March 21, 2007
Tartiflette

tartiflettehalf.jpg

It's cold. It's windy. It snowed earlier this week in the morning, though the flakes melted when they hit the city pavements. We might as well be in Chicago, not the supposedly temperate city of Paris. And although a few timid young vegetables are starting to peek out of the market stalls, potatoes and onions are still dominant. What is a cook to do?

Well, if she is lucky and has access to the right winter cheese (in this case, creamy reblochon) she can make a heart-attack inducing casserole of epic proportions: tartiflette. Take your tired onions and sweat them in lots of sweet butter, add deliciously fatty bacon, a little cream and stodgy potatoes, cover them with a cheese that is 50% fat and bake. Heaven. It will temporarily allow you to forget the hail pelting against the window and if your conscience cries out (or is that the wail of clogged arteries begging for mercy?) you can always serve a nice green salad on the side. Lamb's leaf lettuce and belgian endives are in season all winter long and will make a crunchy side dish to assuage your guilt.

Tartiflette is a common dish in less posh cafés and restaurants in Paris. I had always assumed that it was a traditional peasant dish, but in fact can't find anything to support that theory. The dish is not included in the Larousse Gastronomique, so culinarily speaking it simply doesn't exist. And in fact, Wikipedia claims it was "invented and launched only in the 1980s by the Reblochon trade union in an attempt to increase sales of the cheese". So it's basically the Beaujolais Nouveau of the cheese world. But unlike Beaujolais Nouveau, it is very tasty and will not leave you with a nasty headache and acidic stomach the next morning.

Tartiflette

1/2 a reblochon cheese
6-8 medium potatoes
3 Tbs crème fraîche (or cream)
200 g lardons or pancetta or streaky bacon
3 Tbs butter
6-8 shallots or 2-3 onions, sliced in thin strips
Optional: 1 tsp fresh thyme and/or a clove of garlic.

Preheat the oven to 180c/350F. Peel the potatoes and start them cooking in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Use 1/2 of a tablespoon of the butter to butter the sides of a small deep baking dish, about 20x15 cm. If you have a clove of garlic and are so inclined, you could rub it on the sides of the pan as well. Melt the rest of the butter in a frying pan and, once it is frothing and bubbling, add the shallots. Cook them over a medium heat until they are limp and starting to brown on the edges, about ten minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon and add the lardons. Turn up the heat slightly to brown the meat and release its fat. (Check the potatoes from time to time to see if they are tender - as soon as they are nearly done, remove them from the flame and drain them. They will finish cooking in the oven.) When the bacon element is done, drain them - or if you are a fan of flavour and don't care about those arteries, don't. Stir in the crème fraîche, shallots and thyme (if using). When the potatoes have cooled enough to handle, slice them in thick rounds, removing the peel as you go. Layer half of them in the bottom of the baking dish and cover with half the creamy bacon and onion mixture. Repeat with the remaining potatoes and mixture. Carefully slice the cheese in two thin slabs and place them on top. Don't worry about the fact that you can't cover the top entirely, as the cheese will become gooey and spread as the dish bakes. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, or until bubbly in the center and just nicely browned on top. Allow to cool (if you can) for ten minutes or so before serving. It's delicious with a green salad and an icy cold glass of white wine.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at March 21, 2007 2:40 PM Print-friendly version
Comments

Beautiful.

Posted by Heather on March 22, 2007 at 8:38 PM

I can feel my heart stopping already. It sounds heavenly, but a little too rich for my blood. :)

Posted by Max on March 29, 2007 at 3:08 PM

Meg, do you know what you might suggest as the cheese to use here in the US? My Paris friend gave me a tartiflette recipe a long time ago, but I was never sure which cheese would give the same effect as reblochon, not to be had here. Thank you.

Posted by Lu on April 1, 2007 at 6:40 AM

Lu, you could try it with a mild Brie. Reblochon is very creamy and fatty but not too sharp - not unlike the Brie you usually get in the US. Otherwise, any gooey cheese will probably be tasty, even if it doesn't taste exactly like a tartiflette!!

Posted by Meg in Paris on April 1, 2007 at 2:00 PM

Meg, do you remove the rind from the cheese before adding it?

Posted by Roanne on April 6, 2007 at 3:09 AM

Roanne, leave the rind on! The recipes I consulted before making the tartiflette conflicted on whether you should bake it rind side up or down, but the ones I've had in restaurants seem to universally put the rind side down. By the time it finishes cooking you aren't even aware it's there - except that I think it probably adds more flavour.

In any case, removing it would be a pain and it doesn't do you any harm to eat it!

Posted by Meg in Paris on April 6, 2007 at 5:26 AM

Tartiflette is a speciality of the Savoy region of France (thats just south east of Switzerland). Reblechon is one of the speciality cheeses of this region, and I believe you are correct in that it is a reasonably modern invented dish. The very best place to eat it is in Annecy, where you can sit in one of the lovely restaurants beside the river, eat tartiflette, followed by meringes and cream, and as your arteries harden audibly, simply sit back and enjoy one of the prettiest towns in France.

Interestingly, you will rarely find tartiflette on the menu in a Genevan restaurant, even though we are just around the corner from Savoy. It seems the long-standing enmity between the Genevois and the Savoyard continues!

(If you are ever in Gex, one of the pizza vans sells a 'Pizza reblo" - this wicked pizza is topped with thinly sliced onions, lardons, reblochon and cream - woooheee!)

Posted by Kiriel on July 13, 2007 at 8:56 AM

You can find reblochon in most Whole Foods and specialty cheese shops. You just need to take out a loan first; about $25 a wheel, but how many times will you actually create this masterpiece per year anyway? If you're not making it with reblochon, you're really not making tartiflette, n'est pas?

And Kiriel is correct, the Gex pizza guy makes a mean reblochon pizza too. Get walnuts on it!!!

Posted by Jane on October 11, 2007 at 1:55 PM

The cheese shop in Concord MA said Swiss Reblochon isn't sold in America because the Swiss don't pasteurize it. They sold us La Tournette Fleur des Alpes. They searched for the ripest one. Should be great! But the best Tarteflette is at the mid-mountain restaurant in Crans Montana in the Valoisse. Just remember you have to ski down after the required "Schnopps Avec!" :>

Posted by Beau Schless on January 11, 2009 at 10:41 AM

I cook this dish a couple of times a year and it always delights my guests. Top tips. Half a glass of good white wine, chablis or similar added with the cream makes your taste buds zing! Slice the reblechon in half and put the two halves rind side up. Score the rind in a diamond pattern and lob it in the oven. This makes the dish look fantastic as well as taste glorious.

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