Gastronomy in the Snow

  • © ATOUT FRANCE/PHOVOIR

  • © ATOUT FRANCE/PHOVOIR

Gastronomy in the Snow

The icing on the cake of a food-lover's break in the snow.

A whistle-stop tour of the "cuisine" of the uplands, where the traditional recipes of the "mountain people" are a treat for skiers and other holidaymakers alike.

Now a gourmet skier only needs to take a turn to get away from the universal self-service steak and chips on the slopes or the "fondue and raclette" evenings in the resorts.  A little research will show that an enjoyable outing on snowshoes can take you to a farmhouse inn serving a real food in any valley or hillside, or a high mountain restaurant with a sunny terrace and a sophisticated menu. And nowadays in the village resorts, you can find specialist pork butchers, producers of farmhouse cheeses and fine restaurants (with nice warm fires!) offering excellent value for money. These home-made products and traditional recipes celebrate the rediscovery of the regional cooking of the past, with country dishes which have been transformed into something sophisticated.

And naturally, you still find the same basic ingredients - potatoes, cheese, and pork products - but every mountain has its own versions: the flavours of diversity.  Cantal has its famous cheese, to be enjoyed alongside the Truffade and Aligot of Auvergne (to be tasted in a "buron" or summer farm turned table d'hôte). Munster has the essentials of a "Marcaire" meal, a Vosges speciality reserved for farmhouse inns (one of the requirements for the awarding of the label is being a dairy farm) consisting of a standard menu with Baeckeoffe taking pride of place, and Siesskass as dessert (fromage blanc with Kirsch!).

In the Jura, the pork produce is always smoked and dried in the famous Tuhé (an immense chimneypiece): first place goes to the Morteau sausage. A nourishing reward after a great escapade cross-country skiing … and, until spring comes, gathering mushrooms, and the Croûte aux Morilles! On the cheese side: Comté, Morbier and Bleu de Gex are the pride of the tradition of Franche-Comté.

In the hollows of the Pyrenees, mountain cooking naturally includes all the delights of Gascony: magret de canard and other confits. Garbure, the regional soup, is rooted in Bigorre and Béarn, as is a delightful dessert: the Rocher des Pyrénées. This cake, which can be of any size but is more or less in the shape of a pine tree, is concocted in an original way by allowing pancake batter to flow slowly over a spit!

On the slopes of the Alps of Savoy, there's a whole range of AOC cheeses, originating in history: Beaufort, Abondance and Reblochon. These garnish main courses like Tartiflette (which used to be known as Péla), around Chamonix. Those with sophisticated palates will also seek out the discreet blues of Vercors-Sassenage (Dauphiné) or Termignon (Maurienne), coveted by the great Parisian delicatessens. And sitting down to a meal also means relearning the history of the mountains, where the peaks are no obstacle to cultural and culinary exchanges. So you can rediscover the story of the lands of Savoy (the cradle of a first kingdom of Italy) through Farcement (a little-known treat!) or Polenta (corn semolina) and the famous Diots (little sausages) and Crozets (little buckwheat squares).

In Dauphiné, the Ravioles du Royans (little squares stuffed with cheese and herbs) make an elegant accompaniment to meats, like the famous potato gratin, which never goes out of favour. Essential details: Gratin Dauphinois is made with milk and crème fraîche only (definitely no cheese!) and has been covered by strict instructions for two hundred years! So in the heart of the Vercors massif (the declared cradle of the "Gratin", certainly since the 16th century), the ultimate snow resort - Autrans -is, of course, holding the 8th biennial of the best gratin, with some fifteen regional restaurant chefs competing (17th January 2005).

And, last but not least, there are the desserts and liqueurs … a real blackberry pie (with whole defrosted fruits rather than cheap jam), Rissoles (a kind of apple turnover) or iced soufflé with Chartreuse liqueur. With a liqueur - gentian liqueur or génépi, produced by specialist firms - everything slips down gently, in between ski or toboggan excursions!