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Friday, April 19, 2013

Aligot on a French Menu; What’s That? Aligot is one of France’s Traditional Potato and Cheese Dishes and Remains Hugely Popular.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman
Last updated October 2016.

Aligot being prepared for an outdoors party.
Photograph courtesy of Anduze traveler
Aligot is a mashed potato and cheese dish and I try never to visit certain parts of France without Aligot at a favorite restaurant. Versions of Aligot are made in the department of Cantal, so famous for its cheeses, in the new super region of Auvergne - Rhône-Alpes. Locally they use a young Cantal AOP cheese or a local tome. Over the border in the Pays de Aubrac in the department of Aveyron now part of the new super region of Occitanie the cheese will be a young Laguiole AOP cheese.  Over Cantal’s and Aveyron’s borders is the department of Lozère also in Occitanie.  Lozère's Aligot recipe uses any of the cheeses mentioned above as they are also made locally. 

For an Aligot to the cheese and mashed potatoes are added garlic, crème fraîche, and milk and butter. This combination is carefully stirred until long threads of cheese and potato may be drawn from the pot. From personal experience on a cold winter's evening, after forty minutes in the freezing cold while looking for a taxi and no time for lunch, the smell alone can be mistaken for the ambrosia of the gods. The thought of the mashed potatoes and a great cheese with all the additions makes my mouth water as I write this.

Aligot et Saucisse de Boeuf Saler
Aligot with beef sausages made from the Salers cattle.
Photograph courtesy of THEfunkyman
Aligot will be served, in private homes, with sausages, usually, local, small, salami type, grilled, pork sausages, though that is not written in stone. Restaurants that offer Aligot on their menus may also offer sausages, but they often upgrade their menus by offering duck, roast beef or lamb, homes may also upgrade their Aligot.


Aligot in a restaurant.
Photograph courtesy of Tavallai
The original recipe is fiercely claimed by the three departments noted above; success has many fathers and mothers.  That means the original recipe is also claimed by other French departments.   All these claims and counterclaims, the locals will tell you, have been going on for five hundred years; that, despite the fact that the potato only came to France in the early 16th century and then until the second half of the 17th century, most of France thought potatoes were toxic.  At one time there was even a French law that banned eating potatoes!  Despite the arguments about Aligot’s origins in a restaurant that I visit all the diners care about is the well-made Aligot for which the restaurant is famous.
If you do care about where Aligot was first made, first look at a map of France; there, on the map, you will see that the three departments with the strongest claims to the original recipe are neighbors. Good recipes quickly travel across political borders. I give them all a tie for first place. Despite that, I may be refused entry to Cantal,  Aveyron, and Lozère for saying so, but some Aligots that I have tasted outside these areas were excellent.

Magret de Canard Rôti et Aligot
Grilled, pan fried, or roast duck breast served with Aligot.
Photograph courtesy of Jennifer Peepas.
Note that in the picture above the duck breast is rosé, pink in the center. This, I agree with the French, is the best way to enjoy duck breast. Only waiters with a great deal of exposure to tourists would consider asking how the diner wants their duck breast cooked.  Among the French diners over 95% will prefer their duck breast rosé, pink. The Pays de Aubrac is also renowned for its foie gras, and so duck will be on many menus. The Auvergne - Rhône-Alpes also has much more than Aligot alone.    The new super region of Auvergne – Rhone-Alps has more French AOP cheeses than any other region.

Aligot et Filet de Boeuf Fermier d’Aubrac
Aligot served with a cut from a beef fillet from the French Label Rouge, red label, farm-raised and freely grazing Aubrac beef.
Photograph courtesy of Hung Ho YU Photography
The fillet of the Aubrac beef in the picture above comes from the red label Aubrac breed that grazes in summer from the south of the Massif Central, and on through parts of Lozère and Cantal. The capital of the Pays de Aubrac is the small village or Laguiole is famous not only for the Aubrac cattle raised around the village  and on the Aubrac Plateau but also for the Laguiole AOP cheese and the Laguiole cutlery named after the village. The Laguiole AOP cheese is also called the Tom de Laguiole AOP and when young will be part of their Aligot.   The Laguiole AOP cheese is a 45% fat, firm, yellow, cow’s cheese, made with unpasteurized milk and aged from 4 to 24 months. From a blind tasting of a six-month-old cheese and an 18 month Laguiole AOP cheese, the difference was truly noticeable. The cheese I chose to take home was the old one.  For more about buying cheese in France and taking it home click here.
To understand these AOP ratings on French cheeses and other products see the post. Why is the AOC becoming an AOP on French Food, Wines, and More?

The name of the village of Laguiole is pronounced lay-ole, the g is silent.  The village is also famous for La Maison du Laguiole; France’s admired manufacturers of cutlery. Many French sommeliers pride themselves on only using Laguiole corkscrews; the limonadier type of corkscrew. However, be aware that the name Laguiole is not owned by a particular manufacturer and Laguiole knives, etc., are also made elsewhere, so if you want the original look for the place of manufacture..

The Limonadier corkscrew.

Michel Bras and his restaurant.
Also in Laguiole, just above the village, is the restaurant Bras, run by the chef Michel Bras and his son. I do not usually recommend restaurants as in one year a chef can change and the whole menu can change. However, Michel Bras was one of those young chefs who fifty years ago threw out the heavy sauces and created the Nouvelle Cuisine that led to today’s modern French cuisine. As an Icon of French cuisine, Michel Bras has had three Michelin stars at his restaurant for 14 years, so I do not expect any sudden changes. If your credit card is in good shape then consider visiting the hotel and restaurant owned by one of France’s true master-chefs; however, a word to the wise, in France chefs and restaurants do take holidays, and also have weekly closings, so check and book ahead.

The Salers breed of cattle is raised in the Auvergne for both their beef and their milk; the Cantal AOP,  the Salers AOP, and Bleu d’Auvergne cheese, also the used in the Auvergne Aligot may only be made with the milk from this breed.
Aligot on French Menus:
Mercredis Aligot Soir  –   This is menu shorthand advising regular customers that aligot is offered every Wednesday evening.  Aligot was originally a festive dish, which locally it still is; hence some local restaurants still treat aligot as a festive dish have it on the menu once a week.
Aligot d'Auvergne Saucisse et Salade de Printemps – Auvergne Aligot served with an Auvergne sausage and a Spring salad. The traditional Auvergne sausage is a small salami type sausage, about 100 grams, made with pork, pork fat and beef; when served with aligot it is usually grilled. When this sausage is not served with Aligot, it may then be eaten uncooked like any salami type sausage. The spring salad accompanying the Aligot and sausage on the menu will include uncooked young vegetables, sprouts, and shoots.
L'Aligot avec le Gigot d'Agneau de Lozère - Aligot served with roast leg of lamb from Lozère.  A roasted leg of lamb is enough for four, possibly more, and so you will be offered slices. Lamb in France is preferred rosé, pink, and unlike a steak, you will rarely be asked how you would like your lamb served. While I prefer my lamb in the French manner, rosé, if want your lamb cooked differently advise your waiter when you order. Well done is bien cuit, pronounced bien kwee.
The lambs of Lozère are highly rated and are raised naturally by their mothers in the Cevennes National Park; these lambs will be on local menus from June through November.

Filet de Bœuf, Purée d'Ail, Aligot au Bleu Vercors-Sassenage AOP. – A cut from the tenderloin, the beef fillet, served with a garlic puree and aligot made with the blue Vercors-Sassenage AOP cheese. This  is a change from the traditional yellow cheeses used and this blue cheese is a 50% fat cow’s milk cheese made with pasteurized milk. For a blue cheese it is mild with a sweet and slightly nutty taste. The cheese is aged for a minimum of 21 days before being sold. Bleu de Sassenage was a cheese that nearly disappeared until a dairy in Grenoble recreated the market some 50 years ago.  
Most of the farm made versions of this cheese is now made within the boundaries of the Natural Regional Park of Vercours. The park is set within the departments of Isère and Drôme in the new super region of Auvergne - Rhône-Alpes. The park’s website is in French only but with the Bing or Google translate apps is easily understood.
A final note on France’s fears that potatoes were poisonous:

Many European countries originally considered potatoes toxic as the leaves of potatoes, and its flowers are, in fact, poisonous. N.B. Old potatoes that have turned green are also toxic. In the early 15th century differentiating between potatoes leaves and the potato itself was not understood.  Then, in France, along came a pharmacist called Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (1737 – 1813).  Through Parmentier’s promotion of potatoes he saved tens of thousands of peasants from dying from starvation during the French crop failures in 1780. Today, any dish on a French menu with Parmentier in its name is a potato dish, and there are quite a few. Without Parmentier we would also have no Aligot and no French Fries.

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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
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For more information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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