Food: Bee in his bonnet

In these days of global cooking, thank goodness for a classic French dish you cannot make without visiting France (no matter what Delia says)

One of my most endearing memories of the late Elizabeth David is of her almost pathological belief in accuracy. This highly laudable obsession also branched off into an intolerance of stupidity, insincerity, plagiarism, dishonesty and plain bad taste.

Apart from being a devoted disciple of her evocative recipes and sensitively written prose (I came to ED's books much later in life than most cooksmiths I know), I found myself encouraged by her rage over the slightest inaccuracy. Slapdash factual notes over, say, the origins of a Greek fish paste, the correct method of fashioning an authentic bouillabaisse (including its correct spelling), the chosen herb to use in a sauce paloise (it's mint, for the record) or the proper way to dress a green salad, would have her reaching, exasperated, for her endless supply of little booklets of Post- it notes.

I would dearly love to be having an angry natter with ED just now. In fact, it shocks me to have to admit how cross I was when I learnt of her death - seven years ago now - as there was still so much to talk about, rant over, or giggle wickedly about (usually with reference to a perfectly daft recipe in some magazine or other) whilst quaffing a glass or two of fruity Beaujolais or properly chilled white Burgundy. And if I was to spend much of the twilight months of my life in my bed, as did ED, then I, too, would have a fridge in my bedroom in which to keep the Chablis nice and cool.

I will never forget the first time that I tasted l'aligot (pronounced "lalligo"), in the unremarkable town of Laguiole (pronounced "lie-yol") in the generously unpopulated Auvergne region of southern France. Laguiole is near nowhere in particular and a little time to get there should be afforded, but to those who are familiar with a very particular kind of knife, the designer Philippe Starck and a chef called Michel Bras, the town and its wild hinterland will surely be well known. Before I returned there two years ago, my one and only memory of the place was of these creamed potatoes with cheese: la veritable aligot.

On that first occasion, 12 years ago, Michel Bras had his simple restaurant slap bang in the middle of the town. I remember its interior as being quite brown, really, with the sort of furnishings more at home in a branch of MFI. But you will now find the twice-stellated Monsieur Bras high up on a windy hill a few miles outside the town, all glassed-in and swish, in the best possible taste - well, un peu Franco-moderne, perhaps; the tablecloth edges are now pleated, folded and then stitched underneath the table-tops ... but at least they are not brown. I am also pleased to report that l'aligot still reigns supreme, as Bras remains passionately dedicated to his region.

Now here's the difficult bit. You cannot make l'aligot at home. You see, it must be made using a cheese of the region, a fresh tomme de Cantal. Mature Cantal is not uncommon in France, but this particular local fresh cheese should not be more than three to four days old. I was most emphatically informed of this important culinary fact when I bought a few hundred grams from a fierce madame in the town square. I had the distinct feeling that she would not have let me have some unless I promised to agree to her strict commands. So I jolly well did.

It worked a treat the very next day, once my friend Lindsey Bareham and I had raced (for the cheese's sake, you understand) cross-country to our little Dordogne cottage, in which we were to spend a rainy week working on The Prawn Cocktail Years. Once I had made myself familiar with the kitchen, the potatoes went on to cook, a little garlic was peeled, cream was heated and cheese grated. The immature Cantal was very white - almost like Greek feta in colour and consistency - and smelt sweet and lactic.

Once the dish was assembled, I was thrilled to find that, in exactly the same way it had been presented to us in Laguiole, the consistency of the puree performed its special magic. For when this particular cheese melts and blends into the mashed potato, it becomes as elastic as bubble gum; so much so, in fact, that you just cannot stretch your arm high enough, when lifting some of the mass from the pan, to separate a serving. We laughed to see such fun, as we played with our food.

I find it perversely satisfying, in these days of relentless culinary borrowing, that here is a foreign dish we cannot make at home. We do not have its most important ingredient, nor is it feasible to import it easily before it becomes past its best.

Yet Elizabeth David and, more recently, Delia Smith, both implied that a Lancashire cheese would be suitable for making l'aligot. I strongly disagree. It isn't truly accurate. It is not simply potatoes with some cheese. If you want a souvenir from Laguiole that will perform correctly, visit the Philippe Starck-designed factory and bring back a knife with a bee on it

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

    £90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

    Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

    £96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

    Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

    £32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee