The Antidote Diet
Wintertime makes me dream of sashaying down snow-furrowed slopes, clutching vin chaud in the chilly brightness of a mountain-top café terrace and most importantly hibernating in front of a log fire after stuffing myself with tartiflette.
Tartiflette is one of my guilty winter pleasures that relishes the knowledge that it’s months before bikini season. Chock-a-block with cheese, bacon, double cream, white wine and potatoes, tartiflette is high up the calorie league table. Its only competitor is its twin sister croziflette, which swaps out the potatoes for little pasta shells.
Savoyard cuisine is the antidote diet for those who are bored to death with kale and retch at the thought of spirulina. Haute-Savoie offers myriad dishes designed to clog up your arteries. Try diots (sausages cooked in wine) or the farcical-sounding Le Farcement (a bacon-covered potato loaf filled with prunes, onions and sultanas). Typical desserts are bugnes (sugar-coated batter balls that have been deep fried in oil) and Saint-Genix (brioche implanted with sugar-coated pink pralines and sprinkled with extra sugar on top). All this dietary recklessness can be washed down with an Alpine herbal liqueur Genepi that knocks you flat like a minty Absinthe.
With indulgence in mind, my partner and I headed to the hilltop village of La Turbie. Hidden in a corner of the main village square, we found Le Coin du Fromager. This encomium to cheese is where you can indulge your Alpine cravings without a five-hour drive to a ski resort. The front section is a deli with shelves of cheese-related paraphernalia from marble cheese curlers to quince jelly and fig crackers. There are over 100 cheese references: mainly artisanal French cheeses, but also European cheeses. The selection varies from season to season: favouring Savoyard cheese and Perigordian-walnut Brie in winter months and spiced goats’ cheese, mozzarella and burrata in summertime. Truffle-infused specialties are available all year round. There’s also an interesting collection of artisanal beers, independently produced French wines and rare spirits.
At the back of the deli, we found the restaurant. Perched on high chairs around a wine barrel, we surveyed the pretty stone-vaulted room with its chalkboard menus and stacks of wooden wine crates. Several rectangular tables had been joined together for an Anglo-French gaggle of friends, while another table appeared to be hosting a girls’ book club. The simple cheese-and-ham menu followed the adage that superior quality ingredients speak for themselves without the need for overly fussy cuisine. The cooked dishes included all the usual Savoyard suspects such as fondue, raclette and L’Humeur du Fromager (a version of tartiflette). However, we shared a Mont d’Or oven-baked in its own box and served with hams, salad, potatoes and bread. I paid a supplement for truffles: I didn’t regret it. The waiter grated a more-than-generous portion of truffle flakes onto my melted cheese. And this wasn’t just any old truffle, but a sumptuous black diamond sourced locally from the Col de Vence. As I delved a slice of potato into the truffle-infused melted cheese, I closed my eyes and imagined myself high up the Mont Blanc. If I were to be picky, I would suggest a rethink of the less-than-romantic bright spotlights and radio-station music.
Giddy with delight at the 34-euro total cost, we settled our bill just as another young couple were settling themselves at a neighbouring table. They had the casual air of repeat customers so I wasn’t surprised when the waiter came to take their order with the simple question: “Comme d’habitude (same as usual)?”
Le Coin du Fromager, 9 place Théodore de Banville, La Turbie; tel: +33-4-93-57-52-19; www.coindufromager.com. The shop is open Tuesday to Saturday 9am to 1pm and 3.30pm to 8pm; Sunday 9am to 1pm. The restaurant is open Tuesday to Saturday 7pm to 10pm. There’s another Le Coin du Fromager in Menton: quai de Monléon, Marché Couvert des Halles; tel: +33-4-93-57-52-19. The shop is open Tuesday to Saturday 8am to 1pm; Sunday 9am to 1pm.