Deep in the Rhône-Alpes region of eastern France, lies the Haute-Savoie, bordering both Switzerland and Italy via the mighty Alps. While most people come here for the world class winter sports, the Haute Savoie also offers a superb gastronomic experience drawn from the magnificent Alpine landscapes. Savoyard food, as it is known, is based around traditional ingredients like mountain cheese, apples and blueberries, wild mushrooms and game, and fresh fish from local lakes. This is the great French mountain food: hearty and sustaining but also containing the delicacy and gastronomic genius for which France has become famous.
The Mountain Culture of the Haute Savoie
Home to the world’s largest ski area, Les TroisVallees, as well as a huge number of internationally known resorts, the Haute Savoie enjoys hot summers and abundantly snowy winters. Human population here is relatively low, by comparison to the plains of France, and the landscape is studded with lakes, waterfalls, caves, gorges, glaciers, nature reserves and of course the unforgettable Mont-Blanc, Europe’s tallest mountain. Dairy production, orchards and vineyards are the main forms of agriculture here, which gives a clue to the type of foods traditionally eaten by the locals. Famous cheese such as Reblochon, Emmental and Raclette benefit from the pure Alpine diet enjoyed by the cows, as well as offering calorific foods perfect for skiers and snow enthusiasts. Fondue Savoyarde, in which local cheese is melted in an iron cauldron, is the region’s most famous dish and perfect for consumption after a day on the slopes.
Traditional Savoyard Foods
Before the advent of modern tourism, conditions were tough, especially during the long Alpine winter. While some of the menfolk descended to lower regions to look for regional work, the mountain dwellers subsisted on what they could produce themselves during the summers: potatoes, hard cheeses, onions and cured sausages. Today, these same ingredients form the backbone to the regional fayre. Reblochonnade is a famous dish still found in local restaurants, basically an oven baked gratin of potatoes, bacon, onions and cream, topped with local cheese. Local wines are generally white and crisp, best drunk with fish caught from the clear mountain lakes.
Meat grilled on hot rocks
As well as cattle, mountain goat, sheep and rabbit are also considered Savoyard staples, offering much needed protein to the hardy mountain people. The local method for cooking these kind of meats is known as pierrade and involves heating a bed of rocks over an open fire, until they form the perfect natural barbeque. Look out for this delicacy in the restaurants of resorts like Meribel, La Tania, and Chamonix, where some of the world’s great chefs offer a modern update on this ancient culinary technique.
Tartes Aux Myrtilles
Though even apple trees do not grow at the high altitude of some of the ski resorts, one fruit which does thrive abundantly in the harsh temperatures is the blueberry, known as myrtilles in French. These small, tart and healthful berries are picked from the high Alps during summer, forming the basis of one of the great regional deserts of France, the blueberry tart. Set into butter-rich pastry, topped with sugar and baked in a hot oven this simple but stunning desert personifies the delicious and sustaining culinary traditions of the Alps. Unmissable.