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.
For members

FOOD & DRINK

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!

SHOW COMMENTS