Peter Cossins

Gastro guide to the Tour, Stage 12: Briançon – Alpe d’Huez

Ex-skier, Paris-Dakar winner and now brewer and bike fan Luc Alphand on Alpe d’Huez. (Getty Images)

We’re right in the heart of the Alps now and consequently well away from wine country. In this Tour Gastro Guide, the culinary emphasis is on hearty fare, washed down with beer or potent liqueurs such as génépi and larch-derived mélèze.

Meat dishes predominate, among them caillette, a dish that’s more usually associated with the Ardèche but is also widely found in the Oisans region around Alpe d’Huez. This round, pâté-like delicacy is made using pieces of pork offal, vegetables and herbs, which are chopped up and then formed by hand, eggs providing the binding factor. Coated in fat, they’re cooked in the oven and served either hot or cold, usually as an entrée, but sometimes as a main course accompanied by potatoes.

There’s no doubt about the origins of farcis de l’Oisans, which features grated potatoes with bacon lardons and vegetables – usually leeks and cabbage. Seasoned with chives and parsley, then formed into balls and coated with flour, they’re cooked in boiling water and served hot from the pan.

Similar in size and appearance are ganèfles. These potato dumplings are made with grated potato that’s mixed with flour and eggs, shaped into balls and then cooked in boiling water. Once taken out of the pan, they’re garnished with grated cheese, butter and onions, then baked in the oven.

Generally associated with the southern Alps, between Briançon and Gap, Oreilles d’âne is made with wild spinach. The leaves of the plant are shaped like “donkey’s ears”, hence the intriguing name. It looks like lasagna and can be made with this rectangular pasta, with alternating layers of creamed spinach, cheese and lasagna, but locals often use crozets instead.

As is the case throughout France, craft beers are becoming increasingly popular throughout the Alps. The best-known brand in this region is Alphand, produced by Briançon-born brothers Luc and Lionel, the former once one of France’s foremost downhill skiers who turned to motor racing and won the Paris-Dakar Rally and has recently become one of the presenters on the French version of Top Gear. The Alphands established their brewery in 1998 in the village of Vallouise, to the west of Briançon. They produce 10 different beers, including an intriguing-sounding stout flavoured with coffee, as well as their own cola and lemonade.

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