Most characteristic of Alpine cuisine is the liberal amount of cheese made from the local cow, ewe and goat milk. The fromageries of Franche-Comté and the Northern Alps are full of cheeses like Roblochon, Tome des Bauges, Emmental, Chèvre, Comté and Beaufort. These are found not just in the famous fondue, but also raclette and tartiflette (both cheese-based dishes served with ham and potatoes). Other cheeses worth seeking out include the smooth blue-veined Bleu de Gex, produced exclusively in the Pays de Gex region, and creamy Saint Marcellin, from the Grenoble area.
Many restaurants feature fish (notably salmon and trout) from the Alpine lakes and use locally grown herbs, like thyme, basil and rosemary. These herbs are particularly in evidence in the Southern Alps around Briançon, where they are often used to flavour the saucisson (cured sausage), which you’ll find in many a morning shopping market.
The region produces many light and fruity varieties of wine, of which the most popular is the dark red Mondeuse, with its faint taste of raspberries. By contrast, the expensive vin jaune from the Jura is a potent, golden wine, made from Sauvignon grapes with a fermentation process similar to that of sherry – it remains in the cask for 6–10 years before being bottled. Vin jaune is a favourite accompaniment for the local cheeses of Franche-Comté, and is used in speciality dishes such as poulet au vin jaune (chicken in a creamy sauce flavoured by the wine). It’s also worth sampling some regional liqueurs. The most famous of these is undoubtedly Chartreuse, the drink produced by Carthusian monks since the sixteenth century, which contains 130 different herbs and is known as the “elixir of life”, while Chambéry is famous for its high-quality vermouth, including the unique Chambéryzette, flavoured with strawberries.