Mar 6, 2015

Order at the Border: Raclette Fermière


You cross the border, and literally just minutes away, they suddenly cannot make bread. The bread in Italy is terrible: we call it Styrofoam. The more open-minded among you are saying, "No, it's just a different style," but we refuse to accept that anybody would ever choose Styrofoam over delicious French baguette.

I'm probably exaggerating, but not by much: You know it's bad when the girls, who are complaining about being hungry, leave an entire bread basket untouched. They would literally rather wait for their meal than snack on Italian bread -- and this is a better looking basket than usual.

But that doesn't mean France gets everything better. Just when you thought French pizza couldn't get any worse: Dominos in France has two new special flavors -- Raclette pizza and Morbier pizza. Raclette is fairly harmless, I suppose, though still not what I want on my pizza. But Morbier? Even the French people I am with when we see the advertisement are somewhat repulsed.


The best places for pizza in France, that we've found, are our friend's house, where they make a mean home-made dough and sauce. Perhaps it helps that our friend is part Italian-American.


Here he is: my goat cheese, olive, arugula pizza man.

Our other favorite French pizza (which seems like an oxymoron) is from the Tour d'Orloge in the small town of Avallon, in Burgundy, which is, frankly, a really strange place to go for pizza. Perhaps it's just that we've mostly been on a pizza moratorium since we moved to France and our standards are lower. Or perhaps it really is as good as we think. The crust is not soggy; the toppings are simple, fresh, and creative without being weird, a.k.a. Morbier cheese. Also, the medieval ambience is lovely.

When we are skiing in Switzerland, the pasta and pizza on the slopes are not just awful, but awfully expensive. We sit down once for lunch and a plate of spaghetti with red sauce -- no meat -- is 35 Swiss France, or $36. For our next lunch, we ski down the other side of the mountain, into Italy, and eat a plate of delicious and bigger plate of pasta for 12€ (around $15).

Cross back over the Italian border from France, and the pizza suddenly goes from mediocre at best to delizioso. The kids love traveling to Italy because not only is the pizza and pasta fabulous, it's the one place in the world where we'll let them order as much pizza and pasta as they want because, in this case, it actually is the authentic, local cuisine.

But we have to tell you that the best pizza we eat in Italy -- and quite possibly the best pizza we've ever eaten anywhere -- is in the Florence airport. Ah Firenze! Yet another reason to love you.

Perhaps a thousand years ago, a town just over the mountain range really was quite far away. But nowadays, with cars, roads, and trains crossing the borders, and the Schengen area effectively eliminating them, it's baffling to me that the expertise for things like bread or pizza don't cross into the neighboring village, let alone the neighboring nation state.

THE CHEESE: Raclette Fermière

Raclette Fermière, the farmhouse Raclette. It's made from raw cows' milk in Tarn-et-Garonne, a department of the Midi-Pyrénées. I've been on a Raclette-buying binge recently, because I find a whole bunch of new Raclettes in one of my favorite cheese shops. And none of them are from the Alps, where you'd expect to find Raclettes. Rather, somebody down in Southwestern France, by the other mountains -- the Pyrénées -- has been going crazy making a variety of Raclettes. This is the basic one: classic, mild, and holds together when it melts so you can use it to top your potatoes.

All in all, it's a fine cheese for the purpose. It doesn't have the sort of complex, sweet nuttiness of a great mountain cows' cheese you'd eat in it's pure state, like Comté or Beaufort. It's simply a mellow cows' cheese, milky and rich and fine for melting.


Pizza is great. Raclette Fermière is great. But Raclette Pizza? You can certainly melt some farmhouse Raclette on top of your 'za -- I mean, French Domino's is trying it -- but I wouldn't recommend it.


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