Q: What makes a Tartiflette taste different to any other potato-based bistro dish?
A: A wheel of Reblochon cheese from the Haute-Savoie region in France:
We had many food highlights during our trip to France and Switzerland earlier this year, but the bistro meal which stood head and shoulders above the rest, was the Tartiflette – a regional bistro dish from Annecy in the Haute-Savoie.
I recently discovered that the Tartiflette was originally created as a PR stunt by reblochon makers as a way to sell more of their cheese back in the 1980s. And it seems to have worked, what with every restaurant in Annecy offering a variation of the dish. Some recipes use cream or crème fraiche, others stick to a generous amount reblochon.
I’m not going to lie, this dish will probably put you in a cheese coma for 24 hours, so it’s only really for those die-hard cheese aficionados out there. And as the nights begin to draw in, this dish is perfect for a crisp and sepia autumnal evening. As long as you’re armed with a lightly dressed crisp green salad and a glass of something dry and white, then you’re sorted.
NB: Poem Pairing: At the end of this post, you’ll see which poem I’ve matched to this dish.
It’s important to use a waxy variety of potato, so it doesn’t break up when you’re frying the pre-boiled spuds. The French prefer to leave the skins on, although the best dish I tried in Annecy, used peeled potatoes, so for this recipe I’m going with the latter. This dish uses a whole cheese! The portion I ordered in France, which served one, looked as though it easily used an entire wheel of reblochon. However, in my adaptation here I’ve used one reblochon, which serves 3 – 4, depending on how hungry you are. So if you want to ramp up the cheese, you can.
Many tartiflette recipes cut the cheese horizontally and place one half in the middle of the potato mixture and the other half directly on the top of the dish, so it looks as though it has an orange Frisbee as a hat. I’m more of a fan of cutting the cheese into triangles, it evens out the cheese and also aesthetically looks prettier.
Serves 2 – 4
1 kg peeled waxy spuds (Desirees)
180g smoked lardons
1 onion, thinly sliced
175ml white wine
150ml single cream
2 tbsp butter
2 cloves of garlic
2 baby gems or romaine lettuce
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 200°C
- Once you’ve par-boiled the spuds until just a little tender and certainly not cooked through, drain well and set to one side.
- Melt half the butter and fry the onions and bacon until the onions are soft and both have a tinge of brown.
- Add the wine, bring to a gentle boil and reduce until the wine almost disappears.
- Take off the heat and add cream.
- Chop the spuds into small circles or half circles. Use the rest of the butter to fry the potatoes until slightly brown.
- Butter your dish and rub in the two crushed cloves of garlic into the buttery dish. (I used two small to medium sized dishes because it’s nice to serve a bubbling portion in its dish straight to the table.)
- Take your Reblochon and cut in half horizontally, and then into small triangles.
- Mix your potatoes into your creamy bacony sauce and pour this mixture into your oven proof dish(es). Place around a third of your cheese triangles deep into the potato mixture and then place the rest on the top decoratively.
- Cook for 15 – 20 minutes, until golden brown.
The recipe in this post made two of the dishes pictured in the above. The other dish, out of shot, was a vegetarian version, without the bacon.
There’s nothing more divine than leftovers!
Poem Pairing: This following poem partners extraordinarily well to this dish for me. For those who have visited France via car, or camper as we did, I’m sure you can appreciate the sentiment behind this poem. I love the way Heaney finishes the piece in the last stanza, where it takes an unexpected and rewarding twist and reveals the poet’s thoughts about his loved-one. I also like the way he mirrors the ‘ordinariness’ from the beginning and ends on a renewed sense of ordinariness in the last. A bit like this tartiflette recipe, where we start out with a humble block of cheese and by the end we’ve transformed this into something promising, with a sense of pleasure.
By Seamus Heaney
The smells of ordinariness
Were new on the night drive through France;
Rain and hay and woods on the air
Made warm draughts in the open car.
Signposts whitened relentlessly.
Montrueil, Abbéville, Beauvais
Were promised, promised, came and went,
Each place granting its name’s fulfilment.
A combine groaning its way late
Bled seeds across its work-light.
A forest fire smouldered out.
One by one small cafés shut.
I thought of you continuously
A thousand miles south where Italy
Laid its loin to France on the darkened sphere.
Your ordinariness was renewed there.