I am increasingly loathe to post any variation on a traditional recipe for fear of igniting national indignation à la Jamie and his Jollof rice. Admittedly, my readership is somewhat smaller than Mr Oliver’s but nevertheless I learned my lesson with the whole ‘your Bajan Macaroni Pie looks like thrush’ blogpost episode. However, Tartiflette – a French cheese, bacon and potato combination – sounded like such a divine way to put on half a stone in one sitting that I decided to throw caution to the wind and experiment using a British cheese. I then found out that Tartiflette was actually invented in the 1980s to drum up sales of reblochon cheese and so it felt much less like cultural plunder then anyway.
Reblochon cheese is produced in the French Alps and it’s a washed rind cheese made with cow’s milk. The story of the name is a great one: the verb ‘reblocher’ means ‘to pinch a cow’s udder again’. Back in medieval times, peasants would have to pay an excise to their landlords based on how many pots of milk they produced in a day. When the landlords came to inspect, they would only part-milk the cows so as to pay less money. When the landlords had gone, they would then ‘pinch the cow’s udder again’ and complete the milking. This ‘second’ milk was found to be very rich and perfect for making cheese.
I decided to use a British cheese called Golden Cenarth, which is made in west Wales by Carwyn Adams of Caws Cenarth. The family-run company also make the lovely Perl Las and Perl Wen cheeses, amongst others. Like reblochon, Golden Cenarth is a washed rind cheese, washed in cider to develop an orange rind and pungent taste. Some hardcore cheese fiends find that it’s not quite stinky enough for their liking but I liked this cheese a lot, as did the rest of my cheese-loving household which normally turns up its collective nose (literally and figuratively) at washed rind cheeses. It was lovely and creamy with a stinky kick but didn’t require you to have the inside of your car valeted after driving it home. Oh – and it won Supreme Champion at the British Cheese Awards, just in case the judgement of my family isn’t recommendation enough. Here’s the Golden Cenarth on the left with its waxed Caerffili sibling.
This is a perfect dish for this time of year, when it’s getting dark and chilly and you can cover up fleshy overhangs with a multitude of scarves and swingy coats. As soon as you’ve served it, if there are leftovers, I suggest firmly wrapping them in several impenetrable layers of foil, otherwise you will be going back to the dish for a nibble of crispy bacon here or a cheesy bit of potato there and before you know it, you’ve consumed your saturated fat allowance for the rest of winter.
1 kg potatoes, washed and scrubbed
200g smoked bacon lardons
1 onion, sliced
1 garlic clove
1 tsp thyme leaves
1 whole Golden Cenarth (200g), cut into small pieces
120ml white wine
200ml double cream
50ml crème fraiche
50g grated cheese
Preheat the oven to 200˚c / 180˚C fan assisted / Gas Mark 6. Parboil the potatoes until they are soft enough to slice easily but not liable to crumble (about 5-10 minutes, depending on the type and size of potato). Slice them into 2cm slices and put aside.
Meanwhile, fry the lardons until they start to go crispy. Pouring off a little of the fat halfway through will help them to crisp up. Put them aside on some kitchen paper to drain. Adding a little olive oil if necessary, add the onion to the empty pan and fry until soft; add the white wine to deglaze the pan.
Cut the garlic clove in half and rub all over the inside of a baking dish, then lightly grease the inside of the dish. Put a layer of potato slices on the bottom of the dish and cover with a layer of the onion mixture, some lardons, thyme and cheese pieces.
Repeat until you have three layers. Pour over the double cream, dot with the creme fraiche and cover with a layer of grated cheese (I used the Caerffili, which had a lovely lemony freshness). Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese on top has melted and the mixture below is hot and bubbling.
Serve with a green salad or green vegetables and a crisp white wine. Then sneak back, remove the foil and eat some more.