Wine and Food Diary of Giles MacDonogh

Tale of a Tartiflette

Written by Giles MacDonogh

Tale of a Tartiflette

Posted: 1st December 2020

I had a cheese from the Cotswolds last month. It was called ‘Baronet’ and was made in imitation of the famous washed-rind Reblochon cheese from the French Alps. Produced in Worcestershire from the milk of Jersey cows, it was predictably rich and creamy, in a way that the Alpine cheese is not, but then again the breeds that make Reblochon are different. They are the beautifully named Abondance, Montbéliarde and Tarine. Their unpasteurised milk is produced from a diet of mountain herbs, flowers and grasses. The Cotswolds aren’t flat either, but a few rolling hills do not in any way replicate the special terrain of the Alps. It is all a bit like our butter: there is nothing quite as fat as English butter.

Don’t get me wrong: Baronet is pleasant enough, but quite bland. Later on what was left of it went into a tartiflette along with the remains of a Brie de Meaux, which had been quite out of this world when I got it but was beginning to develop that smell of ammonia which comes when it’s past its best, and some English Ragstone goats’ milk cheese made in imitation of a Loire bûche by the great Randolph Hodgson of Neal’s Yard Dairy.

A tartiflette will be familiar to anyone who has skied in the French Alps: is made from two layers of diced or sliced potatoes, onions and pieces of smoked bacon (lardons) partitioned horizontally and subsequently topped by wodges of Reblochon shorn of their rinds. Yes, I cheated a bit by using those other cheeses, but if I’d had a good Reblochon I would have scoffed it rather than cooking it.

Standard Swiss Tartiflette RECIPE

With smoky bacon, potatoes and Reblochon cheese, this easy French tartiflette recipe makes a great side dish to share. Simply combine the ingredients and bake until golden brown  !

  • Serves 5
  • 10 mins to prepare and 50 mins to cook

Ingredients

  • 700g potatoes, peeled
  • 1 onion, peeled and sliced very thinly
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 150g lean smoked back bacon, snipped
  • 150ml dry white wine
  • 4 tbsp reduced fat crème fraîche
  • 150g Reblochon  cheese
“I was pleased with my first tartiflette and it went down well; but like a lot of other people I am worried that our future trading relations with the Mainland will leave us with at best these pallid imitations of the gastronomic models we know and love. It isn’t that we can’t make good cheese, ham or sausages, it is that our land is very different and breed and terroir count for a lot in determining the flavour of food and drink. It’s a bit like wine. You could try to produce Château Lafite in some favoured spot in the West Country, but I should bet you would have zero chance of success.”

Now this could just be hogwash (there’s a lot of it about) but in recent news we have learned that we might have to be satisfied with British-made salame and chorizo. This seems to have inspired some extreme nationalists or optimists to say that ours was better than the Spanish stuff anyhow. I thought of my little Spanish butcher Miguel in Camden Town, and his array of imported morcillas, black and white, some for frying, others for stewing; ditto chorizo for all occasions; and then there are the fresh sausages he makes himself, sausages so garlicky that it isn’t just the vampires who run for cover. Without that range of produce I could hardly believe that Britain would be a better place and I wonder if Miguel will continue trading?

‘O Freunde nicht diese Töne...’ enough of these gloomy thoughts! So, what have I been doing for the second ‘lockdown’? The answer is cooking. I am in the habit of spotting things that I think might be popular at home and which fail to catch on in our small household so that I am forced to eat the lot myself. That was the case with the kilo of duck livers I bought for a song. I thought I might wrap them in bacon and cook them on skewers, but there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm, so I decided to make a pâté. I cooked them up with some spring onions and splashed cognac over them before putting them through the mouli. The mouli extracted some, but not all the rebarbative arteries but the pâté seemed a bit austere for all that, until I hit on the idea of adding in a lot of melted butter. Even I grew tired of eating it for lunch every day, however, and I ended up by freezing the remains.

My ox cheek fared slightly better, but then again I didn’t tell anyone what part of the ox it had come from, and as I had softened it up in the pressure cooker before I finished it off with onions and tomatoes, it was as tender as a heart in love. I had rather better luck with the tart I made from some huge, bulbous quinces I found in the Kilburn High Road (the boulevard of cheap fruit and veg). Another triumph this November was my attempt to imitate Transylvanian sarmales: cabbage leaves filled with minced pork, beef, rice and seasonings. It was a fiddly job, and I found I had blanched too few cabbage leaves and made too much forcemeat, with the result that I had to stuff a great many tomatoes as well. You cook sarmales very slowly and serve them with soured cream. By common consent, however, the lockdown laurels were awarded to the tartiflette – despite its hybrid nature.

Giles MacDonogh
Author: Giles MacDonogh

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Giles MacDonogh

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