Sunday, February 17, 2013


A while ago now I held a cheese evening celebrating winter cheeses (see the 'Events' tab for more on these). The purpose of the evening was to show off the cheeses that are at their seasonal best in the colder months and a few ways to make cheese a more central element in a meal, rather than just a quick (and all too often over-looked) course between main and dessert.

Individual Tartiflettes
As part of the evening, I decided to serve my interpretation of Tartiflette, a well-loved French dish that marries hot gooey cheese with potatoes to create the food equivalent of a snug woollen jumper and slippers. Perfect for when all is cold, wet and miserable outside, or you’ve done sufficient exercise to merit such a calorific treat. Although one could easily believe that this après-ski staple has all the hall-marks of a French family classic, the recipe was actually created in the 1980s by the ‘Syndicat Interprofessionnel du Reblochon’ as a means to sell more of the key cheesy ingredient, Reblochon.  

Reblochon is a small flat creamy cheese from Savoie protected with AOP status. Its rind is washed during the ageing process to create a more complex flavour and develop its beautiful orange rind. The cheese came into existence as a rent dodge for farmers renting land in the region. The farmer would halt the milking process before the cow’s udders were empty so as to pay rent on a smaller quantity of milk (rent would have been proportional to the milk obtained). Later the farmer would use the rest of the milk to make a small cheese. Brilliantly, “reblocher” is the verb for this process.

Browning the onions in the tasty bacon fat
In essence, tartiflette is potatoes drenched in a creamy lardon, onion and wine sauce, with Reblochon added to the mix and layered on top. The whole thing is left in the oven or grill to melt and brown the cheese.
Everyone has their own favourite way of preparing this meal. I asked my fellow cheese professionals at the shop for their recipe, they all had their own way of doing it, and they all thought that theirs was the best….

Most of the recipes out there involve presentation in a large sharing dish. Sharing like this is no bad thing, but I wanted to go for something a bit more formal in presentation, so I created this version of the recipe for individual servings in ramekins.

Ready for some wine and cream...
One thing that I ought to point out is that the photos here are of a practice run in which I used Reblochon. On the evening, I replaced the Reblochon with Abbaye de Tamié instead which is a rather similar, monk-made cheese that has a much more robust (and fairly pungent) flavour – it’s an amazing cheese and if you’re a fan of Reblochon, well worth looking up.

When you’re making this you may find that you have sauce left over, in which case, grab some bread and mop that savoury goodness up immediately. If you have sliced potatoes left over, you can pan fry them for brilliant sauté potatoes.

Reblochon disk shortly to be cut in two

Individual Tartiflettes (serves 4)
4 Ramekins
1 clove of garlic
2 onions, finely sliced
200g smoked lardons (or streaky bacon)
750g waxy potatoes (skins left on)
A good bottle of white wine, slightly sweet and not too acidic. Preferably Vin de Savoie
100ml of cream
Half a Reblochon or Abbaye de Tamié

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180oC.
  2. Get the potatoes on to steam (or boil) early - they need to be pretty much cooked through when you put the dish together so it makes sense to get them going ASAP.
  3. Slowly heat smoked lardons (or streaky bacon cut into small pieces) in a dry pan to render out the fat, cook until starting to crisp and then add the sliced onion.
  4. Soften the onion over a low heat until it tastes sweet and has started to brown. Take your time and don’t rush or you’ll end up with a nasty burnt onion taste. This stage is going to take up to 15 minutes with a bit of occasional stirring. If the pan is too dry, feel free to add some butter.
  5. Once the onions are sweet and brown and very tasty, pour a decent sized glass of wine into the pan and stir, cooking off the alcohol, then add the cream and turn the heat right down.
  6. Take your cheese and use a biscuit cutter to cut neat circles out of it and then cut each of these in half to leave disks with rind on one side. Roughly chop the rest of the cheese and stir it through the now rich and sticky sauce. Test the sauce for seasoning and acidity - you may need to add more wine if it tastes a bit flat.
  7. The potatoes should be just about cooked by now, and if they aren’t it isn’t the end of the world as they’re going to get some oven time. Drain them and let them cool a little, then slice them into ~4 mm disks.
  8. You’re now ready to prepare the tartiflette! Kick things off by rubbing your ramekins with a garlic clove that has been cut in half.
  9. Now start layering. Begin with a spoonful of the sauce then add a layer of potatoes, repeat until the ramekin is nearly full with a sauce layer on top. Now add your disk of cheese and place the ramekins in the oven for 20 minutes or so. The filling will still be hot so it’s just a question of melting and browning the cheese. Keep checking to make sure that the top isn’t burning though.
  10. Serve to your guests (or eat them all yourself).

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Rigotte de Condrieu

Over the next few blog posts I'd like to share a bit more about some of the cheeses that were used on my platter in the competition.

As we're reliably informed / desperately hoping, spring is around the corner, and the peak goat's cheese season is starting in earnest. With that in mind, let's start this series of posts with the small but mighty Rigotte de Condrieu. As with all cheeses, there is effectively too much to say about this cheese to fit it into a little blog post, so I’ll just give you a taster…

Rigotte de Condrieu

It’s a small hockey puck of a cheese, made with raw goat’s milk and weighing in at a minimum of 30g. The milk has to come from certain breeds of goat that trace their lineage back to the Massif Centrale and the cheese must be made on the slopes of the Massif du Pilat just south of Lyon - A fairly desolate and remote area which can trace its goat’s cheese making back to the 18th century.

The word “Rigotte”, as far as I can tell, is a derivation of “rigol” or “rigot”, which were words used to describe small streams running off of the Massif and potentially through Condrieu, a former principle market in the region. Like so many other examples (Stilton being a classic one), the cheese takes its name after the market in which it is sold, rather than the area in which it was made.

The rigotte has an ivory coloured rind that can become blue with greater age. In the early stages of its life it has a melt (slowly) in the mouth texture which hardens to become really quite brittle (like the ones in the photos).

Its taste is uncompromisingly goaty, with hints of hazelnut, and, when young, a slight acidic tang.

Hockey puck shape, perfect for
warming through and adding to salads
This is a cheese that goes well warmed through slightly in a salad, or when aged and fairly dry in texture, is excellent as an aperitif. An obvious wine match would be a Condrieu, but essentially, something white and slightly oaked, and neither too dry nor too acidic will be great.

As a brief aside, it’s worth noting that the Rigotte de Condrieu occupies a rather unusual position of being recognised under the French Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC) system but not the European Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP). The reasoning is that in the eyes of Europe the Rigotte has yet to prove that its qualities and characteristics derive essentially from its geographic environment. They’re currently working on proving that link pretty hard I believe.

The various systems of geographic protection (AOP and AOC etc…) are wonderfully interesting and bureaucratic, and really deserve space of their own to describe. I'll go into more detail about this and try to decode some of the complexities in a future post. 

The brittle texture of an aged Rigotte,,,

Friday, February 8, 2013

More cheese carving

I’m hoping to get a new post out this weekend. In the meantime, here's a picture of a piece of Mimolette that I carved a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been doing a bit more of this recently for work events…

Carved Mimolette

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The competition




What can I say? It’s been an interesting 10 days for us out here in Lyon…

I think now it seems clear that the competition organisers probably aren't going to ring me up to say that it’s all been an unfortunate mistake and that they want their trophy back.

Putting together the cheeses

Looking back on the day, I remember feeling really un-prepared - Like when I got into the shop’s van with my cheeses safely in the back and realising that I had no idea how to turn the hand brake off.

As I imagine is often the case for this kind of event, there was a fair amount of milling around to help ramp up the nervousness. The competitors were split into two groups as we couldn't all work at the same time. I was lucky to be randomly selected as one of the first group as I think that the waiting (2 hours in a separate room with no access to the outside world) would have really put me on edge.

I won’t mention the subsequent issues in un-loading my cheese and driving the van into a crash barrier (at least it was a movable one and there was no visible damage – sorry Etienne…).

The order of the event was as follows:
  • Presentation of 3 cheeses (chosen at random from the 10 that we were all required to bring) to the jury for marking on taste and affinage
  • Writing a fact sheet for each of these 3 cheeses
  • Creating a cheese platter including the 10 required cheeses and at least 15 of our own choice
  • A test to cut and wrap cheeses to a series of specific weights without scales
  • A blind tasting exercise with 3 unknown cheeses to identify

The competition flew by and it was surprisingly easy to ignore the crowd in front and to focus on the tasks in hand. What was harder though was ignoring the video cameras which were busy zooming in on our work.  I wasted a good few minutes hoping that they would leave me alone so that I could get on with my platter…

In my box, waiting for the fun to start
I don’t have the breakdown of my score across the various challenges as yet (when I do, maybe I’ll go into a bit more detail on this) but there were bits that felt like they went well and others less so. In the ’less so’ camp were the written and oral elements in which my lack of frenchness proved to be a disadvantage. I just really couldn't write as quickly as I would have liked to and my words got caught up when trying to explain why I had picked certain cheeses.

The platter itself took 45 minutes to complete, but I had run through it enough times in practice to know that I could get it done on time, and crucially, where I needed to be at 10 minute intervals. I didn't get everything quite right, but then those that know me will say that I'm always over critical of my work.
The blind tasting was ok, as was the cutting to weight – well, I say that but as I don’t have the marks, I've no idea how I actually did…

As for the prize giving, by that point, I was pretty tired and not really listening to the speeches. I'd sort of convinced myself that I wasn't going to place, and when they announced my name my jaw practically hit the floor…

Anxiously waiting
I’ve said it before, but I’ll keep saying it: I'm massively grateful for all the help and support I’ve received in the run up to this competition, particularly with the Mons organisation and the shop. It’s also been great to hear from all of you who've made contact with me.

I’ll be sure to write more soon!
Coming to terms with the win with my boss Etienne Boissy