Story by Sarah-Jane Gourlay
The French Alps in the winter are unmissable. With picturesque mountain villages, towering snow covered peaks and world-class ski resorts in abundance they also have some of the most delicious food to warm you up after a day on the slopes. A recent trip took me to the tucked away village of Peisey-Nancroix. In a valley between the resorts of Les Arcs and La Plagne it is a three-hour drive from Geneva. The benefit of staying in a local village rather than in-resort is the authentic French experience. Almost all residents were locals and therefore the local boucherie-charcuterie, boulangerie and supermarché were quintessentially French and of great quality so going self-catered was ideal.
Each morning we went to the bakery to pick up freshly made French baguettes, croissants and pain au chocolat. Accompanied by freshly brewed coffee and tea it was a great start to the day. With the heftily priced lift pass we took to the slopes for as much of each day as possible, it is certainly appetite inducing so understandably our minds quickly wandered to the next meal. Eating lunch in one of the many mountainside restaurants or in the resorts is an expensive choice, costing Â£10 to Â£20 a main dish it adds up over a week.
With such lovely local produce within reach of our chalet on most days we made sandwiches in the morning and took them up the mountain with us for lunch. The nearby village and resort of Vallandry had a wonderful sauccisson shop full of the cured sausages. There was a whole wall full of different varieties and numerous others hanging from the ceiling. With wonderfully intense and tasty flavours such delicacies are hard to find and expensive in the UK. We chose three different flavours for â‚¬10, one simple garlic, one tartiflette (cheese and garlic flavoured) and one we couldn’t translate but proved to be full of great taste! With discipline we managed to make them last the week as our main sandwich filling.
One day we did indulge at one of the mountainside restaurants for lunch. At the top of Col de La Chal in Les Arcs, 2600 metres above sea level, it was certainly a meal with a spectacular view. I chose a French Alps classic, tartiflette. This is a very rich, moreish cheese-bomb dish. It is made up of layered potatoes, dauphinoise-style, with reblochon cheese, cream, onions, garlic and bacon. Reblochon cheese is similar to Brie but even richer, fruitier and nuttier. Served like a gratin in a ceramic dish it is easy find yourself finishing every last mouthful gladly. One mountainside treat you must indulge in, preferably daily, is vin chaud. Every restaurant and cafe serves it for around â‚¬3 a mug. Similar to mulled wine and Gluhwein, it is a sweetened, mildly spiced hot red wine perfect for boosting your sugar levels and warming you up. I prescribed myself one a day.
We took it in turns to cook each evening. Stocking up at the beginning of the week we took a trip down to a supermarket in the town of Bourg-Saint-Maurice – known simply as Bourg – a twenty-minute drive away. The local shops were great for picking up the finishing touches and more unique ingredients and some great tasting wine. In particular a Bordeaux that quickly became our house wine, at only â‚¬3.50 a bottle. One night we had fondue, renting an earthenware pot and burner from a neighbour, the melted GruyÃ¨re cheese, crusty French bread and cold meats were a definite hit.
Abandoning the kitchen for one night we went up the mountain to the next village, Plan Peisey, where the popular and lovely La Vache sits just off a winding blue run. It is a restaurant and bar with cow print curtains, cushions and pictures throughout. It is charming and has a welcoming wood burning stove making it a great place to head to from the slopes. First on the agenda was mulled cider. Made up of cider, apple juice, cloves and cinnamon, we finished off a few of the big steaming cups with ease. It was hot sweet goodness that I intend to recreate at home. There was a great menu with some French classics featured including cheese fondue, raclette, fondue bourguignonne and pierrade. Raclette is a type of cheese served as a large half round at your table, set up in front of a heater so that you can scrape off the melted cheese, this and the classic cheese fondue really is only for cheese lovers. Fondue bourguignonne is a selection of raw meat that you skewer and cook in a pot filled with hot oil and Pierrade is a heated stone served with a selection of raw meat that you cook on the stone’s surface. These are both great because you can cook the meat to your exact liking. All of these are usually served with a combination of vegetables, salads, sauces or meat. We shared a fondue bourguignonne and pierrade. It was a sensational meat feast cooked to medium-rare perfection by moi!
Food in the French Alps is fresh, simple and irresistible and the beautiful setting is the perfect finishing touch. You should be able to find most of the ingredients at bigger supermarkets in the UK to create your own French inspired Alpine treats at home. Fondue kits are common and you can quite readily buy fondue bourguignonne and pierrade sets online. They are great for dinner parties with friends. Let us know if you have been to the French Alps recently and any notable mountainside meals you have had or alpine inspired meals you have cooked. Bon appétit!
About the author Sarah-Jane Gourlay is a foodie and contributor to JamieOliver.com