Wednesday, 20 March 2013

A taste of the Savoie

Rachel, Savoie, France

I am quite confident that, were it a nutritionally sound diet, I would happily live on cheese. Well, a little bit of bread to dip in the fondue would be nice as well, but really, that's just a vehicle for the cheese. I can report that there are certainly no major effects from short term exposure to this alternative diet as, on my recent ski holiday, I indulged my fondness for fromage with gusto.  Indeed, I have included the picture above of me actually on the slopes in order to prove that I didn't go to the Alps just to eat cheese!

First up was fondue, a meal that combines my love of cheese and my passion for messy, communal meals that allow me a valid excuse for playing with my food. In this region of France fondue is often made from a combination of Comté, Beaufort and Emmental which are melted with white wine. We opted for the fancy version that included slices of earthy cep mushrooms in the cheese mixture. This was served with an enormous basket of bread pieces for dipping, an impressive array of cured meats and a refreshing green salad. The cheese mixture becomes fantastically stringy, often stretching the whole way from the dish to your plate, I have included photos from before things got too messy!  

For those who like their cheese unadulterated with wine (who wouldn't like their cheese with wine??) they may prefer Raclette. When ordering raclette you had better make sure that there is plenty of room on your table as the first thing to arrive is a large, metal contraption with arms containing heat elements that can be raised and lowered and small pans at the bottom to catch the cheese. This is swiftly followed by plates of cured meats, salad and small boiled potatoes. Finally, the cheese is brought out. A huge (600g  between two people) wedge is impaled on spikes so that it sits close to the elements, and you are told by your waiter that you must eat all of it! This is a challenge we took very seriously. You lower the element so that it is close to the cheese and, while you load your plate with meat and potatoes, a mini cheese avalanche has descended into the little pan ready to be poured onto your plate and devoured immediately. Repeat as desired. As you can see from the picture below we didn't quite meet the waiter's challenge but I think we made a very respectable effort. 

Along with cheese, Savoie cuisine also prominently features some of my other favourite foodstuffs, namely bacon, onion, potato and cream, usually combined together. The traditional dish of Tartiflette (bottom left, below) involves all of the above baked together with reblochon cheese, which has a delicious, nutty flavour, melted on top. This combination is also used in more contemporary ways, such as my pizza Savoyarde. Cheese also works as a tasty breakfast in the form of a delicious Croque Monsieur when you do not quite make it up in time for the hotel's buffet on the last morning! Cheesy béchamel and ham encased in toasted white bread with more cheese melted on top is a breakfast of champions. Just the thing to help you endure the long, winding bus transfer back to the airport. (Not pictured: the bowl of French onion soup with a gloriously cheesy crouton that I near inhaled as I was so starving after ski school.)
PS: It wasn't all about the cheese (see below)

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