What in the Heck is Raclette?

Photo credit: Janna Hagensick

Raclette is the new big foodie thing. You heard it here first, okay?

Raclette is both a cheese and a dish.

Raclette is a type of cow’s milk cheese that, like Gruyère, is made in Switzerland and in France. In Switzerland, Raclette is the name given to a style of cheese, and each Swiss Raclette is named for the village where it is made (Bagnes, Conches, Gomser, or Orsières—all in the canton of Valais). French Raclette comes from Savoie and Franche-Comté, and is simply called Raclette.

Both French and Swiss raclettes are similar to Morbier and Fontina d’Aosta, both of which make fine substitutions for Raclette if you can’t get your hands on it. (Not that you should be able to get Morbier if you can’t get Raclette; the FDA won’t let us have real Morbier in the US, anyway.)

Fun fact: in France, there’s also a goat’s milk version of Raclette that comes from Poitou and is aged in Savoie. It is called Tomme de chèvre pour raclette.

That’s the cheese. And then the dish called Raclette—which, believe it or not, involves eating Raclette cheese—can be done in one of two ways.

Traditionally, a wheel of Raclette cheese is heated up and the melty cheese is scraped off of the wheel onto a plate of boiled potatoes, pickled onions, cornichons, and cured meats.

This is definitely the more theatrical method of consuming Raclette.

But for those who don’t have access to an entire wheel of Raclette cheese, there is also this handy little thing called a Raclette grill, or simply, a Raclette. (Easy, right?)

The PhCheese’s raclette grill in action.

Either an electric burner or a candle heats the grill. You set this special little cheese shovel into it with a slab of Raclette cheese placed over the potatoes. The grill heats the cheese over the potatoes, and you scrape the melted concoction onto your plate. Then you set up the next bit to heat while you eat.

 

You can get a pretty nice grill of this type online, and there are different kinds. My own Raclette has the nice marble top to also fry up veggies while the cheese melts. I like to have sliced bell peppers, onions, and squash up there with a bit of olive oil. You can also sear sliced sausages on the upper grill part, too.

 

 

 

I had only ever had Raclette served on a Raclette grill—in the French Alps and in the US—until last night.

There’s this mobile food service in Seattle called Fire and Scrape. The duo spreading the good word of (Raclette-)Cheesus isn’t exactly in a food truck, but they do travel around with delicious wheels of Raclette cheese, heating it up at farmer’s markets, food, beer, and wine festivals and events, and at their own pop-up restaurant in Phinney Ridge. They even do catering.

 

Chelsea and Courtney excitedly await melty cheese heaven on a plate, served up by Fire and Scrape.

So we had a cheesemonger shindig last night, and the Big Cheese hired Fire and Scrape to cater it, naturally. (She def deserves to be nominated for the Best Boss Ever award, seriously.) Fire and Scrape served up a neat little buffet line of boiled potatoes, local Soppressata and Tuscan salamis, Jamón Serrano, cornichons, pickled onions, salad, and three types of Raclette.

(The Big Cheese also brought in some peppadews, balsamic-marinated Cippolini onions, Castelvetrano olives, and pickled artichoke hearts to make sure there were plenty of pickled things in the room other than our livers. That was a tough job, since we were at Machine House Brewery in Georgetown for the perfect pairing of melty cheese and English-style beer or cider.)

Reading Raclette and Fire Dancer Raclette melting on the burner.

 

 

 

Fire and Scrape’s three Raclettes on the burner were a raw-milk Raclette de Savoie, Reading Raclette from Spring Brook Farm in Reading, Vermont, and a special Washington Raclette called Fire Dancer that the proprietors of Fire and Scrape have been working on with a cheesemaker in Issaquah.

Cheesemongers’ significant others nervously awaiting the stinky cheese they would soon realize they loved.

 

 

My boyfriend was worried about the cheese being too strong for him, since he had had a bad experience on New Year’s Eve last year with the Trader Joe’s pre-sliced Raclette squares. But even he ended up loving the cheese—and actually preferred the stronger Reading Raclette. Success!

 

 

 

 

 

There are restaurants popping up from coast to coast in the US, offering their guests the opportunity to gorge themselves on steamy, gooey Raclette straight off the wheel. New York City’s famous eatery is simply called Raclette, and they probably have the most famous Raclette video on the interwebs.

Bar Marmont in Los Angeles has offered Raclette on its winter menu, and Seattle’s Le Pichet also serves a Raclette Savoyarde that the Food Network’s Alton Brown has named the best thing he’s ever eaten. Those are just a few examples, and hopefully there will be more in the future.

Raclette is kind of a winter thing that people often associate with snowy mountains and skiing.

You have an exhausting day on the slopes; your Après-Ski involves some muscular relaxation in a Sauna or Hamam, and then you end the night with some good wine, a nice salad, and a heavy dose of steaming Fondue or Raclette. (And if you’re young and fun—or you’re not but you want to be—you top it all off with a night of wild, ecstasy-riddled clubbing.)

Whether you ski or not, it is the season for hot, steamy, gooey, drippy, melty, delicious cheese. As winter gets ready to take its hold, remember: go get yourself some Raclette!

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