Tartiflette-The best of winter eating August 2010
Surely there is no better time to consume the good fatty and delicious treat that is baked cheese in the depths of a cold and dark winter?
I never need an excuse to be decadent I have to admit but when it comes to the simple delights of cheese-hot , gooey and spreadable over potatoes with lardons-well nothing more needs to be said in my humble opinion.
So I found myself a few weeks ago amidst a French Market Day of my own making with my friend Gilles-cheesemonger to all who understand the finer things in life in many instances come from France and are made from the milk of wonderfully delicious beasts, that we were standing looking down at several kilos of sliced and partially cooked Agria potatoes, fine pork chunks that would make any piggy proud of its tummy fat and nicely sliced and slowly cooked onions. Gilles gently placed a fine sized chunk of tratiflette on top of this simple peasant creation and into the oven it went to melt and make a dish that is simply known as tartiflette and is named after the cheese itself.
Originating in the Savoie region of France, well known for the wondrous cheeses they produce, comes this rather simple dish.
Tartiflette is apparently a word that is thought to come from the Franco-Provencal dialect word for potato “tartifla”. This is a language that was and still is to some extent spoken in France, Italy and Switzerland so you can start to get a feel for a weird sort of mix here of people, all making beautiful cheese, coming together to create the finest dish mankind has perhaps ever seen. Now, I have to admit that this is a totally non traditional dish invented by some true genius back in the 80’s-not the 1880’s-the 1980’s so it is so brand spanking new for France it is sort of absurd. I feel though that the idea someone didn’t just do this anyway well before then is just down right silly. With all those potatoes hanging about, fine pig products and cheese, someone somewhere would have thought to do this so I am not that willing to accept that as the original date of creation.
Made using Reblochon cheese from the Arvais valley, you can easily swap that out for all sorts of other cheeses on hand.
Reblochon dates way back to the 13th century –when we know full well that both potatoes and pigs walked the earth-and is a beautiful example of an unpasteurised cheese for this region. Not so wonderful for us here in New Zealand, we have to make do with pasteurised formats of this cheese so we laid up some fine slabs of Tartiflette which has a charming orange wrapper and a fine, fine picture of what your desired cheesy dish will look like on it. Fine value too I think for just $19.99 for a nice 250g piece for washed rind goodness all the way from France. We also were able to substitute another great pasteurised cheese called Prefere des Nos Montagnes. With a delicate washed rind and really oozing body, this is a fine table cheese anyway but once heated it tales on a magical quality.
So getting down to your own tartiflette!!
For one cheese you will need
3-4 peeled Agria or similar starchy potatoes
1 white onion peeled and sliced finely
A nice 80-100g chunk of diced bacon but preferably a nice diced chunk of speck or pancetta
Glass of white wine
2 tablespoons crème fraiche
Slice the potatoes finely and cook them till just done. Drain and set aside to cool-do not rinse!
In a little oil, sweat the onions till really softened
Add the bacon or pancetta pieces and cook gently for a few minutes
Butter a gratin dish well
Lay up half the potatoes in the dish and lay some onions and pancetta pieces on top
Lay more potatoes on top
Spread the crème fraiche on top
Halve the cheese and lay over the top of the dish
Add the white wine drizzling it around the dish
Bake in preheated 220-250 C oven till bubbling and browning
Eat immediately with more wine, crusty French stick and if you feel you should, a little salad.