Tartiflette, or, I need another cream, cheese and potato fix now!

March 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

Back home for 10 days now and still pining for the sunny crisp weather and the food of the French Alps.

I decided I could hold out no longer and visited the very wonderful Cheese Hamlet in Didsbury to buy a splendid Reblochon, half to savour au naturel (that is just a wedge of cheese and a glass of wine rather than me eating the cheese in my birthday suit) and the other half to turn into an unctuous Tartiflette, the potato, cheese and cream gratin which is a speciality of the Savoy Alps in France. You can find a link to the Cheese Hamlet’s site in my blogroll/links section in the sidebar. Here it is again just for good measure:

http://www.cheesehamlet.com/

Having picked up a leaflet about Reblochon whilst in Moutiers 10 days ago I feel obliged to show off with a few cheesy facts:

• The name Reblochon is derived from the verb reblocher literally “to pinch a cow’s udder again” because the cheese is made from the more creamy milk of a cow’s second milking of the day.
• Reblochon achieved AOC (now the European AOP Appellation d’Origine Protégée) status in 1958 and is produced in a small region within the département (administrative region) of Haute-Savoie centred around the Aravis massif in the Alps.
• Reblochon is produced from unpasteurised cows’ milk from 3 permitted breeds: Abondance; Tarine; & Montbéliarde.
• The rind of an authentic AOP Reblochon cheese will bear a small edible seal made of the naturally occurring protein caseine; the very special Reblochon Fermier has a similar green seal.

That’s enough of the academic stuff. What you really need to know is that Reblochon is a creamy semi-soft cheese with an earthy nutty flavour and an apricot coloured edible rind which is dusted with a naturally occurring white mould. And if you are in the United States, sorry folks you can’t get hold of it because of your (misguided) countrywide ban on cheeses made from unpasteurised milk. Your loss I’m afraid….

Recipe for Tartiflette

This is my version of this classic Savoyarde potato gratin, pretty similar to the one found in my authentic Reblochon information leaflet. Some ersatz supermarket-derived recipes suggest cubing the cheese or, horror of horrors, cutting off and discarding the rind. No, no, no! When the cheese is halved horizontally and placed rind-side up atop the potatoes, it becomes deliciously crispy and brown when baked in a hot oven, absolutely the point of this dish.

The specified quantity is enough for 2 greedy people. Serve with a simple green salad and a glass of crisp white wine (ideally an Apremont from Savoie). The name of this dish is derived from the Franco-Provençal word for potato – tartifla.

Here’s the Tartiflette ready to go into the oven. The finished dish can be seen in at the top of this post.

Ingredients

1 medium onion finely chopped
70g lardons (I like pancetta lardons – inauthentic I know but still tasty)
750g waxy potatoes such as Charlotte, scrubbed, steamed until tender and thickly sliced
142 ml double cream
half a Reblochon cheese which should weigh approx 250g
salt, pepper, freshly grated nutmeg, a few fresh thyme leaves

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. Fry the onions and lardons together until golden brown. Grease a cast iron gratin dish generously with butter. Layer half the cooked sliced potatoes in the bottom. Season then spread over them half the onion and bacon mixture. Repeat with the remaining potatoes, onions and bacon. Pour over the cream and top with the Reblochon cheese, which you should cut in half first horizontally then vertically, rind and all. See picture above.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until bubbling and golden brown.

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A dish for spring: potato pie with Beaufort cheese

March 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

The best thing about the Tarentaise town of Moutiers in the French alps is that it is home to a co-operative which produces the magnificent Beaufort cheese. I passed through Moutiers last weekend on the way home from my ski tour and brought home a generous wedge of the stuff.

You may know Moutiers as the road bottleneck en route to your ski holiday or indeed as a vast alpine waiting room: at weekends the coaches lumber through from the early hours of the morning and the place is thronged with dishevelled looking bleary-eyed travellers. However last weekend, Moutiers was looking uncharacteristically lovely in the spring sunshine:

Just around the corner from the bridge over the Isère river is the redoubtable co-operative building. Solid and pink, you really can’t miss it:

And, joy of joys, there is a wonderful shop within which keeps sensible opening hours (open till 6.30 in the evening). Of course the Beaufort d’ été (cheese made from summer milk when the cows have grazed on the high alpine pastures) takes pride of place:

As well as the Beaufort, the shop sells a fantastic range of other local cheeses, sausages and preserves. I could have filled my shopping basket many times over but, mindful of my budget airline’s baggage weight limit and my own ability to lug the stuff home along with my ski kit, I confined myself to a single perfect generously proportioned wax paper wrapped parcel.

The co-operative offers guided tours at weekends. Sadly I didn’t have time for one of these but there are plenty of information leaflets on hand.

Time for a few Beaufort facts:

• Beaufort is produced under the EU’s “Appellation d’Origine Protégée” scheme
• Its production is limited to the Beaufortain, Tarentaise, Maurienne valleys plus part of the Val d’Arly all in the département (administrative region) of Savoie in France.
• The milk used to make the cheese must come from two special mountain cow breeds, the Tarine and the Abondance.
• There are currently 650 milk suppliers, and 45 cheesemakers collectively producing some 4,300 tonnes of cheese a year.

And one kilogramme of this lovely stuff was mine all mine to to take home and treasure! In the unlikely event that you should tire of eating your Beaufort au naturel, here is a recipe which both showcases the cheese and doesn’t require too much of it.

It comes from Simon Hopkinson’s new book “The Vegetarian Option” and combines the cheese with potatoes and cream, encasing the lot in buttery puff pastry. A scattering of fresh herbs – thyme and the first chives from the garden – give a taste of spring.

Here’s the cheese and potato filling spread onto the puff pastry base:

And here is the finished pie glazed and ready for the oven:

And here is the crispy golden brown finished article smelling deliciously of thyme, a touch of garlic and cheese.

Recipe for potato pie with Beaufort cheese

Taken from Simon Hopkinson’s “The Vegetarian Option” but with some alterations/improvements of my own. This is absolutely gorgeous eaten warm from the oven with a simply dressed peppery green salad. It’s also pretty good cold the next day perhaps as part of a superior packed lunch if by chance there’s a wedge left.

Ingredients

500g small/medium potatoes (SH suggests Desirée: I used new season Pentland Dells very successfully – they have just the right balance between flouriness and waxiness for this dish)
Salt, freshly ground black pepper, freshly grated nutmeg
100 ml double cream
2 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly bruised
10-15g butter for dotting
375g bought all-butter puff pastry in 2 equal pieces or sheets (if you have a 500g pack pastry, simply scale up the recipe)
75g Beaufort cheese, very thinly sliced
teaspoon each chopped thyme leaves and snipped chives
beaten egg to glaze the pastry

First steam or boil the potatoes in their skins until tender. Leave to cool, peel and slice thickly and put to one side.

Place the cream with the garlic in a small saucepan, bring to the boil then remove from the heat, cover and allow to infuse until the cream is cool.

Line a shallow heavy baking sheet with baking paper. Roll out the pastry into a rough square shape 2-3mm thick. Take as much care as you can as this will be the shape of your finished pie. Lay the pastry on the baking sheet.

Leaving a border of 2 cm or soCover the pastry shape with half of the potatoes, overlapping slightly. Lightly season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and cover with half the cheese, half the herbs and a few dots of butter.

Repeat these layers. Brush the border of the pastry with beaten egg. Roll out the second piece of pastry to an identical shape and place over the following. Press the edges very firmly together, rolling up to form a tight seal. Remember that you will be adding liquid cream to the filling shortly and it is imperative that it does not leak out. Press the tines of a fork into the rolled rim of your pie to further reinforce the join.

Carefully cut a hole 1 cm in diameter in the centre of the pie. This will allow you to pour cream into the pie in due course. Glaze the finished pie generously with beaten egg.

Before adding the cream and baking the pie it is a good idea to rest the whole thing in the fridge for half an hour to stop the pastry shrinking when it goes into a hot oven.

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C/gas mark 6 while the pie rests.

Once the pie is rested and you are ready to bake it, the final step is to add the cream. Remove the garlic from the cream then carefully pour cream through the hole into the pie either using a funnel or a teaspoon. Allow the cream to settle and stop pouring as soon as the pie seems full. Reserve and set aside any leftover cream, you will have a chance to add some more once the pie has browned.

Place the pie in the oven and bake for 220 degrees C/gas mark 6 for 20 minutes until the pastry begins to crisp up and become golden. Remove from the oven and add a little more of any remaining cream.

Reduce the heat to 180 degrees/gas mark 4, return the pie to the oven and continue cooking for a further 20-25 minutes until puffed and golden brown all over. Check progress during this second phase of baking and cover with foil of necessary to stop the pastry turning too brown.

Let the pie stand for a few minutes after baking. If you are not eating it straightaway, remove carefully to a wire rack to allow to cool.

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