Why It Works
- Par-boiling the potatoes in generously salted water ensures they're evenly cooked and well-seasoned throughout the casserole.
- It's potatoes, bacon, cheese, and onions, what more can we say?
There are people who will tell you the only correct tartiflette is one made with Reblochon cheese. Pshaw! I say, that's just some clever marketing by none other than the consortium of Reblochon producers dedicated to selling the cheese. I say this as someone who has eaten "real" tartiflette, in France, made with Reblochon by farmers from the Savoie region (where Reblochon comes from), using their very own la ratte potatoes that they dug from the earth with their very own leathery, soil-stained fingers. Was it transcendent? Of course it was! But I've also eaten it made with yellow potatoes from the supermarket, and with a variety of funky, soft-rind cow's milk cheeses. And those were wonderful too. Don't let the Reblochon rule stop you, especially if you're in the United States where it currently can't be imported—you too can eat tartiflette using any number of similar soft-rind cheeses. I dare any of the purists to refuse a bite of non-Reblochon "tartiflette," or, if they deign to take one, to say it's not still glorious.
Tartiflette's life may have begun as a 1980s marketing campaign for Reblochon cheese, but it wouldn't be correct to say that this casserole doesn't have deeper roots. It is really a variation on a Savoyard dish called pela des Aravis. Pela des aravis is made from potatoes, onion, and Reblochon cheese. Tartiflette adds bacon and white wine to that. And both of those are just variants of the wider Alpine tradition of melting cheese on potatoes that includes dishes like Swiss raclette and Italian tortino di patate alla Valdostana. Hey, you'd make a habit of melting buckets of cheese on potatoes too if you were freezing your tootsies off every day in the frosty Alps. (Fun personal fact: My patrilineal ancestors hail from the Austrian Alps, where there is an actual mountain lake with my name on it, which means I'm biologically predisposed to eating this type of food. I'll be sure to tell my doctor that the next time I see her.)
Tartiflette is easy to make. The first step is to par-boil some potatoes. Some recipes have you cook the potatoes from raw in the casserole, but this can lead to the unfortunate situation where the potatoes around the edges of the vessel are soft and tender while the ones in the center are still undercooked. Par-cooking them guarantees even doneness throughout. It also allows you season the potatoes by salting the cooking water generously, and infuse them with additional flavors like thyme.
After that, you cook some lardons (little quarter-inch thick batons) of bacon, then soften onions in the bacon fat, and finally deglaze it with wine. Toss with potatoes and heavy cream or crème fraîche (the latter adds a pleasant tanginess from the cultured dairy), and top the whole thing with massive rounds of your soft rind cheese. Yes, Reblochon if you can get it, but really any similarly funky soft-rind cow's milk cheese. Each cheese will produce a "tartiflette" that reflects its flavors, but given how many great cheeses there are to choose from, that's hardly a bad thing. Here is just a small list of options:
- Préféré de nos Montagnes
- Jasper Hill Oma
- Jasper Hill Willoughby (the smaller wheels shown in the photos here)
- Jasper Hill Moses Sleeper (the larger wheel shown in the photos here)
- Delice du Jura
Take your pick, or go for something else in this general family of soft-rind, cow's milk cheeses that looks like it might be good. It's hard to imagine you could go wrong. I haven't yet.
- 2 1/4 pounds (1kg) Yukon Gold potatoes
- Kosher salt
- 3 fresh thyme sprigs
- 1/4 pound (115g) slab or thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4-inch lardons
- 1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 30g) unsalted butter, only if needed
- 2 medium (8-ounce; 225g) yellow onions, thinly sliced
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup (120ml) dry white wine
- 1/2 cup (120ml) heavy cream or crème fraîche
- 1 pound (450g) Reblochon-style soft-rind cheese (see headnote for suggested cheeses)
Peel potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds. In a large pot, cover potatoes with cold water. Season generously with salt, add thyme, and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Cook at a bare simmer until potatoes are just tender and can be easily pierced with a paring knife, about 25 minutes. Discard thyme, drain potatoes, return to pot, and set aside.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). In a 10-inch cast iron or stainless-steel skillet, heat bacon over medium-high heat until fat begins to render. Lower heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until fat is mostly rendered and bacon is cooked but not crisp, about 5 minutes. If there is excessive rendered fat, drain off all but 1/4 cup (60ml); conversely, if the bacon is lean and didn't release much fat, add 1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 30g) butter. Add onions, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until onions have softened but not browned, about 8 minutes.
Add white wine and cook, stirring, until wine has almost fully cooked off, 1 to 2 minutes. Scrape bacon-onion mixture into pot with potatoes and toss gently to thoroughly combine.
Scrape potato mixture back into cast-iron skillet or into a 3-quart (3L) baking dish. Add cream or crème fraîche (the latter is thicker, so you can dollop it around in that case).
Cut cheese into roughly 1/2-inch-thick slabs. You can do this by cutting the cheese wheels in half to make half-moons; halve wheels through the equator; or slice crosswise into thick planks. Arrange cheese on top of potatoes, rind side up. Set skillet or baking dish on top of a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbling and lightly browned on top, about 40 minutes.
Serve, scooping tartiflette from the skillet or baking dish onto individual serving plates.
10-inch cast iron or stainless steel skillet, 3-quart baking dish (optional)
Make-Ahead and Storage
Tartiflette is best enjoyed immediately. The casserole can be prepared in advance through step 4 and held at room temperature for up to 2 hours before being topped with cheese and baked. Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.