Have you had raclette yet? Do you know what it is?
In my experience, not many people have had it or are familiar with it so I’m here to help! Raclette is a semi-firm cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland which melts easily and is also a dish that originated in the Alps. The traditional cheese meal is served with boiled potatoes, cornichons, pickled pearl onions (cocktail onions) and white pepper. It’s a simple and delicious meal that is best enjoyed in the company of others with lots of wine.
I first had raclette in a restaurant in Switzerland, then at a friend’s house shortly after our return. Both experiences were fun and delicious, though the serving style was very different. I loved the home version because it was participatory and an event. We bought a raclette grill a couple of years later and love hosting dinner at our house during the winter months. If you enjoy fondue or anything that encourages playing with food, this is for you.
Even though I love to cook, I will tell you this is my favorite dinner to host because: 1. It’s fun to introduce people to new foods 2. It’s EASY to pull off (opening jars and pre-sliced meats and cheeses for the win!) 3. Lots of wine (it helps with digestion!) 4. It’s INTERACTIVE CHEESE!
Here’s the rundown of the meal, scroll down for a list of ingredients.
I have a raclette grill which includes a small tray and scraper for each person to control their cheese destiny (sorry). It also has a griddle on top so you can heat some salami or prosciutto. My local fancy cheese shop rents raclette machines, but they might be the other kind which requires scraping the hot cheese off a wheel (the way you would get it at a restaurant). I haven’t tried this type of machine, but it seems as if someone has to man the wheel which could result in a cheese disaster if you get distracted by all the wine. And trust me, there will be wine.
There are several varieties of raclette, though I find cheese shops in my area only carry one from Switzerland and one from France. I get equal amounts of both to have some variety in flavor.
As I mentioned before, the traditional meal is raclette cheese served with cornichons, onions, and potatoes. I like to include peppers, capers, olives, sliced baguette, prosciutto, and salami.
Wine is important. This meal of cheese and potatoes means you have to drink lots of wine “to help with digestion,” or so the Swiss told me (I really didn’t need to be convinced). You basically want a dry white wine that’s not too heavy. Dry ciders and Belgian beers work well here too, though they can be very filling.
I depend on the knowledgeable staff at my favorite shop to help me find the right wine for the meal and they never disappoint. Swiss wine is hard to come by in the US but there are excellent wines from Austria, Germany and France that will pair nicely.
The meal itself is very simple and a ‘choose your own adventure’ sort of deal. Every person heats a slice of raclette on a tray and assembles their accoutrements in preparation for the melted cheese. I like to cut the potato in half and pour the cheese over it with a sprinkling of pepper, paprika and capers. The griddled prosciutto and pickles and olives make a nice side. The key is to pass the dishes, chat with your neighbors, and keep drinking wine.
Now it’s time for dessert. This is a HEAVY meal and the Swiss have a solution for that: keep drinking! Every menu in Switzerland had sorbet with a shot of some corresponding booze. Berry sorbet with Kirsch, lemon sorbet with lemon vodka, see where I’m going with this? The combination works well here as it is very refreshing (and helps with digestion!). We like to get raspberry sorbet and top it with a shot of Kirsch, a cherry flavored brandy. I think the bottle we have is from Germany.
That’s pretty much it. The simplest of meals to eat and prepare is one of the most enjoyable. I hope you’ll try it one day. Here’s my “recipe” for a fun night of cheese-eating. Enjoy!
Raclette Meal – Serves 4 with leftovers (because I’m afraid of ever running out of food)
1/3 or 1/2 lb of raclette cheese per person – sliced
3/4 lb of nice salami – I like to get a spicier salami if possible
16+ slices of prosciutto
1 French baguette
1-1/2 – 2 lbs small yellow non-starchy potatoes ( I buy Yukon creamers which come in a 2 lb bag at my grocery store)
1 Jar each of:
Cornichons (mini gherkins – should not be sweet)
Cocktail onions / pickled pearl onions
Olives – I like to get mixed marinated olives with citrus
Spices – white pepper, good quality paprika, black pepper
1 pint Berry sorbet
4 – 2 oz shots of Kirsch for each glass
Did I mention leftovers? Behold the raclettewich.