With a name reminiscent of an Urban Farm Animal, Aligot originated around 1120(supposedly) in Aubrac Monasteries, which often hosted many Pilgrims passing through on their long journeys; especially come winter. As they knocked on the large wooden doors, the pilgrims would ask the monks for “l’aliquod,” or “Something.”
The practicing monks, looking to conceive from inexpensive ingredients to properly feed and warm them, melted and combined Bread with the Tomme cheese which they made by hand. This simple dish soon became firmly engrained with the Monastery and the region, popularized by the pilgrims who would travel and introduce the dish afar. In the 19th century, the simple bread was replaced with the newly discovered Potato, and a deliciously smooth, rich, and cheesy creation was born. Now much improved, the tradition of Aligot fully cemented itself into Auvergne’s culinary practices, along with catapulting itself up as a French Classic.
Nowadays, though many would argue that it’s served in only one capacity, Aligot can contribute any part of a meal. Some people serve it on the side, some serve it from a booth at a market, and sometimes it’s used as the main meal in social gatherings.
The dish itself, as one would expect, is quite simple. Potatoes are boiled, mashed, and recooked with some form of milk or cream, butter, and a healthy proportion of French cheese, usually a form of Tomme. As it’s stirred, it turns into one of two forms: a silky, ribbony smooth, fondue-like dip of melted potato, or a firm, stretchy cheese-based starch dish. As a kickback to the origins, it is traditionally served with Toasted Bread, and can often be accompanied by a local Sausage on the side.
Doesn’t it just sound like the one perfect item in my list of 44 to thus make during the Superbowl? I certainly agreed! Which is why I’m happy to have had an excuse to try it out so early!
A Word On…
Potatoes: Any all-purpose kind of potato can be used (some even use waxy reds), some recipes even apply Yellows and Golds. But typically, various Russets; I wish we could have the selection they do in France and Britain, it’s quite interesting the different qualities their brown potatoes can have. Sadly, it’s a no-go here, so no use even getting into it.
Cheese: There are three classic cheeses in this dish. The main two are Tomme d’Auvergne and Tomme de Laguiole, two wash-rinded grey mold cheeses with soft and meltable funky insides, with a somewhat secondarily used cheese in Cantal. While the first two are quite a bitch, if not almost impossible to find outside of the highly specialized (or some uniquely random) cheese shops, Cantal is more available.
When it comes to Substitutions, which are quite likely to be needed, Cantal is also the easiest; it’s basically just a Mild, French Cheddar with a washed rind. White cheddar is very suitable in its place.
The Tommes are a bit more tricky in finding a “proper” replacement; from my research, they’re both Nutty, with the Auvergne also containing noted Herby and Mushroomy notes. From what I could tell, the closest French cheese in comparison really is another Tomme, specifically the Tomme de Savoie (others ARE notably different), which I acquired. Though I almost think I found an even better cheese in the Italian Quadrello di Bufala (Buffalo Milk for the win!).
Of course, other people have found a bevy of other cheese to use instead, some of my favorite ideas being: Lancashire, Langres, Mont Enebro, Raclette, and last of all Gruyere, which is probably one of the simplest and farthest from original flavors but very easily acquired and approachable for beginners (plus there are many different kinds when you get into it, so one can expand in a fun way). I’ve seen others use Mozzarella and other cheeses, but that’s just getting really cheap and far away from what this recipe IS.
When it comes down to the final decision, I love the idea and suggest using a Blend of two of one of three styles. A Cantal, or similarly mild and developed Cheddar; a Tomme or other washed rind; or, an interesting shared trait among some of the other replacements, a kind of Creamy Goat Cheese, preferably with some ageing and/or development. All in all, depends on what flavors one prefers and can get their hands on.
Milk: This seems to differ a lot; some recipes use all whole milk, some use Crème Fraiche, and some heavy cream; then there’s some that didn’t have anything at all besides butter and cheese. I would originally say Crème Fraiche is traditional, but I’m not fully sure, and either way I didn’t have the time I wanted to make it myself so I can’t properly test. Heavy Cream initially stood out too, but for once I actually felt like the simple flavors of warmed milk felt more right than simply fatty cream. At the moment, I’d say it all depends on what you want to do, or what particular online recipe you want to follow. I ultimately decided to just use the rest of some leftover Cream we had in the fridge mixed with Milk.
Boiling: practically all recipes call for boiling the potatoes, but I found one that steamed them instead. Intrigued, I thought I’d try it myself for fun as a more delicate, softer way to cook the tubers. And it seems I may have been right. But either method is fine really; I just like the idea of the second (think I’ll use it a bit more often for other interesting things!).
Proportions and Consistency: So, I’ve seen Aligots with no milk and huge amounts of butter, just cheese, large amounts of cream with only half-ish the amount of cheese, more median percentages of each, etc. With that, as mentioned in Milk, it’s hard to tell not only what’s traditional, but which variations should be used to get that perfect, unique “Aligot consistency.” If I were to haphazard a guess as to the most classic, I’d say it’d be using smaller amounts of thick, flavor crème fraiche and thus loading up on EITHER Butter (for smooth and drippy) or Cheese (for extremely stretchy).
2 lbs Russet Potatoes, Peeled
2 Garlic Cloves, crushed
1 cup Whole Milk
¼ cup Heavy Cream
4 Tb (1/2 stick) Butter, cubed and Chilled
6-8oz Tomme de Savoie
Salt n Pepper
- Cut Potatoes into even size pieces, Steam cook with a sprinkle of Salt until soft throughout, 20-25 minutes.
- While potatoes are steaming, combine Milk, Cream, and Garlic in a pan on Low/Warm heat to warm up and infuse the aromatic flavors.
- Similarly, take your chosen Cheeses and Shred Finely, taking care to not include any of the firm, funky rind (you can save that for yourself 😉 ). Reserve.
- Transfer cooked potatoes to a strainer to ensure any vestiges of water drain out; supposedly one should cover with a towel to absorb the steam. Not sure if it’s really useful, but doesn’t hurt.
- Mash or Rice potatoes back into the warm (and drained) cooking pot.
- Fold in chilled Butter, melting.
- Move to Medium-low heat, stir in warmed milk mixture until smooth.
- Add in shredded cheese, first a small amount and then more as it melts, continuing to stir, heat, and mix until all of it’s added and the potato-cheese mixture changes texture, turning Smooth and Stringy.
- Transfer to serving container, garnishing with sprinkles of Chopped Parsley and Ground Pepper.
- Serve immediately alongside Grilled Baguette and possibly Sausage if desired.
Best. Cheesy Potatoes. Ever. Just so smooth, and soft, with what ended up a delicate and gentle undertone of the uniquely French cheeses. And it was just so interesting eating the fluffy white starch on top of crispy, charred baguette, but with its notable departure between mashed potatoes and dip it worked. Not to mention it’s nice having the textural difference, even if Atkins is likely to hunt me down in the coming weeks… I’m scared…
Sadly, I don’t feel I was able to reproduce this dish properly; or at least, not in the version that I wanted. It was never able to get to that almost fondue-like velvety nature which I was looking for. Which, as mentioned earlier, may have been due to improper dairy proportions; I definitely wish I had more cheese to add in, looking back at recipes showed much higher amounts of the aged curds than what I had on hand.
I’m starting to consider that part of my issue in trying to find that perfectly svelt, ribbony melted consistency might also have lied in the fact that I chose to RICE my potatoes over simply Mashing them. Though normally it helps in creating smooth, evenly textured mashed potatoes, it also “fluffs them up,” adding air or something to increase the volume and change the consistency. For this purpose, it may have been better to leave them dense and compacted; as one is supposed to “cook” it in the pot for a while, constantly stirring with the cheese and milk, it would have probably smoothed out anyways. But, that’s something to note for another time; I’m still quite happy with the other traditional version of Aligot that I ended up with.
Plus, the leftovers are AMAZING! I swear, this is the only kind of mashed potato that I’ve ever enjoyed eating while cold (well except for my Mom’s Cheesy Potatoes, but that’s sorta different). But what’s truly remarkable is that the delicate, subtle cheese flavors come out even more noticeably after it’s sat for a bit. I still have yet to reheat it traditionally to enjoy the rest.
Speaking of which, it’d probably be great to use for making Croquettes much in the same way as these.
Primary Pairing – Jura Blanc
Though it’s traditionally served with Red Wine from the Auvergne region (which I have absolutely no clue as to where to start looking to find), and despite the fun cliché of pairing alongside the similarly sounding Aligoté from Burgundy, after seeing this recipe I just couldn’t help but to crave something from Jura! For those as yet unaware, as it’s truly not the most known of regions unless one really gets into French regions, the small area is located just East of Burgundy, nestled into the mountain ranges and plains between it and Switzerland. It’s nowhere near the Massif Central (where Auvergne’s located), but they’re both in the Alps so why the heck not?
What really makes Jura wine fun is the subtle veining of oxidation which the region’s grown up applying, creating very unique aromas and flavor palettes. Not to mention the use of purely unique regional grapes like Jacquere, a relative to Gewurztraminer, and the super light red Poulsard, which makes the perfect pairing when eating Aligot with a rich, tenderly chewy sausage.
I don’t know where the hell Buzzfeed got the idea to pair this dish (which had no mention of sausage in their post) with a Cabernet Sauv. Please, I beg people, do NOT attempt this. Truly pairing Wine and Cheese is a difficult and complex process, and almost always exclusive to White wine. The oft un-thought aspects of saltiness (which EVER cheese is exposed to, sometimes more noticeably than others) and the cheese’s unique rich, heavy, almost chalky fat composition will just play havoc with multiple compounds and flavor elements in wine. This is especially true with Tannins (and many other things, but for simple purposes we’ll stick with just this), interacting to turn flavors bitter and exemplify the more unpleasant mouthfeels of the wine and starchy-moldy cheese constructs. At the end of the day, Cab Sauv is one of the WORST wines to pair with a cheese dish unless you know what you’re doing (there ARE some hard, firm aged cheeses that hold less of these dangerous qualities and can meld well with the bigger flavors).
Now, of course, cooking and melting cheeses in dishes like this can severely reduce their overall impact, but it’s something that should still be considered. Especially since this dish has absolutely no firm, meaty texture to justify the need for a red wine; it’s mashed potatoes on bread, I mean seriously. Having a wine with fresh, gripping acidity from a cool climate like Jura is perfect for cutting through any vestiges of cream and fat. Not to mention bringing in the light twist of lightly salty oxidation to match and bring out the nutty French flavors of the cheese. Finally, I like to think the overall simple dish is a great accompaniment to let the rare wine shine fully. Which is what you really want; they aren’t found at most stores, and they’re a bit higher on the spending list; minimum $25-ish (which is what I had to get).
For a more affordable wine in the same spirit, Abymes de Savoie (a region close by, noticeably different but still fresh, light, and able to pair nicely) is notably more affordable.
I’m… not really much of a chardonnay person; maybe it’s from the whole global popularization, various “wine lovers” who only drink Chardonnay and Cabernet, etc. But this one, this one I’ve liked since I first smelled it in class over half a year ago. It’s just so…. “Jura.”
The very first thing one notices is the familiar notes of the toasted, creamy barrel, or maybe it’s the buttery notes of malolactic fermentation… but different. There’s more of the raw nuts, maybe some of that popcorn kernels, and of course that unique yeastiness and oxidation reminiscent of sherry, but much lighter. Despite the distinct presence, which again goes so nicely with the particular cheesy notes, the wine is still full and bright with the fresh fruit and mineral qualities of un-barreled styles. It’s such a great mouthful to enjoy along with the grilled bread and full, creamy starch. Not to mention the light oxidation, and possible skin contact, could help it to stand up to the texture of the traditional meat.
Oh, btw, this bottle comes with a wax covering. Fair warning. It’s quite messy to open; I do normally have a trick for it, basically just ignore the “cutting” phase and stick the corkscrew straight in, twisting and carefully pull. Most Wax tops just pop off in an almost-clean circle. This one decided it didn’t want to do that, the wax felt a little more firm and crisp than others. So be prepared to clean up.
Secondary Pairing – Normandy or other French Cider
Mmmm, so yum, I love using a nice dry or barely off-dry cider in place of whites, especially with meals that contain those sorta-iffy, unsure qualities (bit of salty, sweet, spicy, very sour, or whatever). They’re fresh, obviously fruity; like having the traditionally accompanying fruit plate directly in the glass. And the fun little sparkle from the carbonation to bring its fullness up to match the body and any light textures.
I actually had a Pear Cider at the superbowl party too, so I was able to test out the pairing myself! It definitely came through; I really love that light musky, or possible yeasty, flavors from the bittersweet fruit used in conjunction with the subtly unctuous Tomme de Savoie. Plus it feels more suitable to slam down during the festivities as opposed to a nice wine.