The French Alps are well known for its food. The local cuisine developed over hundreds of years and is a result of the Alpine surroundings and climate.
Before the arrival of modern roads and the introduction of electricity it was important to produce food that could be stored over winter, as the Alpine winters are long and harsh.
One of the foods that the area is most well known for is cheese. The cows and goats would graze on the mountain meadows all summer before being brought down in October to spend the winter in barns in the valley. Many of the villages still do this and hold an annual Autumn fair when the animals come down from the mountain. The local cheese producers still adhere to traditional methods in many cases to provide a truly authentic product.
The most well known of the local cheeses are as follows
This is the cheese used to make Tartiflette, the dish of onions, potatoes and bacon finished off with the melted cheese. Reblochon is a soft cheese. The name comes from an old French word meaning ìto milk againî, due to the fact that, in previous centuries, the farmers who worked the land would be taxed by the landowner depending on how much milk their herd produced per day. They would therefore only collect a small amount of milk during the day before returning at night to collect the rest which they would use to make their own cheese. The cheese has a wax seal embedded in it which lets the buyer know if it is an artisan cheese or industrially manufactured, depending on the colour of the seal. It is also the only cheese listed on the French stock exchange and is known as ìThe Money Cheeseî.
This is the truly local cheese of the Portes Du Soleil, being named after the valley where it is manufactured near Chatel. It is a semi hard raw milk cheese that is aged for a minimum of three months. The cheese first became known outside of the valley when the Sainte Marie DAbondance monastery provided cheese to the papal enclave at Avignon.
Raclette is a semi hard cheese that comes in a wheel, and is also the name of the the dish that involves melting the cheese and serving it with charcuterie meats and potatoes. Although traditionally it comes from the nearby Valais region of Switzerland it is also a popular cheese and dish in the French Alps.
Tomme De Savoie
The Savoyard version of the Tomme cheese. It dates back to ancient times and is a mild, semi firm cheese. It is made from the skim milk left behind after the cream is used to make butter and richer cheeses. The flavour of the cheese varies depending on whether or not the cows are fed on summer grass or winter hay.
As well as the local cheeses, meats are also cured so that they will last through winter. These include the local hams and saucisson, often flavoured with the local cheeses,liqueurs or herbs and spices.
There are also a number of local liqueurs that the Alps is known for.
This is a local aperitif made from Artemisia, an Alpine plant that flavours and colours the drink. The plant grows in the Savoie and Aosta regions, where the drink originated.
Another green liqueur from the mountains, Chartreuse has been made by Carthusian monks since 1737 following a recipe set down by Francois Annibal D’Estrees and given to the monks in 1605. The alcohol is flavoured with a secret mix of 130 herbs and spices in the Grande Chartreuse Monastery in the Chartreuse mountains near Grenoble. The name “Chartreuse” has also been used to describe the green colour since 1884.
Other local specialities include jams and preserves and honey. The fruits that grow naturally in the surrounding mountains are perfect to be made into jams that can be put in jars and stored for winter.
The local foods can be sampled at the restaurants in town, at the local market or at some of the speciality shops in town and it’s well worth making the effort to try them for a taste of the region and the local history.