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Nov 10, 2015
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WINE WITH…Tartiflette (Potatoes Baked with Onions, Bacon and Cheese)

‘Tis the season to indulge in melted cheese! We crave grilled cheese sandwiches, fondue, and mac and cheese when temperatures drop and the days get shorter and grayer. As a slight variation on the theme, we recently made “tartiflette,” a dish from France’s mountainous Haute Savoie region. Think of it as an Alpine riff on mac and cheese, with potatoes instead of pasta, and with the addition of bacon and onions. The key to tartiflette is Reblochon, one of the most deliciously flavorful and creamy cheeses imaginable.

While most people (including us) have thought of tartiflette as an ancient recipe originating in the French Alps, we’ve all been wrong, for it is, in fact, the result of a marketing campaign dreamed up in the 1980s by the Reblochon producers. The cheese itself, however, dates back to the 13th century. A soft washed-rind cheese dusted with delicate white mold, Reblochon is powerfully aromatic and blessed with a satisfyingly pungent flavor. One of its most compelling attributes is that it melts beautifully, flowing down through the potatoes and enveloping them in delectable, velvety cheesiness.

The bad news is that Reblochon is not FDA approved. Because it is a raw cow milk cheese that has been aged less than fifty days, it cannot be imported legally into the United States. The best stand-in for Reblochon, and a close relative of the original, is Préféré de Fromi, which is available in many American cheese shops. Other recommended cheeses for tartiflette include Brie, Camembert, Fontina and Vacherin. Do not use hard cheeses such as Comté or Gruyère.

There are as many different “authentic” tartiflette recipes as there are cooks. Some people slice the potatoes, while other dice or cube them. Some peel the potatoes first, others like the rustic touch that the peels contribute to the dish. We find that waxy potatoes such as Yukon Gold are better than high-starch spuds such as Russets. Many recipes call for a little cream or crème fraîche to be drizzled over the potatoes before the dish goes into the oven, but we follow the camp that thinks it should be all about the cheese.

This is a rich and filling dish that needs no other accompaniment than a refreshing green salad or simple side of spinach or broccoli. Chilly weather is also an important ingredient.

Tartiflette

(Serves two.)

Do not trim the rinds off the cheese. As they bake they will get deliciously crisp and flavorful.

2-4 potatoes, depending on size (about 1 pound total)
2-3 slices bacon, preferably thick cut
1 onion, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
½ cup white wine
Butter for greasing the baking dish
½ pound Reblochon-style cheese

Preheat oven to 400°

Scrub the potatoes and put them in a pan, adding enough water to cover. Boil them for 10-15 minutes, or until the potatoes have softened but are still very firm (they will finish cooking in the oven). Drain and then cover them with cold water to stop them from cooking further. When they are cool enough to handle, peel them or not, and cut the potatoes into small cubes.

Dice the bacon and cook it in a large, heavy skillet until crisp, then use a slotted spoon to transfer it to a plate lined with a paper towel. Discard all but about 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease, then add the onions and cook them, stirring frequently, until they are soft and starting to color (about 5 minutes). Return the bacon to the pan with the onions, add the potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Pour in the wine and cook, stirring frequently for another few minutes until the wine is completely absorbed. Transfer the mixture to a buttered 8-inch square or 8x12 baking dish.

Cut the cheese in half horizontally and lay both halves over the top of the potatoes, crust sides up. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is browned and bubbly.


This is another dish that works equally well with whites and reds. It is rich and filling, so needs a wine with heft with which to partner. At the same time, it does not do well with tannic wines, no matter whether the tannins come from grape skins or extended exposure to wood. So look for reds or whites with full flavor but smooth, pliant textures that will echo the sumptuous feel of the hot cheese in the dish.

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Questions or comments? Contact us at Talkofthevine@gmail.com

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Graham Beck, Robertson (South Africa) Blanc de Blancs Brut “Premier Cuvée” 2009

(Imported by Maritime Wine Trading Collective)

$26

An impressive sparkler with plenty of fresh fruit flavor augmented by yeasty depth, this wine enlivened the dish, making it seem lighter than it did with any other wine we tried.

Patient Cottat, Vin de France (France) Pinot Noir “Le Grand Caillou” 2013

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$14

A very classy light-bodied red with earthy (think mushrooms) flavors that enhance he initial impression of sweet fruit, this Pinot Noir might be overwhelmed by more hearty fare, but meshed wonderfully with the tartiflette. And at only $14, it’s a super bargain to boot!

J Vineyards, Russian River Valley (California) Chardonnay 2013

$28

Fleshy, buttery Chardonnay turns out to be a predictably good partner for tartiflette, as its creamy texture echoes the cheese in the dish. The wine has plenty of flavor so as to hold its own in the pairing.

Kennedy Shah, Columbia Valley (Washington) Merlot 2012

$14

A very tasty (and very affordable) Merlot, with supple tannins and a smooth texture—just what this dish wants from a red wine. This wine was a surprise to us, and a very pleasant one at that.

Piccolino di Puglia, Puglia (Italy) Aglianico 2013

(Imported by A. W. Direct)

$13

An atypical Aglianico because quite light-bodied yet full of the sort of rustic earthy flavors that are typical of the variety. Like the other reds we are recommending, it is quite soft on the palate.