"the recipe is a glorious marketing ploy dreamed up by Reblochon producers in the 1980s as a way to shift more of their cheese."
The British go skiing in the French Alps. There are probably relatively cheap packages that you can find. And apparently tartiflette is a big thing in those ski resorts, It's considered to be perfect after a hard day on the slopes.
"That alpine dish of tartiflette, whose layers of potatoes, onions, smoked bacon and reblochon cheese helps to thaw out skiers and snowboarders alike after a day on the slopes, is possibly the most warming dish ever invented. I have never found a recipe that does its job quite so successfully. I increase the amount of cheese according to how cold the weather is." Nigel Slater
And doubtless every restaurant in that region has a version on their menu. Just like every restaurant in the Toulouse to Carcassonne region has a cassoulet on the menu. For food is a very large part of tourism these days. In my youth the Europeans often pandered to British tastes and served fish and chips with vinegar, but since then they have regained their national pride, and the pendulum has swung the other way. So much so that it is sometimes difficult to find a really good cassoulet - or tartiflette in their regional homes. Food is a tourist attractor these days. Regional dishes are de rigeur and I suppose that means that less good cooks drag those dishes down. I do hope the pendulum does not swing back to fish and chips and vinegar again. Much as I love fish and chips I hasten to add. But you have to be at a British seaside to fully appreciate that.
So tartiflette is a really interesting variant on regional food tourism. I'm not sure now where I first came across it but it has been lurking in the back of mind as a potential subject. Maybe I saw somebody on the television make it. I'm not sure.
Most recently though I was considering doing a post on cheese toasties, inspired by a Jamie segment, and browsed through my cookbooks for variants and found one called Tartiflette Toasties from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. The link will not take you to Hugh himself but to a fan site called The English Kitchen which gives the recipe. The original one is not online. On the right is a picture of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's version from his book Everyday, below is the English Kitchen version. A slight digression I know as we are not talking about the original dish here, but interesting to see how the same recipe can have a rather different looking end result, and how far from an original recipe one can go.
But, as I said, I digress.
As Felicity Cloake says at the top of the page Tartiflette itself is a 1980s marketing invention from Reblochon - a Savoyard maker of a soft rind cheese that you simply can't get here in Australia. The picture at the top of the page is theirs and if you click on their name you can get the original recipe. The fact that it is an 80s invention explains why it is not in any of my early French gurus' books - Elizabeth David, Richard Olney, Robert Carrier, Mastering the Art, etc. But isn't it interesting that such a recent invention can now be described as a traditional Savoyard dish?
But back to Reblochon, the cheese and how crucial it is. Well according to Reblochon, of course, it is essential:
"Without this iconic cheese… no recipe and… without a recipe, no Tartiflette! " Reblochon
have Australian suggestions to replace the Reblochon - L’Artisan The Mountain Man, King Island Dairy Stormy washed rind or E. Graindorge Pont-L’Eveque, Milawa King River Gold or "you can use any buttery, gooey French cheese. For a bit more bite, use 200g grated gruyère and 200g L’Artisan The Mountain Man." says Manu. But it seems it's also not that easy to find Reblochon in England so various chefs recommend using all sorts of other things including Brie, Camembert, even a cheddar or two. Reblochon itself is said to be made from milking the cows a second time which means that the milk is richer and creamier.
"Traditionally the dish is all about Reblochon, whose pale milky curds melt into a velvety blanket, and whose flavour softens upon heating, but other good melting cheeses can be added, too. Just don't tell the purists and pedants." Nigel Slater
I suppose if you use another cheese it won't be the same thing, but it won't necessarily be worse.
And how do you make it anyway? Is it just Gratin Dauphinois by another name? No actually it's a variation on a truly traditional Savoyard dish called péla, which comes from a town called Aravis. Péla means frying pan in the Savoyard dialect - a long-handled one, and that is what this dish is made in. You cube the potatoes, fry with some onions and bacon, plonk a whole Reblochon cheese on top and cook until the potatoes are cooked and the cheese melted.
Tartiflette is almost as simple although it is cooked in the oven. It's name comes from 'tortilla' which is a Savoyard name for a particular kind of potato. There actually did not seem to be a lot of variation in the recipes other than that bit about which cheese to use. Mind you all of the recipes I found (except the Australian ones) did say to use Reblochon if you could. The other ones they suggested were just in case you couldn't get Reblochon. It seems to be really big in England, from all those English skiers I suppose, so big that Felicity Cloake has done one of her How to make the perfect ... articles on it.
The fundamental process seems to be to parboil your unpeeled potatoes, then slice thinly. While they are cooking fry together onions, and bacon (some say garlic too), when cooked add some wine to deglaze and make slightly more liquid. Then layer in a casserole with the potatoes and the cheese and cook in the oven. There is argument about peeling or not peeling the potatoes and whether to slice or dice them, and then whether to layer the cheese or just put it on top as in the Péla, but there seems to be fundamental agreement. Here are three versions, which, as you can see, look pretty similar: Felicity Cloake, delicious and Saveur.
And of course, this being the 21st century once something is popular the variations begin - like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's toasties, a Smoked salmon tartiflette and Nigel Slater's Artichoke tartiflette - the artichokes being Jerusalem artichokes, not Globe ones.
I'm not sure whether you're supposed to eat it on its own or as an accompaniment, though delicious recommended that:
"salad and pickles are essential accompaniments and charcuterie will turn it into a proper meal."
I adore potato gratins, and I adore cooked cheese on things, but I actually think that this is really a little bit too much cheese for me. I can almost remember how I used to gag on cooked cheese as a child. And even though it's pretty cold and miserable today I don't think it's quite cold enough. Anyway it's reheated leftovers for us today - but with a nice bottle of wine.
"don't even think of making this unless there's a chill in the air and you've been out in it, working up an appetite. Stupidly uncomfortable boots and damp thermals are entirely optional, but you will need to be hungry." Felicity Cloake