The French use the term après-ski to refer to those cozy snow-boots worn after skiing. However, in international ski-speak the translation is ‘party with your boots on!’ and synonymous with heading straight to the bars after the last run of the day. Fortunately, many of France’s renowned ski resorts are nestled high in the Savoie region of the French Alps, where après-ski revelers can party to their hearts content, and then thoroughly replenish themselves with the robust time-honored specialties of the region.
A Quick Bit of Background Alpine winter cuisine is perfectly suited for just such a job; rich and caloric, shaped largely by past necessity when mountain villages could be isolated from roads and other regions for months. In those days, people lived on what they could produce themselves, and what would preserve well, as is evident in many of the traditional dishes still enjoyed today.
Cheese figures prominently, and cheese making in Savoie is an art form handed down through the generations. Much of the agricultural land is devoted to pastures where lush grass, fragrant herbs and mountain flowers give a distinct flavor to cheeses made from the unpasteurised milk of mountain cattle and goats.
Say Cheese Many of these fragrant and full flavored cheeses rank among the finest of French cheeses. Besides enjoying a well-earned position on the best of cheese boards, they are used generously throughout French Alpine cuisine.
Fondue is perhaps the most legendary alpine dish. A classic Savoyard fondue is a fragrant pot of velvety melted cheese such as Beaufort, Comté or Gruyere from Bauges balanced with a little garlic, a splash of kirsch and finished with light and dry white wine.
Reblochonnade, sometimes called tartiflette, is a rich baked entree of sliced potatoes sautéed with onions and lardons – bacon used to flavor or lard a dish, suffused with fresh cream and topped with generous slices of Reblochon, a creamy cheese made from full fat cow’s milk. This rich and ancient mountain dish is a significant meal in and of itself.
Then there is Raclette, derived from the French word racler meaning to scrape, it is as much a relaxed and leisurely form of dining as a dish, and meals can go on for hours. Traditionally a large round of Raclette cheese is cut in half, and the cut surface melted in front of a tabletop grill until it reaches the perfect softness. The warm softened layer is then gently scraped onto your plate, which contains small boiled potatoes and assorted charcuterie with cornichons.
For the Committed Carnivore Pierre-chaud, braserade and meat fondues are also methods of cooking at the table often as part of a communal meal. The Pierre-chaud is an elevated hot stone slab on which you sizzle a selection of raw meats, the braserade is akin to a tabletop barbeque and meat fondues employ heated cauldrons of oil used for cooking by dipping in meats at the end of long forks.
You will find pork as artisan ham – natural or smoked, bacon, lardons, and handcrafted local sausages such as Diots and Pormoniers. It is also included in the local charcuterie in an endless variety of dry and salt cured sausages, as well as terrines and pâtés, many of which feature mountain berries, nuts, herbs and mushrooms. Menus will also include rabbit and game birds, as well as several types of fish from local alpine lakes.
More Please If one has over indulged during après-ski or would prefer to just sit back and enjoy, there are many accommodating traditional dishes to warm body and soul.
Potée Savoyard is a beautifully simple rustic stew of cooked belly pork ham, diots either smoked or plain and potatoes, turnips, carrots and cabbage.
Crozets, a rustic cube shaped buckwheat pasta, is sometimes served as a dish in its own right mixed with lardons, crème fraiche and Beaufort cheese.
As if this is not enough, there is Farcement; a sweet and savory steamed mousse or ‘pudding’ served as an accompaniment to pork, most usually ham and sausages. It is prepared in a special mold lined with bacon, filled with a mixture of grated potatoes, prunes, and raisins blended with egg whites and fresh cream, and seasoned with nutmeg. The farcement then cooks over hot water in a bain-marie for about 4 hours. Once it has set up, the pudding is tipped from the mold, cut into slices and served hot.
Save Some Room This brings us to sweets and desserts, ranging from the petit to the grande, and beginning with Truffes de Chambéry. If you were to trace the history of the chocolate truffle, it may surprise you to find that it all began in Chambéry at the heart of the Savoie where a local confectioner called M. Dufour invented the recipe for chocolate truffles in 1895.
If you prefer cake, Gâteau de Savoie is a very light and simple sponge cake baked in a fluted mold that has been prepared with butter, flour and sugar to give the finished cake it’s signature thin and crispy crust. These cakes are often served with jams, or simply dusted with confectioner’s sugar.
Matefaim avec Pommes is also a simple but sturdier dessert. Matefaim resemble large thick crêpes, often made with shredded potatoes or leeks served as or with the main course. In this instance, the matefaim is honeyed and made with apples caramelized in butter. Served sprinkled with cinnamon, and topped sometimes with crème fraiche or crème Chantilly.