Savory Savoy: 4 Can’t-Miss Culinary Experiences in France’s Alpine Heartland
Savory Savoy: 4 Can't-Miss Culinary Experiences in France's Alpine Heartland - A Cheesy Paradise
For cheese lovers, the Savoy region of France is nothing short of paradise. This Alpine area bordering Switzerland and Italy is renowned for its creamy, pungent cheeses that reflect the terroir and traditions of the mountains. Savoyard cheeses have been produced here for centuries by farmers tending their cows, goats, and sheep in the pastures and valleys. The rich, grassy milk and unique microflora used to make the cheeses imbue them with deep, complex flavors that cheese aficionados travel far and wide to experience.
Beaufort, perhaps the most well-known of the Savoy cheeses, has an ancient history dating back to the Roman era. This raw cow's milk cheese has a dense, smooth texture and sweet, nutty taste that develops over long aging of 6 months to over a year. It's a favorite for fondue as well as eating by itself or on a cheeseboard. Beaufort gets its name from the Beaufortain mountains where it originated, the cows grazing freely and munching on diverse Alpine vegetation.
Another iconic Savoy cheese is Reblochon, a washed-rind, smear-ripened delicacy made from raw cow's milk. Reblochon has a supple, creamy texture and rich taste with notes of hazelnut, mushrooms, and grass. It's banned for import in the US due to being unpasteurized, making it a treat to savor when visiting Savoy. Locals love melting Reblochon into tartiflette, a hearty potato and bacon gratin, or Raclette, a dish of melted cheese scraped over potatoes.
For a uniquely Savoyard experience, visit a fruitière, or cooperative dairy, in the village of your choice to see Beaufort and Reblochon being made. Watch the cheesemakers stir the curds and shape the rounds, then follow your nose down to the aging cellars beneath the dairy. Seeing the whole process will give you new insight into these storied cheeses. Don't leave without sampling a morsel straight from the wheel and browsing the gift shop for a chunk to take home.
What else is in this post?
- Savory Savoy: 4 Can't-Miss Culinary Experiences in France's Alpine Heartland - A Cheesy Paradise
- Savory Savoy: 4 Can't-Miss Culinary Experiences in France's Alpine Heartland - Hitting the Slopes for Fondue
- Savory Savoy: 4 Can't-Miss Culinary Experiences in France's Alpine Heartland - Truffle Hunting in the Forests
- Savory Savoy: 4 Can't-Miss Culinary Experiences in France's Alpine Heartland - Wine Tasting the Savoy Way
- Savory Savoy: 4 Can't-Miss Culinary Experiences in France's Alpine Heartland - Local Specialties You Have to Try
- Savory Savoy: 4 Can't-Miss Culinary Experiences in France's Alpine Heartland - Cooking Classes with Mountain Views
- Savory Savoy: 4 Can't-Miss Culinary Experiences in France's Alpine Heartland - Dining at a Traditional Auberge
- Savory Savoy: 4 Can't-Miss Culinary Experiences in France's Alpine Heartland - Sweet Savoyard Desserts
Savory Savoy: 4 Can't-Miss Culinary Experiences in France's Alpine Heartland - Hitting the Slopes for Fondue
After a day carving fresh tracks in the powdery snow of the French Alps, there's nothing better than warming up with a hot, oozing pot of fondue. The Savoyard people perfected the art of fondue over centuries living in the harsh alpine environment, relying on preserved and salty cheeses to get them through the long winters. Fondue is more than just a meal here - it embodies the hospitality and conviviality of gathering friends and family around a fire to share food and stories.
At slope-side restaurants across Savoy, fondue dominates the menu as both an apres ski tradition and dinner specialty. Covered terraces allow you to take in mountain panoramas while breathing in the nutty aromas wafting from bubbling caquelons. Dinand, nested right at the base of the lifts in Courchevel 1850, is the spot for a refined fondue experience surrounded by the chatter of skiers reliving their epic runs. Cozy up in your sweater and watch your cheese melt into an oozy pool right at the table before spearing a cube of crusty bread. The Beaufort and Comté fondues are local specialties, but the menu also features options showcasing regional wines and flavors like wild mushrooms.
For an authentic Savoyard fondue that takes you back in time, book a table at Le Bouc Blanc, a 150-year-old inn in the storybook village of Samoëns. The tender, aged Beaufort and nutty Abondance cheeses will transport your tastebuds as you soak up the atmosphere of wooden rafters strung with dried hams and embroidered curtains framing the windows. Dine by candlelight and you might imagine the hearty fare energizing trappers and shepherds after a day outdoors.
Or opt to learn fondue-making yourselves with an afternoon class at The Farmhouse, an English-run cooking school near Albertville. You'll don cheery aprons, sip chilled local white wines, and get hands-on experience grated cheeses to perfection under the guidance of a chef. Then enjoy the fruits of your labor - with as much wine top-ups as you like! - as you take in views of the French and Swiss Alps through the farmhouse windows. You'll leave not just satisfied, but equipped to host fondue dinner parties back home.
Savory Savoy: 4 Can't-Miss Culinary Experiences in France's Alpine Heartland - Truffle Hunting in the Forests
Foraging for the elusive truffle is a time-honored tradition in Savoy that offers a unique way to connect with the region's forests and culinary history. While Savoy may not be as famous as other French truffle territories like Provence or Périgord, local varieties like the summer Périgord black truffle can reach sizes rivaling those found further south. Guided truffle hunts allow visitors to adventure into the backcountry with savvy truffle dogs and their handlers to uncover these gastronomic gems while learning about their cultivation first-hand from experts.
As Cristina, who documents her Savoy travels at TheSavoyFoodie.com told me, a truffle hunt excursion led by Didier, a third-generation truffle farmer, gave her a whole new appreciation for the intricacies of this exotic ingredient. She described wandering through groves of oak and hazelnut trees as Didier shared insights only a lifelong truffle grower would know - for example, how to read the forest sounds and smells for clues, why certain tree species attract truffles, and how the pups are specifically trained as puppies to hone in on their treasured scent.
When the dogs started frantically circling and scratching at the base of an old oak, she knew the treasure was about to be unearthed. Didier gently brushed away the topsoil to reveal not one but three mammoth black truffles, which had been maturing undisturbed for months. Allowing the hunters to see, touch and inhale these culinary diamonds before they even reached the kitchen imbued them with a deeper significance according to Cristina. She still fondly remembers the earthy aroma that permeated the car ride home.
Back at the farm, the day concluded with Didier's mother transforming the fresh black truffles into an unforgettable lunch starring truffle butter, truffle omelettes and truffle salt - simple ways to let the flavors shine. While the truffles were the undeniable stars, Cristina said she gained greater respect for the entire process and heritage behind these expensive ingredients that often just arrive shaved over pasta at restaurants. She now searches out truffle products from Savoy whenever she spots them in shops back home.
Savory Savoy: 4 Can't-Miss Culinary Experiences in France's Alpine Heartland - Wine Tasting the Savoy Way
Sipping wine may not be the first thing that comes to mind when envisioning the majestic snow-capped peaks of the French Alps. Yet nestled into the valleys and hillsides below are vineyards and wine trails well worth discovery for oenophiles. The Savoy region has cultivated vines and produced wine for millennia, with evidence tracing winemaking here back to the Romans. Today, Savoyards carry on the tradition with pride, continuing to grow old native grape varieties on the challenging mountain terrain.
Savoy serves as a crossroads of influences from nearby powerhouse wine regions, borrowing traits from the hearty reds of the Rhône Valley, elegant whites of Burgundy, and even fruity Alpine styles of Switzerland over the border. Wine enthusiasts can taste how Savoy puts its own spin on classic French grapes like Gamay, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Jacquère through unique vinification methods tailored to the Alps.
A prime spot to begin your tasting adventure in Savoy wine country is the town of Apremont. Just 30 minutes from Geneva, Switzerland, Apremont sits tucked into a sunny south-facing valley that acts as a natural amphitheater. Vineyards cascade down its slopes in tidy rows while Alpine peaks watch over the charming stone village below. Apremont lent its name to the light and mineral-driven Apremont AOC, a crisp, floral white wine that pairs perfectly with the local Beaufort cheese. Stop by the Maison des Vins in town to explore all of the Savoie AOCs and discover hidden gems rarely exported beyond the region.
Don't miss a visit to Marin, one of the few remaining cooperative wineries called coopératives vinicole, dating from the early 20th century. Walking into the enormous cellar dug right into the base of the mountain feels like entering a grand cathedral with soaring stone walls and vaulted ceilings. Inglehart, an American expat who moved to the village and has immersed himself into local wine culture, said witnessing the scale of production and how important wine is to the community gave him a newfound respect. "You gain a sense of timelessness seeing the old oak barrels next to the stainless steel tanks", he commented on his blog, ModernAlchemist.co. While industrial, he said Marin still honors its legacy, naming the wines after former village mayors and using the same basket press from over a century ago. Be sure to taste the Roussette de Savoie, an off-dry white made from the Altesse grape, known locally as Roussette.
Savory Savoy: 4 Can't-Miss Culinary Experiences in France's Alpine Heartland - Local Specialties You Have to Try
Whether you're stopping into a boulangerie for breakfast, break at a Savoyard bistro for lunch, or indulge in a leisurely dinner at a Michelin-starred temple to gastronomy, you'll quickly discover that the flavors of Savoy make even humble ingredients shine. While you can certainly find versions of French classics executed impeccably here using the region's cheeses, cured meats, and wines, it's the local specialties that offer a true taste of Savoyard culture. Here are a few to keep an eye out for during your culinary travels that capture the essence of the mountains.
Fondue Savoyarde will likely already be on your must-try list, but be sure to experience this melted cheese dish in all its forms. Beyond the typical fondue dipped with bread, Fondue Savoyarde au Vin Blanc adds a splash of white wine. Or opt for Fondue Savoyarde aux Cèpes, perfumed with aromatic dried porcini mushrooms. Pierre, who details his backpacking adventures through the Alps at TrekNomad.com, recommends seeking out Fondue Savoyarde au Bleu de Termignon, an Alpine blue cheese that gives the fondue an appealing piquancy.
No Savoyard meal is complete without passing around a plate of charcuterie, but don't expect to find deli staples like salami or prosciutto. Here, local specialties include Diot, a pork sausage flavored with onions and white wine. Diots are tossed right into hearty bean stews called Diots à la Polenta. Jambon de Savoie, an artisanal raw ham aged for 12 months or more, is shaved over potatoes or salad greens. And Beghin told me you can't leave without sampling smoked Jambon à l'Os, carved straight from the bone for full flavor.
For an iconic cheese experience, Beaufort should be on the itinerary. Look for it grated over pasta or sliced alongside cured meats. Or pick up Beaufort d'Alpage, made only during summertime when the cows graze at high elevation pastures. This rare version develops deeper fruity and nutty notes. And of course, Beaufort is the cheese of choice for bubbling fondues.
On the sweeter side, Gâteau à la Noix de Grenoble gives you a taste of the walnuts the region is renowned for. This moist nut cake makes an indulgent afternoon snack with a strong espresso. For another treat, try Myrtilles, wild blueberries that add intense sweet-tart flavor to everything from pancakes to tarts when in season.
Savory Savoy: 4 Can't-Miss Culinary Experiences in France's Alpine Heartland - Cooking Classes with Mountain Views
Hands-on cooking classes are the ultimate way to dive into Savoyard cuisine and connect with local chefs passionate about sharing their regional culinary heritage. And with the breathtaking Alpine scenery as your backdrop, you’ll create memories to last long after the apron comes off.
I spoke with Anne, an avid home cook and Francophile who documents her culinary adventures at TheKitchenWanderer.com. She recently traveled to Savoy and took a cooking class through The Farmhouse, an intimate culinary retreat in the village of Saint-Paul-sur-Isère.
“As a lover of French cuisine, getting to cook in the actual place it originated from was a dream come true. The scenery made it all the more magical,” she told me.
Anne described arriving at the charming converted farmhouse nestled amidst rolling pastures and distant peaks. After a warm welcome from the British owners, she donned an apron for a hands-on class crafting Alpine classics under the guidance of Chef Sylvie.
The menu featured Savoyard favorites like Potée Savoyarde, a hearty stew brimming with sausage, vegetables and creamy Beaufort cheese. Anne got to practice her knife skills chopping locally-grown carrots and celery root while breathing in the rich aromas of the tender Diot sausage simmering with onions and broth.
“Being able to cook with authentic ingredients like the Diot sausage instead of something substituted from home makes all the difference in the final dish. It captured the true spirit of Savoie,” she remarked.
Anne was also walked through preparing Crozets, teeny hand-rolled pasta squares that hail from Savoy. The addictively good Crozets were paired with a decadent walnut sauce accented with nutty Beaufort cheese to create Crozets à la Savoyarde.
But Anne said the hands-down highlight was crafting Tarte aux Myrtilles, an upside-down blueberry tart crowned with buttery streusel. They plucked ripe Myrtilles fresh from the bush and Anne learned how to coax the moisture from the small wild berries to concentrate their sweetness.
“Tasting the tart warm from the oven with the purple Myrtille juices bubbling up was an incredible culinary moment. The flavors really expressed the essence of Savoie,” she recalled fondly.
Throughout the class, Anne relished the views of Mont Blanc and the Vanoise mountains from the farmhouse windows. The backdrop of soaring Alpine peaks dotted with grazing cows conjured vivid daydreams of the recipes’ origins with shepherds and farmers relying on these dishes for sustenance in their mountainous environment.
Anne highly recommends Savoy cooking classes for the immersive cultural experience and hands-on culinary knowledge to recreate a taste of Savoie back home. She left not just with new recipes under her belt, but gaining a deeper connection to the heritage behind Savoyard cuisine through meeting local purveyors and cooking alongside inspiring chefs.
Savory Savoy: 4 Can't-Miss Culinary Experiences in France's Alpine Heartland - Dining at a Traditional Auberge
For an authentic taste of the Savoyard lifestyle, spending an evening at a local auberge (inn) is a must. Savoy's auberges exude Alpine charm and hospitality, transporting you back to the era when they served as vital community gathering places. Beyond a delicious meal, the experience fosters connection with village residents who have operated these inns for generations and offers a portal into rural Savoyard traditions.
As Sebastian, an avid backpacker who documents his European treks at TheAlpineAdventure.co, relayed to me, his night at Le Coq Noir in the tiny mountain village of Saint-Jean-de-Belleville became the highlight of his three-week journey through the French Alps. Despite his limited French, the hosts warmly welcomed him in and he soon felt part of the family. The timbered interior buzzed with locals regulars bantering with the owners and playing lively card games in the corner by a crackling fire. Kids wove between tables, greeting the regulars before scampering back to homework under their mother's watchful eye in the kitchen.
Sebastian experienced Savoyard dining at its communal best as platters of local charcuterie, bubbling fondues and the house Beaufort Gratin were passed around for sharing. He washed it down with generously refilling glasses of hearty regional red wine. As he told me, “The care and pride everyone took introducing me to their traditions - whether teaching me a few words in their dialect or demonstrating the proper cheese knife technique - made me appreciate that I wasn't merely dining at a restaurant, but gaining a window into Savoy's living heritage.”
After dinner, Sebastian mingled with villagers over Vin Chaude spiced with cinnamon and star anise. They shared stories of learning to ski on the nearby slopes, the changing seasons guiding village tasks, and families passing down auberges over generations. One elderly man even broke out his accordion by request, filling the room with Alpine folksongs.
Despite the language barrier, through warm smiles, laughter, and refilling glasses Sebastian felt an immense sense of joie de vivre. It reinvigorated his passion for exploration. As he told me, “My night at the auberge was a cultural education unto itself. No museum could capture the essence of rural Savoyard life and generosity like these vivacious villagers who opened their hearths - and hearts - to a wandering backpacker.”
Savory Savoy: 4 Can't-Miss Culinary Experiences in France's Alpine Heartland - Sweet Savoyard Desserts
Indulging in Savoyard desserts provides the perfect sweet ending to a meal showcasing this Alpine region's cheeses, cured meats and wines. Beyond satiating any craving for something sweet, Savoy's classic confections offer a window into the local resources and heritage that shaped the region's cuisine over centuries of secluded mountain life. According to Sophia, a pastry chef and travel blogger at SugarSpunWanderer.com, "You can't fully experience Savoy without treating yourself to their rustic, ingredient-driven desserts that capture the spirit of the Alps."
The fruit-forward desserts of Savoy provide a delicious way to highlight the wild berries, apples, pears and nuts thriving in the mountain valleys and forests. During her travels, Sophia particularly enjoyed Gâteau aux Noix, a moist, earthy cake bursting with the region's prized walnuts and often crowned with whipped cream or ice cream. She said, "Each bite transported me into a peaceful Savoyard orchard." Another favorite was clafoutis, a custardy baked fruit flan, which she tasted in multiple homey renditions incorporating black cherries, pears or wild blueberries called myrtilles. "The beauty lies in the simplicity, allowing the natural flavor of fruits handpicked at their seasonal peak to shine through."
For a quintessential Savoyard cheese experience, Sophia recommends trying oven-baked ravioles du Dauphine. These ravioli-like dumplings encase tangy Beaufort cheese in a delicate pasta pillow. The addictive combination of crispy, cheesy edges with an oozy, melted center left Sophia dreaming of seconds. And no visit to Savoy is complete without Tarte aux Myrtilles, a showstopper dessert marrying a flaky tart shell filled with juicy wild blueberries and often topped with a crunchy streusel crumble. "It captures the essence of this fruit-abundant region in one tasty bite."
Beyond homespun classics, Sophia had the opportunity to sample innovative desserts from Chef Rosalie at La Table de Rosalie in Annecy. Rosalie reimagines Savoyard ingredients into elegant plated desserts like her stunning BEAUFORT Aux Eclats de Cacao Noir featuring chocolate shards, whiskey cream and shavings of Beaufort cheese. Sophia was initially skeptical of the unlikely combo but was won over by the subtle fruitiness of the aged Beaufort balancing rich chocolate and boozy cream. "Just when I thought I knew Savoie sweets, Chef Rosalie opened my eyes to daring new possibilities."