180. Mountains of food – la cuisine savoyarde

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I was in Haute-Savoie last week – part of the ancient kingdom of Savoy – that mountainous corner of France around Mont Blanc and south of the Swiss city of Geneva. The name Savoy comes from the latin sapaudia – fir forest – an origin still heard in the French word sapin (fir tree).

Long an independent duchy, the area was occupied by Napoleon’s troops from 1792-1815. After a period as part of Sardinia, Savoy was annexed by France in 1860.

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The region has strong associations with Piedmont in Italy, and with French-speaking Switzerland (Turin and Geneva are both much nearer than Paris). The local dialects reflect old mountain French with a smattering of Italian.

But the food doesn’t reflect Italy or France. Savoie is a stronghold of Alpine cuisine. Don’t expect delicate French dishes – this is the home of solidly calorific monster feasts to fuel any long day on the slopes.

flaine-france-april-2008-by-roadsofstoneAlpine cuisine owes its character to the sheer isolation of mountain communities. Access along the tortuous valleys was difficult in summer, and impossible through the deep snow and ice of winter. Supplies of vegetables, salad and fruit may form the basis of great Mediterranean cooking, but here they simply couldn’t get through.

So the mountain folk survived on foods they could produce locally and store safely for months on end. Just like Switzerland, Savoy is famed for its rustically robust dishes of meat, sausage, cheese, and potatoes.

We found all of these on the menu at Chez Pierrot in Flaine. As you might expect, fondue is a standard here – this year we chose fondue à cèpes, rich with the flavour of mushrooms.

cuisine-savoyarde-france-braserade-by-roadsofstoneThen a pile of thinly sliced steak – which we cooked right at our table. In southern Savoie and the Italian Piedmont Alps they use a pierrade – historically a hot stone, these days a massive block of superheated iron wrenched straight from the oven.

But a stone cools eventually, and further north in Haute Savoie they favour a braserade instead. To translate this as ‘table barbecue’ just doesn’t do it justice.

It’s more of a mini-brazier of red-hot coals. Potentially lethal in the wrong hands, this safety-spurning contraption will grill everyone around the table as well as your food, firing a memorable glow to the cheeks of all who are eating.

cuisine-savoyarde-france-tartiflette-by-roadsofstoneAnd potatoes? Perhaps you’d expect fried shredded spuds (rösti) like in German-speaking Switzerland, or boiled new potatoes served with raclette cheese as in nearby French-speaking suisse romande?

Here in Savoie they go one better, with a sublime oven-baked dish of diced potatoes all cooked up in cheese: they call it tartiflette, which we can translate as pure tattie heaven. Around 10,000 calories a bowl, at a conservative guess.

What else might we need? A green salad (after this heavy menu, a small concession to healthy eating) laced with a fine French dressing? Bien sur.

To drink? A pale dry Provençal rosé, or a generous grande pression (large draught beer)? More probably both.

fresh-snow-pine-trees-and-chapeau-du-gendarme-les-carroz-france-by-roadsofstoneThen icecream and a snowball fight to follow, before sweet dreams and a rest for tired legs.

So, hey – our ski-ing was good. April in the Alps served up a deep pile of powder. And we found mountains of food.

180. Mountains of food - la cuisine savoyarde : : 180. Mountains of food - la cuisine savoyarde : : 180. Mountains of food - la cuisine savoyarde : : 180. Mountains of food - la cuisine savoyarde : : 180. Mountains of food - la cuisine savoyarde : : 180. Mountains of food - la cuisine savoyarde

Related articles:
114. Mont Blanc morning – Flaine, France
171. A splash of Burgundy in winter
63. Henry VIII’s consumption and the rocky road to running ruin
118. The scales of truth
139. Snow patrol – Holmenkollen, Oslo

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17 responses to “180. Mountains of food – la cuisine savoyarde

  1. It is the middle of the night in the Eastern US and I want nothing more right now than a tartiflette in all its heavy, caloric, gut-busting glory. Did yours have bacon in it?

    It all looks delicious. Without the skiing you would surely be waddling now.

    I’ll share this with my readers this weekend. Winter begins in April indeed.

  2. Trust me, Ella – I’m waddling. No bacon in our tartiflette, but plenty of lard, I suspect, and most of it now residing not very far from here.

    Time to lace up those running shoes at lunchtime…

  3. No bacon?? None? Every recipe I looked at includes it some form, even if only lean Canadian bacon.

    Just as well, I guess, or you’d be beyond waddling. You’d be tipping over every time you stand up. As I will when I make this.

    Lard is actually healthier than butter, in terms of saturated fat and cholesterol. So waddle on!🙂

  4. What wonderful places you take us to on this site. I am afraid that if I ate all of that, the only way for me to get off of the mountain would be by intertube and I would be mostly like stuck in it by the time I got to the bottom of the mountain. Sounds delicious and something that my “German” mother would make…

  5. Ella – yes, I think you’re right. I did find one recipe for tartiflette without bacon, but that seemed to be a recent vegetarian adaptation rather than a traditional variant. I may simply not have spotted the bacon in the huge mountain of food on my plate.

    I’ve seen tartiflette served in at least three different ways. On the mountain, it may arrive as individual portions within a shallow, oval dish of white china, and the potatoes may be stacked up in large chunks, diced or even lightly mashed, all baked with a light cheese sauce and garnished with lardons – strips of cured bacon, which the Swiss would call Speck.

    In traditional restaurants and for larger family servings like this, it’s typically cooked in a shallow round earthenware bowl. I don’t remember seeing any lardons last week, but then my attention was fully focused on dousing the searing coals of the braserade with my second grande pression. To be perfectly honest, the food didn’t stay on my plate too long.

    And that’s exactly why I’ve got my running shoes on again this morning, despite the chilly rain…

  6. Thank you, Shadowlands. I have a healthy appetite. Or an unhealthy appetite. Either way, I waddle between the two. And I’m sure your German mother would love this food. Besteht kein Zweifel – no doubt about it…

  7. Lovely post – thank you. I’ve got a friend who lives there but haven’t yet visited – she’ll have to keep an eye out for me now!

    By the way, you’ve been tagged.
    http://funnyoldlife.wordpress.com/2008/04/18/tag-youre-it/

  8. Thanks, funnyoldlife. I love the Alps.

    And thank you for the tag…

  9. Yes, C, we’re ready for spring in Europe, too. No snow in England all winter until late March, and then we had a white Easter and 10 cm of the white stuff just a week or so ago.

    Today was the first warm day of spring and the bluebells are coming into their own at last. But with rain coming our way soon, we’re not going to rival the Mediterranean just yet…

  10. Wow. Sounds like ‘filling’ yummy FUN!
    Spring is such a glorious time of year no matter where. Here, in Southern Ontario, Canada, it seems like this past winter was very close to UNBEARABLY long. I even noticed snow still in the backwoods on April 13th, that’s LATE. As a net result, everything is now trying madly to ‘catch up’ to the recent last few days of warmth. I have literally WATCHED lilac leaf buds unfurl in a single day. Birds are trilling madly again, and the grass is FINALLY turning green. Skiing WOULD be perfect in this on-coming weather…. But for now, I’m thinking more of shorts and t-shirts!! Bring it on.

  11. ooh, Roads…tartiflette, raclette, fondue…you’ve set my mouth watering and it’s after midnight!

    The Alps is perhaps not the best place for a middle-aged lardy lady like me🙂

  12. Gigi – thanks for tolerating my inexpert incursion into exploration of la culture française.

    Lardy and middle-aged? Come off it – I’m sure you’re as finely honed and svelte as your velvet prose. Either that or you’re just like me.

    The thought of being able to eat food like this all winter long is (unfortunately) enormously appealing to a hungry fellow of my appetites, always provided that I could ski every day, too, of course.

    If not, then I’d certainly end up as fat as an Alpine snowdrift. And nowhere near as cool.

    • This looks wonderful. Replacing the meat with vegetables turns this into a light dish ideal for these summer nights. I hope I can get my hands on some St Nectaire cheese to go with the feast!

  13. Pingback: Food in the French Alps | From Scratch

  14. Thank you for the link, Ella. My dinner companions confirm that there were no bacon or lardons involved on this occasion.

    Just potatoes and reblochon. And plenty of ‘je ne sais quoi’.
    Literally.

  15. I think I gained weight just reading your entry…

  16. Yep. I’m calling this my accretionary diet.

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