The recipe is below and my preferred pairing is a glass of Gamay either from the Auvergne or Beaujolais.
Then there’s Aligot, another Auvergne speciality, but that’s probably enough cooked cheese talk for one day….
Typically this dish is made with young Cantal Laguiole cheese from the Auvergne but if you can’t get Cantal, try using a young Wensleydale cheese instead.
For four people, take 1kg of potatoes and slice them into 5mm rounds. Wash them to remove the starch, drain and dry on kitchen towel. Take a large, heavy frying pan and heat a large knob of butter and 2tbsps olive oil over a medium heat. Add the potato slices to the pan, turning regularly. If the potatoes are sticking to the pan, add a little more butter or oil. When the potatoes are softened and starting to brown, add four crushed garlic cloves and 250g lardons or auvergne sausage. Once the lardons are browned and crispy, spread the slices of cheese on the top of the pan and leave the dish to cook for another 5-10 minutes until the cheese has melted.
In Auvergne they serve this dish straight from the pan with charcuterie, salad and bread to mop up the cheese sauce.