France is known for cheese, but never has that been more apparent than on my last trip to the French Alps, or Savoy Region.
On the way to Brides-les-Bains, we had stopped in Moutiers, a fair size city as one heads into the Les Trios Vallees. Walking into a grocery story was like walking into a dairy. I was amazed at the rows upon rows of different types of milk and butter. Then there were the cheeses. I have never seen so many cheeses outside of a cheese specialty shop. A few I recognized, but most were completely new to me. I opted for a mystery cheese that turned out to be very smelly and what I thought was cream for my coffee; it turned out to be the consistency of Keifer.
It seemed like every meal I was served in this Region was heavy on the cheese. The salads were served with cheese toast and the cheese courses at dinner were overwhelming.
But I was in the Savoy Region where it is all about the Raclette…..
Raclette is both a semi-soft cow cheese and a dining experience of heating the cheese and scraping off the melted part to eat (racler means ‘to scrape’ in French). It seems that back in the day Alpine herders would carry these rounds of cow cheese with them. At night they would put the round near the campfire, scrape off the cheese as it melted and eat it on bread. Today raclette is almost as popular as fondue and one can purchase trays that allow you to heat up the cheese at home.
I opted to try raclette at Le Ferme de Reberty, a beautiful casual restaurant in Les Menuires known for their raclette.
After a long, winding drive up the side of the mountain (don’t take the short cut unless you like driving on horrible switchbacks with no lights, no guardrails, and single lane) we ended up in the resort town of Les Menuires on top of the mountain. It was a little confusing to find parking and we didn’t have reservations, but the hostess was very accommodating. She poured us two glasses of local wine and gave us some cheese (surprise!) to nibble on while we waited. She was so friendly that she was almost apologetic that there was a wait! Once we were seated, we ordered the raclette and were not disappointed with the presentation!
The raclette cheese was served with the traditional accompaniments of small boiled potatoes, cured meats with pickled onions and gherkin pickles, and a green salad. Kirsch, a cherry brandy, or white wine is the beverage of choice. Locals believe that drinking water with raclette will cause an upset stomach.
For myself, this was definitely an experience that one should have in the Alps. The crazy drive, the presentation, the food, all made my last night memorable. I will leave with a word of caution, I never thought I was lactose intolerant but eating this much cheese over the course of a few days was a bit much.