Planet Cheese is a weekly blog devoted to everything cheese: products, people, places, news, and views. James Beard Award-winning journalist Janet Fletcher writes Planet Cheese from her home in Napa Valley. Janet is the author of Cheese & Wine, Cheese & Beer, and The Cheese Course and an occasional contributor to culture. Visit janetfletcher.com to sign up for Planet Cheese and view Janet’s current schedule of cheese appreciation classes.
You read it here first: Tarte flambée is the pastry trend of the year. I’m seeing it everywhere—okay, three places lately—and I’m so happy it’s having a moment because I’ve loved this Alsatian specialty forever. For New Year’s Eve with the first glass of Champagne…well, that’s my plan anyway. I’m pretty pleased with my recipe. Even in a home oven, the crust comes out super-crisp around the edges, with creamy Fromage Blanc, onions and smoky bacon on top.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, you can sample the dish at La Flamme, a pop-up restaurant specializing in tarte flambée. Anne Besset, a native of Alsace, imported her wood-burning oven from France. She hauls it around to taprooms and wineries and makes the tarts to order. Her dough has no yeast—just flour and water—and she uses a sheeter to roll it as thin as pasta. It cooks in two minutes. For the cream base, she mixes Bellwether Farms Fromage Blanc and crème fraîche, plus some egg. I like her simplest topping the best—just sliced onions and applewood-smoked bacon—but Besset will add Munster, Emmental, Camembert, goat cheese or Raclette on request. Americans like options.
At The Flammerie in Kinderhook, New York, chef Andrew Chase makes his flammkuchen with a yeast dough. After graduating from the CIA, Chase and his Bavarian wife, Conny, lived in Germany for a year; they ate a lot of flammkuchen while they brainstormed business ideas. Back in the Hudson Valley, Chase built a mobile wood-fired oven and began baking the pizza at farmers’ markets. The truck’s success led to the restaurant, which opened in 2014. The chef flattens his dough laboriously by hand—it’s paper thin—then tops it with thick sour cream from Hudson Valley Fresh, grated Gruyère, and bacon.
“It’s more like a cracker than pizza,” says Chase. “When the crust is raw, you can almost see through it.”
At Income Tax, a year-old Chicago wine bar, chef Ryan Henderson makes petite flammenkuchen (yet another spelling) filled with Fromage Blanc, rendered Nueske’s bacon and browned onions. The tarts are warmed for service and garnished with pickled onions and thyme. Beautiful, no? E-mail me and I’ll send you the unusual recipe for the dough.
Beginning January 7, you’ll find La Flamme’s red, white and blue pizza oven at Gilman Brewing Company, 912 Gilman Street in Berkeley, every Sunday from noon to 9 p.m. In the meantime, please try my recipe.