“Who’s making the aligot, you? But it’s so hard to make, so hard to get the right cheese. I’ve never tried making it at home,” said the sweet lady in the butcher shop as she sold me the almost-correct sort of sausages.
“You’re really making it yourself? I can’t believe it. (subtext: an American making a mythically difficult and locally rare dish???) Would you mind bringing me some leftovers?” said the friendly guy who sold me the just-right type of potatoes.
Mais oui, I’ve been itching to make the famous dish of the Aubrac region, ever since I accidentally happened across the special cheese while making a random visit to a market in La Calmette. Actually, some people insist that you have to have the Appellation Contrôlée tome fraîche from Laguiole, but this cheese seemed as close as I’d ever get, so far from the ancestral land of aligot. So I brought the cheese home with me, and began a race against time, since some people say the cheese shouldn’t be more than 3-4 days old. But then some people say it can be 10 days old. Some people ought to get together and agree about things!
In any case, I had to get moving, and of course, I didn’t want to leave anything to chance, having been the recipient of so much amazement and laughing encouragement, not to mention being in possession of a possibly slightly sub-optimal cheese. Extensive research was in order.
The web is replete with recipes and serving suggestions for aligot. The basics are similar: about a kilo of floury potatoes to 400 grams or so of tome fraîche, the special young fresh cheese that will later in its life become the famous aged cheese of Laguiole. But after that, there’s no great agreement. Crème fraîche, liquid cream, milk, butter, some or all of the above? Garlic or not? Even nutmeg made its appearance in a few recipes. After copying down several variations I decided that I had a feel for the dish in general.
But I also had a secret weapon: our friend Maryse, who lived for several years in aligot-land, which I hoped would tip the scales of aligot success in our favor.
Now, before I go into detail, if you’d like a musical accompaniment, click here then click the little green arrow under Ecouter la Chanson, for a cute Aligot Saucisse song, complete with printed lyrics so that you can sing along.
And if the catchy tune inspires you to have a glass of wine before you try singing along, my research told me that a merlot is a good accompaniment to aligot. I picked a wine that’s only 75% merlot, and really not from the region where aligot is queen, but one which has the additional allure of sharing a name with Maryse’s daughter who’s just gone off to study in a faraway city,
Cuvée Noémie. Noémie nostalgia aside, it was a good choice, because you want a red with a good level of fruit balanced by a nice acidity and structured tannins, to make its presence known amidst the crème fraîche, cream, milk, butter, cheese, and oh yes, the piles of potatoes.
So, you make a smooth purée of everything but the cheese, get it all good and hot, then, here’s the tricky part. You have to stir like crazy, and lift the mixture in the air, while adding the cheese. Some people say you have to stir in a figure eight pattern, some say always in one direction, but all say that you need a strong arm or two in order to succeed in getting the aligot to fall in elastic sheets from the spoon. Maybe we weren’t strong enough, or maybe we had a slightly wrong blend of dairy products, or maybe our moon wasn’t aligned with aligot, or maybe the AOC goddess was punishing us for our inferior cheese, but the best we could do was
a purée that was a bit elastic, but nothing like the famous you-have-to-cut-it-with-scissors texture we were aiming for. Oh well, it still tasted very good.
We had it with sausage (aligot…saucisse! aligot…saucisse!) and a tart, bitter salad of arugula and garden herbs in a mustardy Savora vinaigrette.
Can you make this dish in America? Maybe. The cheese wasn’t exactly like anything I’ve seen in the U.S. The closest thing to the very mild tome fraîche might be Teleme, but that’s creamier and sweeter, and anyway, the fabled elasticity is supposed to result only from the One True Cheese. There’s just one thing that pretty much everyone agrees on, and that’s that not even any other cheese in France is allowed to be substituted, and, as you know, there’s a lot of cheese in France.
Probably my best recommendation is to make some cheesy, garlicky mashed potatoes, serve them with a good pork sausage, have a nice merlot and a salad on the side, and sing, sing, sing. Altogether now “aligot…saucisse! aligot…saucisse!”
Either that, or take a trip to the Aubrac and try the real thing. I’m tempted to do just that myself.