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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

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CULTURE

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?

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