Raclette is two things. It is a type of cheese as well as a dish native to parts of Switzerland. Raclette is full fat alpine cheese melted and served with potatoes. It's smooth, creamy and rich and melts beautifully. It's also got a much mellower flavor than either Swiss or Jarlsburg, two other Swiss cheeses.
There are three ways Raclette is traditionally served. The first, a large round of alpine meadow raclette is cut in half and placed next to a wood burning fire. As the cheese's surface starts to melt, it gets scraped off with a racleur, or scraper, and the melted cheese ends up on a plate. This is the original and traditional Swiss version. There's also an electric heating device that melts the large piece of cheese in lieu of the fireplace. This is known as the restaurant raclette. (See image above) This is quite popular is Swiss restaurants. Lastly there's a device that the Swiss refer to as the raclonette (though we in the states call a raclette) which is a relatively inexpensive electric table-top grill underneath which there are up to 8 individual, shallow pans, called coupelles.
On top of the raclette grill you can add your meat and vegetables to cook, and into the coupelles you can place your cheese for melting, or your cheese along with some potato, a slice of bread or cured meat. The idea behind the raclette dining style is that the food can be enjoyed in a very relaxed manner in a social setting. Raclette parties are such fun and dining can last for hours and should last for hours. They're the perfect cool weather social dining experience - perfect for the holidays and apres ski.
Raclette machines range anywhere from $50 to $150. The model above is made by Swissmar and runs about $150 and is available from Amazon.
How to have a Raclette Party:
Invite some friends. Depending on the size of your raclette you can invite up to 7 people - or, you can purchase a 2nd machine for a larger party. You can tell them about the party ahead of time or not. Either way, most will never have had raclette and this will be a fun experience for them.
You'll need food. And drink. Lots of drink.
Have a lot of water on hand, flat and sparkly. Cheese is salty, you'll want your water.
Have wine and beer on hand. Both red and white varietals pair perfectly with the raclette.
While I tend to drink more red than white during the winter months, according to Ile de France Cheese, a "light bodied, dry white wine with ample acidity is an ideal pair for sumptuous raclette. The crispness of the white wine will cut through the creaminess of the cheese, but the dry profile won’t overpower the raclette’s delicate flavors. Try a dry Chenin Blanc or a French white win with your raclette. A low profile red wine can make a splendid pair, depending on how hardy your chosen foods will be. For red wine lovers, a chilled Pinot Noir adds a hint of fruity flavor that’s a great fit with the cheese as well. French burgundy wine is a great."
But some may prefer beer. Ile de France also suggests a "refreshing light beer... Look for a brew that’s smooth and has limited taste profile that won’t fight the delicate flavors of the raclette. Most low hops, light bears work well, as will several high end beer types. The spicy fruity flavor undertones present in a saison style beer are delicious with raclette. If you’re in the mood for something a bit more robust, try a strong Belgian pale ale, which will have the same effect while packing a more full bodied profile and higher alcohol content. The best bet: Boulevard brewing company makes a saison farmhouse ale that has a crisp profile and fruity notes that provide a nice contrast to raclette. Blue Moon, a flavor-packed American Belgian beer is an excellent pair as well, as is HoeGaarden, a Belgian style wheat beet that has hints of fruity flavor."
Now onto the food. It is quite traditional to have small boiled potatoes on which to add the melted cheese.
You may want to offer up slices of baguette, assorted vegetables such as slices of red, yellow and green peppers, mushrooms, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, squash and cherry tomatoes. Cornichons, tiny, really sour pickles are also a must for this Swiss meal. You can also offer up an assortment of cured meats, as well as uncooked, shrimp, chicken and steak to be cooked on top of the range. Additionally you'll need your raclette cheese! I like to serve up a nice refreshing salad with a simple vinaigrette as an accompaniment because this isn't exactly a light meal!
As guests sit down walk them through the process, place your wedge of cheese into the little pan. It may take a few minutes to melt. Invite your guests to add their choices to the top of the grill, a few pieces at a time. As your food is ready to pull off, or cheese ready to scrape out, you can replace them as you eat. You can sit around the table for hours so long as the food and wine lasts. Want to add a little more fun? Try a game of Cards Against Humanity - which, warning, is an adult ONLY game!
You could use your raclette to make mini grilled cheese sandwiches and set up a sort of grilled cheese bar, as seen in the image below.
A raclette would make a lovely Christmas gift for yourself, a friend or family member. It would truly be a gift that would keep on giving.