It was a dark and rainy night in early spring. LL was channel surfing; he paused the DVR to call me over for the judging of an Iron Chef America rerun: Battle Ham. He pressed “play” just as Cat Cora was telling a table of enraptured judges about the gorgeous browned round pile of yummyness she had prepared for them, a potato-y looking looking dish served atop a bed of wilted greens and ringed with a deep chestnut-hued sauce. I jotted down what I heard her say,” . . . ham tartiflette, from the French Alps. It’s country ham grilled with fromage [something, I missed this word] – a triple cream cheese with herbs – potato, onion, bacon, and chives, with a ham jus.” The judges swooned. We swooned. Tartiflette looked like delicious dark and rainy night comfort food. Potatoes au gratin, with ham, right? I had to try it myself.
Uncharacteristically, I started by looking for a recipe. I’m light on French cookbooks, and mistress Julia Child didn’t mention tartiflette. Suspicious. I had luck with a Google search, of course, and found that reblochon cheese is the essential ingredient that gives tartiflette it’s tartiflette-ness. A few clicks later I discovered why. Tartiflette isn’t exactly a traditional French dish; it was created as a marketing ploy in the 1980’s by the Reblochon trade union designed to increase sales. With reblochon selling for $18.99 a pound in my local market, I can see why they may have needed to come up with recipes to spur sales.
Taste reblochon, though, and you will definitely think it well be worth it’s weight in gold – slightly nutty, velvety rich, soft like brie but with the firmer texture of a soft fontina. Aromatic, let’s say, on the agreeable side of what might be considered stinky. Reblochon has been produced in the Savoy region of the French Alps since Middle Ages. Story goes, 14th-century Haute-Savoie dairy farmers paid tax to landowners based on their herd’s milk production. When the medieval equivalent of April 15th arrived, those farmers didn’t quite milk their cows all the way in order to prove diminished production, ergo, lower taxes. But as soon as they settled up and the coast was clear, those cows were milked a second time, producing a much richer product. That second milking was preserved in the cheese-making process, et voilà, reblochon.
So I sprung for the reblochon, a Niman Ranch ham steak, Yukon Gold potatoes, and fromage d’affinois, a super soft double-cream cheese studded with herbs I had bought once and that I decided could be Cat Cora’s mystery fromage. After looking around a bit, I decided to combine this recipe from Joel Robuchon with Cat Cora’s list of ingredients. A fat and carb-fest not for the faint of heart, but it was delicious and I’ll certainly make it again. Just not very often! Here’s a photo with the recipe underneath:
I love this for a cold-weather dinner with a side salad of baby lettuces tossed with red wine vinaigrette. Since there are only 4 of us, we had plenty left over for breakfast, too – just top each serving with a softly poached egg. Bon appetit!
- 10 medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes
- 1 tbsp butter
- ½ cup minced white onion
- ½ lb ham steak
- ½ white wine
- 8 oz reblochon cheese
- 4 oz soft herbed cheese
- 1 cup half and half
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- Wash potatoes and cut into 1-inch cubes
- Put them in a pot of cold salted water and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, or until potatoes are al dente.
- Remove them from heat. Drain, rinse, and set aside.
- Melt butter in a large skillet.
- Add the onion and saute 3-4 minutes on medium heat.
- Add the cubed ham and brown.
- Add ½ cup white wine, turn heat to low, and simmer until wine is reduced.
- Place cooked potatoes in casserole dish.
- Add the ham and onion mixture and set aside.
- In a glass mixing bowl, soften the reblochon and soft herbed cheese together.
- Add 1 cup warmed half and half.
- With an electric mixer, mix the cheese and half and half at high speed.
- Add the cheese and cream mixture to the potatoes and ham.
- Gently stir.
- Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese and bake at 400 degrees for approximately 30 minutes, or until the dish is hot and the top is golden brown.
If you want more ham you can click here to watch Iron Chef America: Battle Ham on Hulu.