Cheese tartine and vin chaud from the Toulouse Christmas Market

Recipe: Toasted Cheese Tartine with Armagnac


France has no shortage of delicious recipes featuring melted cheese of some sort or another – raclette and fondue, tartiflette and truffade, and even aligot (super cheesy mashed potatoes that you can learn how to make with me during the French Christmas Market Virtual Experience) – but one that is most dear to my heart is something that I look forward to getting at the Toulouse Christmas Market each year: a toasty cheese tartine liberally sprinkled with Armagnac, a local spirit distilled from wine. There’s a lot to love about brown and bubbly cheese on toast, but the addition of the Armagnac makes it truly special. Along with aligot and vin chaud, it’s the thing I miss most this year since the Christmas market was cancelled due to COVID-19.

What is a tartine?

Tartine (pronounced “tar – teen”) is the French word for an open-faced sandwich. This simple but magical creation is usually made on big slices of sourdough country bread. Tartines can be savory – most often eaten for lunch with a salad – or sweet, as is the case for tartines served to children for their afternoon goûter (snack). You can experiment with different combinations of toppings, adding meat or veggies, or even combining sweet AND savory by adding something like fig preserves to a goat cheese tartine. Délicieux!

Outside of the Toulouse Christmas Market, if you’re looking for a good tartine in Toulouse, I HIGHLY recommend the fabulously old-school and totally charming Bistrot du Matou on Place Dupuy or the hip (but not TOO hip) wine bar and épicerie Bichette, just around the corner from the Basilica of Saint-Sernin.

Cheese and ham tartine at Bichette wine bar in Toulouse

Make this cheese tartine at home

Fortunately for all of us at the end of 2020 (even for us in Toulouse where restaurants are still closed until sometime in 2021), tartines of any type are easy to replicate at home! For this easy, cheesy tartine we use two different cheeses. The first is called caillé (pronounced “kiy – yay,” with the “kiy” rhyming with “sky”) which means “curds” in French, is a very soft, fresh cheese that is the result of stopping after the first step of cheesemaking. It’s not commonly found outside of France, so don’t feel bad if you can’t find it at your local grocery store. Simply substitute any other mild, spreadable cheese such as ricotta, farmers cheese – or even blended up cottage cheese!

For your shredded cheese, feel free to use any type of hard cow’s milk cheese that is easy to shred and melts well. Comté, Gruyère, Beaufort all work well – though if you have a choice between young and old versions of these cheeses, opt for the younger stuff. The more these cheeses are aged, they lose their water content and become more concentrated in flavor – which makes the older versions better for eating on their own and not as good for melting and using in cooking.

The booze on top is optional, but – in my opinion – it really elevates the dish. It’s just a splash, so shouldn’t be a problem if you have to head back to work for the afternoon. You’ll want use Armagnac for a true taste of southwest France. BUT if that’s not available to you, feel free to use Cognac, brandy, or another spirit of your choice. And don’t forget to serve with vin chaud if you really want it to feel festive!

Recipe: Toasted Cheese Tartines with Armagnac

Course: Main, Snacks, LunchCuisine: FrenchDifficulty: Easy
Servings

4

tartines
Prep time

10

minutes
Cooking time

10

minutes

Ingredients

  • 4 slices of sourdough country bread (pain de campagne, boule, miche, or the like)

  • 125 g (½ cup) caillé (can substitute farmers cheese, ricotta, or other mild, spreadable cheese)

  • 125 g (1 cup) grated hard cow’s cheese such as Comté, Gruyère, Beaufort

  • Armagnac (optional)

Directions

  • Preheat the oven on the broiler setting.
  • Place slices of bread in a single layer on an oven-safe pan or baking dish.
  • Spread a generous layer of caillé or soft cheese over each slice of bread.
  • Top each slice with the grated cheese.
  • Broil in the oven until the cheese is browned and bubbly. Time may vary based on your oven, so be sure to watch it carefully!
  • Remove from the oven and use a knife to gently break up the very top crust of cheese without cutting into the bread – just 3 or 4 times per tartine.
  • Splash a bit of Armagnac over top of each tartine, then cut in half.
  • Serve immediately while piping hot, preferably with a glass of vin chaud!
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