In the Limousin region, when the first cold weather comes, the “troutchine” brejaude is put on the fire. Bréjaude is a stew (a pot-au-feu) that combines all the winter vegetables and a piece of white lard all around a green cabbage. Just before serving, stale rye bread, bacon crumbles and cantal cheese slices are placed on the plate, to all be melted melted under the heat of the vegetable mixture.
Cheese has actually been present in the cooking for eons. It enriches soups, it’s essential for making gratins, enhances béchamel sauce, which then becomes the succulent Mornay sauce, and forms the basis of many mountain specialities, starting with fondue. Of Swiss origin, fondue is made with Gruyère cheese or, for the best, Fribourg vacherin. The Savoyard version uses local cheeses, such as abondance or Beaufort, the star of the region’s pâtes pressées cheeses.
Alongside fondue, or more precisely “fondues,” raclette and tartiflette are the great classics of ski resort restaurants. Raclette is an authentic Swiss speciality, and it has its own AOP cheese (European equivalent of the French AOC): raclette from Valais. That said, most of the cheese used for raclette are made up of industrial raclette cheeses, a large part of which are made in France. And in this type of cheesemaking there seems to be no restrictions. If it were only cheeses without flaws or any exceptional features, it would be fine, but the raclette cheeses being made with a smoky taste, cumin, pepper, mustard, various and varied herbs and flavors, all imagined by marketers, will long remain a mystery to food historians. The tartiflette, which uses Reblochon, was invented at the end of the 1980s. Reblochon producers were looking for a way to boost sales. This robust dish made from potatoes, onions and smoked bacon has become their best ambassador, to such an extent that the “tartiflette au reblochon de Savoie” obtained a Label rouge (sign of quality assurance) last year.
But Savoie does not have a monopoly on cheese cuisine. In the heart of the Massif Central, truffade is the specialty of Cantal. Potato, cantal cheese, garlic, salt and pepper, and a large frying pan, that’s all. Finally, aligot is the emblem of Aubrac, popularized by the natives of Auvergne following the rural exodus, and elevated to the rank of mythical dish by the Bras family in Laguiole, restauranteurs with three Michelin stars. It’s a mixture of mashed potatoes and cantal, worked with a spatula until a very homogeneous mixture forms a long ribbon.
To soften the drudgery of potatoes, a ubiquitous ingredient in cheese recipes, a good wine is essential. With processed cheese, whites are necessary. It needs to be a little lively to counter the fat, like the wines of the Centre, Savoie or Jura are. But depending on what’s served with the cheese — think of the charcuterie served with raclette — a fruity, fresh red is also possible. In any case, never serve only water, which has the reputation of freezing cheese in the stomach and ruining the day after the celebration.
This article was first published on Le Point.
Featured image: Stock Photos from Margouillat Photo / Shutterstock