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Feb 9, 2014

Ski Bunny: Persillé de Tignes

THE STORY:

Anthony can't make it through the year without skiing in the Alps at least once. The first year, he went for a long weekend to Tignes, which is attached to Val d'Isere in the French Alps, chosen because of the high altitude for spring skiing: base elevations 2100m (6890ft), and 1850m (6070ft) respectively. The second year, he went to Les Arcs with work friends, as well as Gressoney (Italy) with college friends and Zermatt (Switzerland) with the girls and me. He's currently at Les Karellis (France) with his work friends -- where it's predicted he'll get from 10-25cm of fresh powder for the first four days -- and later this month will join us in a family week at Villars-sur-Ollon (Switzerland).

On his first trip, he earns office cred -- even if he is lost for most of the conversations carried on in French -- because he is a) one of the older people on the trip, b) the sole American, and c) from California. So the French are not expecting much from him, ski-wise. But Anthony, in case you've never been on the slopes with him, is a hot-shot skier. It's a thing of beauty to watch him come down a steep black chute (whereas I look like a helmeted Michelin-man careening down a mountain, with loud screaming sound-effects).
 
Even with his high Tahoe and Colorado standards, Anthony is still like a kid in a candy store skiing in the Alps. For example, one of Tignes's claims to fame is that it contains the worlds second-longest black run, called La Sache (which appears to mean "knowledge"). From up here, Anthony passes by the rock formation called l'Aiguille Percée (the aptly-named "eye of the needle"). The full run is 10km, through a valley and ending in the village of Tignes Les Brévières. Anthony and his co-worker go from top to bottom in roughly thirty minutes of hard, fast skiing. At least, that's his estimate. That would be about three or four hours for me, then.

slope photos by Anthony

The ascent alone is 1200m up -- about 4,000 ft of vertical -- and takes about an hour: a gondola ride followed by a long chairlift. Unless you're in the gondola that got stuck mid-mountain for eight hours a few months before Anthony's trip. Then it takes longer.

For their last night, they go out for a special three-course Alps dinner that consists of tartiflette (a potato & cheese casserole) followed by cheese fondue (potatoes and bread dipped in melted cheese mixture), followed by raclette (melted cheese scraped off a rotisserie onto potatoes, sausage and bread). Luckily, Anthony has probably skied twenty to thirty thousand (+/-?!) vertical feet today and also skipped lunch to get in more time on the slopes, so he can afford the three million calories he ingests.

  
THE CHEESE: Persillé de Tignes
 
Persillé de Tignes is a semi-hard raw goat's milk cheese that melts in the mouth. It's got a lovely, almost creamy texture in the mouth with just a bit of chew to it. The flavor is very strong but absolutely delicious. Strong, powerful, but not a rotten stink. It tastes much more related to a cow-based mountain cheese like a Laguiole or Gruyère than to a soft, spreadable goat cheese. When it's young, it's lactic and salty, but as it ages, it gets more peppery and fruity.
 

The cheese is named for the village of Tignes, in the Alps. But it turns out the village Anthony visits is not the exact Tignes it was named after; the original village was submerged by a manmade lake in 1952. Since then, the village moved over a jot. The history of the cheese goes way back before the village move, however. Legend has it that when Charlemagne was crossing the Alps in the 8th century A.D., he discovered and appreciated this cheese with the Bishop of Moustiers and brought it back to his court at Aix-la-Chapelle.

The location of Tignes may have changed, but the cheese hasn't; it is still produced in the old style -- an unusual method in which the curds that are originally skimmed off the mixture are then added back little by little each morning for five days. It is then salted and turned regularly for around two months of affinage. It must be aged at least 6 weeks and often is aged as long as months, at which point the cheese gets both drier and sharper. Paulette Marmottan is thought to be the last manufacturer of Persillé de Tignes, preventing it from disappearing like the original village.
 
THE CONNECTION:
 
Cheese from Tignes; ski mountains in Tignes. This is a great mountain cheese for the thousands of calories you need to fuel an all-day ski session.

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