Monday, 6 April 2009

Eating in the Alps

Last week, T and I went skiing in France. We are not very good as we have only been once before, but we thought we'd give it another go.

I was looking forward to eating lots of great food, but I was a little disappointed. We stayed in a catered chalet so most of our food was cooked by seasonnaires, which meant it was a little patchy. I suppose that you can't expect a 19 year-old, with little or no culinary experience to whip up amazing meals for 16 hungry skiers twice a day, but by the end of the week it was very obvious which of the 3 hosts who worked in our chalet had been sent to cookery school! One girl was very good and well-organised, but the other two were a little chaotic, burnt the dinner and didn't set out enough places at the table!

Mostly the food was British, which I thought was a bit silly given that we were in Southern France. They did attempt a local speciality, tartiflette. This is like a dauphinois, but the potatoes are layered with bacon and onions and topped with Reblochon cheese. There were also a couple of great dishes, such as roast lamb with Savoy cabbage, and honey and goats' cheese bruschetta. I tried to steal the recipe for this from the chalet host guidebook after they'd left for the night, but I couldn't find it in there! I think it had been adapted from the goats' cheese salad recipe, so I will try to recreate it soon as it was delicious (which is a lot for me to say as normally I hate most cheeses).

Everyday, when we got back from skiing, there would be baguettes, butter, jam and a cake left out for us to snack on until dinner time. The butter was unsalted and made using partly fermented milk, giving it a slightly "yoghurty" tang. I wasn't entirely convinced by unsalted butter, but I did like the tanginess. On the flight home, our meal contained a bread roll with salted butter. Even over the week, I had adjusted to unsalted butter so much that the salted butter was almost overwhemingly salty. If I can find unsalted butter with the added ferment here I might convert to that instead, perhaps just adding a pinch of salt every so often.

One night we went out for dinner. I think if the exchange rate had been a little better I might have been tempted by Le Farรงon, which was in the same town as our chalet. Instead we went to La Taiga, which was pretty good, but I was disappointed that T was not up for something ridiculously stereotypical: a fondue! I am trying to get more in to cheese so I thought maybe this would be the way to go.

Instead T had a venison steak and I had duck breast. Mine came with a courgette gratin, which I thought was an interesting way to present courgettes. This is another one on the "to-try-at-home" list as I only really use courgettes in ratatouille or roasted vegetables. We shared an assiette of desserts, with a tiny creme brulee, a slice of chocolate terrine and miniature raspberry crumble. The chalet hosts also made a crumble, and both of them had a very crispy, sweet toppings. I usually put oats in my crumble topping, so it was immediately a bit strange to not have such a textured topping. I'm not sure whether the crispiness and excessive sweetness came from incorrect ratio of flour to sugar and butter, the vaguaries of French flour, an overly thin layer of topping, or the effects of the altitude on baked items.

The other culinary highlights of the week were the vast quantities of vin chaud I consumed, and the deli in La Tania village centre. The supermarket there catered mainly for tourists, so there was a lot of pre-packed and mass-produced stuff. The deli had a great selection of local cheeses and meat, although sadly I didn't think it would be able to survive the plane journey home. Instead I bought some Savoie pate with ceps, and a jar of local honey. I'm going to get some nice bread on the way home from uni, so that may end up being my dinner tonight.

I will try and get T's camera so I can put some pictures up!