Tartiflette, a delicious cheesy potato dish made with Reblochon from the Haute-Savoie region of France, sounds like a traditional dish that came into being centuries ago to fill the stomachs of ruddy and hungry mountain people in the Alps between France and Switzerland.
Who would believe that this is actually a recipe created in the 1980’s by the Union Interprofessional Reblochon (the cheesemaker’s association) to promote the sale of Reblochon, an essential ingredient in Tartiflette. It originated in the valley of Aravis, home of reblochon cheese, with Thônes at its production center.
At the root of the name Reblochon is the word ‘reblocher’ which actully means ‘to pinch a cow’s udder again’. This comes from a practice that goes back to the 14th century when landowners would tax mountain farmers according to the amount of milk their herds produced. The farmers reverted to not fully milking the cows until the landowner had measured the yield. Once that was accomplished the farmers would ‘reblocher’ = pinch the cows udder again = milk the rest of the milk, receiving a much creamier, richer milk which was then used to make cheese.
In the 16th century the cheese also became known as ‘fromage de dévotion’ = devotional cheese, because the Thônes Valley farmers offered the cheese to the Carthusian monks in return for having their homes and farms blessed.
Reblochon which has a nutty earthy flavor, is a soft washed-rind, smear-ripened cheese traditionally made from raw cow’s milk. The round cheese is approximately 14 cm wide, 3–4 cm thick, weighs approximately 450 grams and contains 45% fat. When ripe the orange-colored rind is covered with a fine white mould. The best period to eat this cheese is between May and September when it has been aged six to eight weeks. But in modern times is it eaten throughout the year, particularly in the winter.
The name Tartiflette comes from the Savoyan and Provençal word for potatoes: tartifles.
But the most interesting fact of all is that the Savoyans or Savayards as they are called in French, first heard of “their” traditional dish Tartiflette when it started appearing on ski resort menus as a dish that “conveys the friendliness of the mountain people along with authenticity and the image of the soil of the mountain”.
So let’s hear three cheers to the Union Interprofessional Reblochon for creating such a delicious promotional dish – you coulda’ fooled me!
In my version below I have added leeks to make it even more ‘earthy’! This dish with its delicious simple combination of potatoes, bacon and melted cheese is easy to make, hearty and warming on a cold day after a walk, skiing, snow-shoeing, a sauna or even after having done nothing but cooking it.
We like to eat it with green salad done up with a strong vinaigrette – our favorite is estragon/tarragon – but it will go with all types of winter salads, especially those flavored with walnut or hazelnut oil.
If you cannot find Reblochon you can use a similar Italian cheese also from the Alpes region: Rebruchon or Reblò alpino.
Tartiflette made with potatoes, leek, onions, bacon and Reblochon cheese
- 750 grams/ ¾ pound of potatoes (preferably the waxy boiling kind)
- 200 grams/ 6 oz of bacon cut into bacon-bit size
- 1 onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 leek, peeled, washed and sliced thinly
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled
- 1 Reblochon cheese of approx. 450 grams/ 15 oz
- 1 TBSP butter
- 1 TBSP olive oil
- 60 ml / ¼ cup white wine (optional)
- 1 tsp of thyme, fresh and chopped or dried
- Salt & ground pepper
Putting it all together:
Preheat the oven to 350° F / 180° C.
Peel the potatoes, wash them and place them in a pot of water. When all the potatoes have been peeled, pour out the water in the pot and replace it with fresh water just covering the potatoes, add salt and bring to a boil. Lower the temperature and boil lightly for approx 15-20 minutes. The potatoes should just be starting to get soft. Pour off the water, rinse once with fresh cold water and lay the potatoes on a cutting board. Wait a few minutes and slice the potatoes as you would for fried potatoes.
In the meanwhile, fry the bacon bits in their own fat over medium heat– only adding a little olive oil if they look like they would otherwise burn. Remove them from the pan and drain on paper towels.
Wipe down the frying pan to remove any burnt bacon bits and return to medium heat. Add the butter and the olive oil and melt it. Pour some of this fat into a casserole dish (taking care not to burn yourself) and use it to coat the casserole dish.
Return the frying pan to the heat source and add the whole clove of garlic, the onion and the leeks. Cook the mixture stirring often until the onions are soft – about 5 minutes. Add the white wine if using and stir-fry until most of the wine has evaporated (about 4 mins.). Add the thyme and mix well. Remove the pan from the heat. Remove the garlic clove, chop it and stir it into the leek/onion mixture.
Now start assembling the Tartiflette: cover the bottom of the casserole with about 1/3 of the potato slices. Lightly salt and pepper the slices, sprinkle with half the bacon bits and then cover with ½ the leek/onion mixture.
Add another 1/3 of the potato slices, lightly salt and pepper, cover with the rest of the bacon and the leek/onion mixture. Cover this with the rest of the potato slices. Press down to pack it in and make a level surface.
Take the Reblochon, unwrap it and scrap some of the skin off with a paring knife and lightly cut out the red wax label if your brand has it. Cut it in half across its width and then cut the ½ again so you can better fit it into the casserole.
Place the cut sides down on top of the last potato layer, they should just about cover the surface. Press down and grind some fresh pepper over the top.
Cover the casserole with aluminum foil and bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes, grilling the top carefully if your oven has that option for the last five minutes.
Remove from the oven, let it sit for 5 minutes and serve it with a salad as mentioned above.
Yum….. and…(I want)..more!