SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

FOOD & DRINK

The six best French winter dishes made with cheese

As the temperatures drop we can start tucking into winter food - which in France often means very hearty dishes made with melted cheese.

A couple share a fondue in France
Beat the winter blues with a fondue. Photo: Stefan Wermuth/AFP

France has a whole host of winter classics of course, from southern speciality cassoulet to a warming boeuf bourguignon to the Alsace classic Backoeffe.

But the very best winter dishes in France involve the country’s second most famous product – cheese.  (Warning, you might need to do a day’s skiing or at least a session down the gym to justify these calorific delights.)

 
Fondue can be made with a variety of different cheeses. Photo: DepositPhotos

1. Fondue

Let’s start with the daddy of cheese dishes – fondue. An Alpine delicacy that is also very popular in Switzerland, it’s found particularly in eastern France in the Savoie region.

It’s easy to make, delicious and the best way to refuel after a long day on the slopes. Pick from a variety of cheeses including Comté, Beaufort, Emmental, Appenzell or Gruyere.  Beware though – some French people get quite prescriptive over the type of cheese you can use, as The Local’s Europe editor Ben McPartland discovered.

It is served with bread and, in some areas, a platter of charcuterie and pickles.

The recommended accompaniment is white wine or in some places a vin jaune – indeed the old wives’ tale goes that it is dangerous to drink water with fondue or racelette as it causes the cheese to solidify and stick in your stomach. We’re not too sure about the science of this, but a nice crisp white wine certainly goes well with melted cheese.

Once you’ve waded you way through the melted cheese you get to the best bit – the crispy scrapings on the bottom of the pot, which in France are known as la religeuse

And in case anyone was worried, Swiss scientists have declared that sharing a fondue is not a Covid risk.

2. Tartiflette

Another one from Savoie, where they have a real way with cheese (and some long hard winters that demand plenty of warming food).

Tartiflette is a baked gratin of potatoes, onions and bacon with Reblechon cheese. It’s extremely hearty so make sure you work up a good appetite before tackling this – it’s traditional as an après ski dinner.

 
Stringy cheese plus mash equals Aligot. Photo: DepositPhotos
 

3. Aligot

Mashed potatoes are one of the human race’s better creations, but the French go one better and add melted cheese to theirs to create Aligot.

A specialty of the Aubrac region in the Massif Central, it’s made from mashed potatoes with cream, cheese, butter and garlic, all blended together until perfectly smooth. Cheese from the region is normally used, such as Tomme d’Auvergne or Tomme de Laguiole but other cheeses work as well. If possible get one that goes stringy when heated to get the delightful sensation of stringy mash.

Often served with sausages, this is a common sight at winter fairs and fêtes through central and southern France.

4. Onion soup

If you feel like you’re about to have a heart attack at the sound of some of these dishes, a slightly lighter option is the classic French onion soup, which is topped with a slice of bread and plenty of grated cheese.

The soup is a delicious winter warmer and the cheese just makes it better. In some places they stir in the grated cheese, in others the cheese topped crouton is toasted to make a little gratin on top.

If you’re really dedicated, you can get your own special Raclette grill. Photo: DepositPhotos

5. Gratin dauphinoise

Speaking of gratin, this very hearty potato dish sometimes qualifies.

Traditionally made with potatoes, milk and cream, it’s possible to add cheese for a gratinated top. It’s usually served as a side dish, often accompanying lamb, but if you add the cheese it becomes a meal in its own right.

6. Raclette

Controversial addition this, as many people say that it’s actually Swiss, not French. But it’s very widely eaten in France, so you will certainly encounter it, particularly in the eastern part of country. Also it’s delicious, so why wouldn’t we include it?

The name refers to both the cheese and the dish, which varies from place to place but is generally cold meats, potatoes and sometimes pickles topped with the melted raclette. You can buy a special raclette pan for your home if you feel your arteries can take it, otherwise just melt it under the grill.

READ ALSO Rules of raclette: How to make one of France’s most popular cheese classics 

Member comments

  1. It’s Gratin Dauphinois (Masc) not Dauphinoise. Also for the purists, the Gratin Dauphinois does not have Cheese whereas the Gratin Savoyard does–although the French do tend to still call it Dauphinois, especially if they do not live in those areas. 55 years later and at the other end of the world and I still miss my Dad’s (Dauphinois) and my Mom’s (Savoyard). A very simple dish yet so good!

  2. Now wait just a minute here!! Fondu doesn’t just have cheese, it also has Kirch and white wine in it!! Without which it becomes abit indigestible

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

BUSINESS

‘I’ll never complain about URSSAF Again’: How two British brewers made it in France

Two months after brewing their first-ever beers in 2018, likely lads Tim Longstaff and Ash Smith bought a professional beer-making kit and started a brewery in the French Alps. Now, they sell 30,000 pints a month...

'I'll never complain about URSSAF Again': How two British brewers made it in France

“Sometimes opportunities just present themselves,” was the modest way Tim Longstaff described his and business partner Ash Smith’s successful decision to open a small craft brewery in the French Alps despite having no brewing experience and little experience of running a business in France.

“In France you could see, if you looked around in Lyon or Paris, that craft beer was happening here,” he said. “There’s that cliche that France is 10 years behind the UK – it was inevitable there would be a craft beer boom here, like there had been in the UK. 

“We thought if we don’t do it, someone else will.”

Nine years earlier, new graduate Tim had headed to the Alps for a seasonal job on the slopes. He had, by his own admission, no idea what to do next with his life, but thought idly that opening a brewery in the mountains might be ‘cool’.

“I moved here in 2013 to do a ski season in Les Arcs,” he said. “I came over after university when the craft beer scene had exploded in the UK. I was always surprised there was no good beer here.”

“I went back to the UK for a while and moved back to Chamonix in 2017 and – again – there was no good beer. Me and Ash Smith, my business partner, were bored of drinking crap, fizzy lagers, so we decided we’d learn to brew and start a brewery.”

From such crazy ideas, successful businesses grow. The location was right. The business was right. The timing was – just about – right.

“It was winter, January 2018,” Tim, 30, said. “We decided we’d start learning to brew. We bought some small homebrew equipment, 25-litre stuff. I did our first brew in March 2018. And in May 2018, we signed all the paperwork for a 500 litre brewing equipment with four 1,200-litre fermentation tanks.

Manual widget for ML (class=”ml-manual-widget-container”)

“We installed it in October – Nov 2018. That was our first winter season – we were running as a proper brewery, brewing 700 litres at a time. 

“We went from literally reading a few books and watching some Youtube videos, we produced one beer that we thought was reasonable, and that was it. We went to the bank, got a loan, put some money in ourselves and went for it. It was pretty ballsy, I guess.”

The pair’s Sapaudia Brewing Co is ideally placed in Aime-la-Plagne, in the heart of the world’s biggest ski area. “In terms of a market, especially in the winter, we couldn’t have asked for a better location,” Tim said. 

Picture: courtesy of Sapaudia Brewing Co

“It was a bit of a risk, but we were both in a place in our lives where we decided to just take a punt. We knew we were at the start of something in France. When we set up, there were two other breweries in this area – they were quite small – and there are now about 14 breweries of different sizes within an hour of where we are.

“A friend has a really small brewery that does 100 litre brews that he only sells in his restaurant, and there’s us who sell 30,000 pints a month in our biggest months. And there’s everything in between in this area.”

A business loan got the pair started, even though, in Tim’s words the bank’s business manager ‘didn’t have a clue what we were on about’, but getting through to local bars was a different matter. 

“When we started chatting to bars, the two references for beer are the Belgian styles – they’re quite strong – and then everything’s by colour. 

“So we’d say, ‘we’ve brewed an IPA’ and they’d ask ‘is it a blond, or a blanche?’, and we’d say, ‘no – it’s an IPA’, and no one knew what that was. They’d call it a blond because it was the same colour as a blond beer. But now IPA has become a massive buzzword [here].”

It seemed the pair had tapped into something – but then Covid hit. And everything shut down. 

Tim believes that French government help for the hospitality industry played a key role in ensuring the new business that was just starting to blossom would survive. 

Picture: courtesy of Sapaudia Brewing Co

The support from the French government was nothing short of incredible,” he said. “If we had set up in the UK, I think we’d be gone. Speaking to friends in the UK who have businesses – the difference in the financial support we received was night and day.

“I’m not sure I’ll ever complain about paying URSSAF stuff again after the help we got.”

Even with all the help, times were hard. Neither Tim nor 43-year-old Ash could afford to pay themselves any wages from Sapaudia during the long lockdowns. “It was a case of reduce spending, pay the necessary bills – rent, electricity and stuff – and just try and fight through.”

Pivoting from working with businesses, such as bars, to sales with individuals was not straightforward, though they tried. “We’re set-up to do keg sales – getting in bars, on tap,” Tim said. “We did flip a bit – we tried to sell bottles but we don’t have a proper bottling machine. We’re not set up to do thousands of bottles a day. We did some 5-litre mini kegs which sold pretty well around Christmas time.

“But it was tough, especially round here. It’s a massive tourist area, everyone’s business was decimated. People have tightened their belts and haven’t been spending.” 

The business came through the Covid lockdowns intact. And it is now operating flat out. “As soon as everything opened up, orders started to come back – and they came back really strong,” Tim said.

“I was worried we wouldn’t be able to pick up where we’d stopped. I didn’t know how the market was going to be, but it was almost like nothing had happened. It was – bang – back to where we were.”

And the first close-to full winter season after Covid was just what the brewery needed – despite a scare when British holidaymakers were stopped from travelling by concern over the Omicron variant.

“This winter’s been massive. Everyone needed a big winter. The Brits getting banned from travelling back in December was a bit of a kick in the teeth for a lot of people. But, from February onwards … I can always tell how busy a week’s been by how many empty kegs we get back in a week. The week the British returned, our distributor had to bring a lorry – there were six pallets of empty kegs. I thought “yeah – the Brits are back”.

More official help for the business came when they were looking to hire a full-time employee. Pôle emploi offered to pay the wages of a local worker during a 12-week formation – and give Sapaudia €5 an hour on the promise he was given an open-ended CDI contract at the end of the period. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Having lived in France since 2017, neither Tim nor Ash – both of them originally from Stockton-on-Tees – found any problems applying for post-Brexit titres de séjour. 

“Politically Brexit bothered me,” Tim said. “Personally, I was here and had all the paperwork, so when I went for my carte de séjour, it was almost too easy. “France made the system really easy and wanted people to stay.”

From a business point of view, however, there have been issues. “We used to work with UK suppliers – we used to get branded beer glasses from a firm in Halifax, and got other bits of promo material from Britain and we’ve had to stop using them. A lot of them won’t ship to us because it’s too much of a headache.

“The company that print the beer glasses told me they are not allowed now to print the CE logo onto the glass … we get our glasses from Germany now.

But he knows other local businesses have found it harder than they have. “The majority of our clients here are British-run bars and they struggled so much to get staff this winter.”

READ ALSO ‘So many barriers since Brexit’: The French ski businesses no longer willing to hire Brits

And, despite the forced two-year break due to Covid, Tim’s sure he and Ash were right to take a risk four years ago.

“No one saw the pandemic coming – I don’t think you’d take a risk on anything in life if you thought there’d be a pandemic round the corner. 

“In terms of our numbers, when we did our business plan, we’re exactly where we projected we’d be, with a two-year delay because of Covid. Everything’s going the way it should be, it’s just that we were put on pause.”

Now, they’re looking to grow, and take the business year-round.

“I just got off the phone this morning with an equipment supplier. We want to expand in autumn 2023. This winter we reached capacity of our current equipment – and we’re having to throttle sales back a little. 

“We’re massively seasonal – winter’s really big, and we’re working to make summer as big as winter so we have a distribution partner in Lyon and we’ve got a sales rep working in the west coast in the Hossegar area.

There’s a reason that their business plan jumps from the mountains of the east to the shores of the west. Many people who spend their winters in the Alps head for the surf towns of the Atlantic in the summer. The idea is to let word of mouth from the east spread their IPA gospel in the west, too. And in cans, too. Part of the next phase of the firm’s could include an online store, selling Sapaudia beer to individuals across France. 

 

SHOW COMMENTS