Here are a set of recipes, made with French cheese, that make winter such a cosy season on a culinary level. Christmas jumpers and mulled wine are optional. White wine is the best pairing with these cheese dishes, cutting through the richness and oil. Fondue is of course the classic melty cheese dish- here are links to a couple of recipe here and here with Comté cheese (I even love fondue in the summer).
In the Auvergne area of France, particularly in the towns of Aubrac and Aurillac, you see Aligot sellers stirring giant copper pots, repeatedly drawing up stretchy lengths of potato and cheese with a wooden spoon. Rather romantically it’s known in France as the ‘ribbon of friendship’.
British made copper pan from Netherton Foundry
- 1 kilo floury potatoes, unpeeled, skin slit around the circumference
- 2 tbsp sea salt for the boiling water
- 100 g butter
- 300 ml full fat creme fraiche
- 1 garlic clove
- 300 g Tomme fraiche, grated
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Boil the potatoes with their skins on, making sure you have salted the water adequately . When cooked, cool down slightly with cold water then peel off the skins. This is much easier with a slit around the circumference.
- Pass the peeled potatoes through a ricer, this is also a good method for making mashed potato - it means the potatoes don't become too gluey. Then combine the 'riced' potato with the butter, in a medium saucepan on a low heat
- In a separate saucepan, heat the cream and the clove of garlic on a low to medium heat.
- Add the cream gradually to the riced potatoes, stirring all the while. Then add the grated Tomme to the potatoes. Keep stirring until the mix is stretchy and unctuous. Serve hot.
This is usually made with bacon, but I do a vegetarian version. The cheese for this dish is Reblochon, sold in a semi or whole round with an orange-washed rind.
- 1.2 kilos smallish potatoes (Charlottes are good), boil with skins on, slit around the middle
- 50 g butter
- 3 or 4 shallots, finely sliced
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Glass large white wine or dry sherry
- 200 g button mushrooms, cut in half
- 1 whole reblochon cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
- Boil the potatoes in their skins, then drain and cool down slightly with cold water, remove skins and cut into 1 cm round slices.
- In an oven-proof dish, fry the shallots and garlic and bay leaves in the butter on a low heat until soft.
- Add the potato slices to the oven-proof dish, stir gently so as not to break them up and add the mushrooms then the white wine.
- Then place the entire Reblochon in the middle of the dish and transfer to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes until melted. Season to taste. Eat with a green salad and white wine.
Raclette is the name of a cheese, but the root of the word is ‘racler’ to scrape.
My parents often tell me about their honeymoon experience of Raclette: alighting in some wooden chalet in the snowy Alps, a red-faced sweating man was sat by the fire with a wheel of Raclette. He had a routine: lean in, melt the cheese and scrap it into a plate then take a swig of white wine.
This is the authentic and romantic way to do it but nowadays you can buy it in slices. There are specific Raclette machines to melt the cheese, but I’ve also found it works just as well using a tea light under a small frying pan, a grilled sandwich maker or even running back and forth to the microwave where a 30 second blast will give you a delicious gooey puddle.
Eat with pickles, potatoes and a green salad.
- 800 g Raclette cheese
To accompany the Raclette:
- 1 kg small potatoes, unpeeled, washed and dried
- 200 g coarse salt
- Jar silverskin onions
- Jar cocktail gherkins
For the potatoes:
- Preheat the oven while you prepare the bowls of pickles and a simple green salad. I bake the potatoes on a bed of coarse salt in the oven. This makes them extra fluffy inside and crispy on the outside. Bake at 200c for approximately 45 minutes.
For the Raclette:
- Raclette can be bought in slices or as a quarter or half of a wheel, whatever is available. You don't need to do anything to the cheese, other than melt it gradually, scraping pools of gooey cheese onto plates. You can eat the skin.