I was wandering around my grocery store recently and I stopped in the cheese section as usual. I always stop to see if they have anything interesting or unusual. I love cheese and the older it is the better. Old Gouda is one of my favorites. I didn’t find any good Gouda but a package with Raclette written across it jumped out at me.
I am in the middle of planning a school reunion for my class and others who went to boarding school in Switzerland. One of my fellow committee members can’t stop talking about Raclette. She says we need to plan a meal at a local restaurant so we can have Raclette. She remembers how delicious and satisfying it was. What she doesn’t remember is it is unlikely she had it in summer. I’m pretty sure she had it in St. Moritz in the middle of winter after skiing all day. That’s the only place I ever remember having Raclette. Since our reunion is in summer she might be out of luck. But one never knows.
Raclette is the cheese but also the dish. The word comes from the French verb “racler” which means to “scrape”. It dates back to cow herdsmen in the 16th century who would travel with their cows into the mountains. They would melt the cheese over their fire and then scrape it onto bread. Raclette is designed to melt. When I lived in Europe I discovered there are many cheeses that do no melt. Raclette melts beautifully. Today it is usually eaten in the fall and winter and served melted over potatoes.
The best Raclette cheese comes from the Swiss Canton of Valais and is registered as an AOC (controlled designation of origin) product. The label should say it is made from raw milk and aged three to six months. Since Switzerland is not part of the European Union, other countries can produce cheese and call it Raclette. The French living along the Swiss border have been making it for a long time.
Today you can buy Raclette grills to help you prepare this dish. From looking on the Internet there seem to be several companies making them. The average price is about $130. From what I could tell, the thing that makes it a Raclette grill is the small melting pan and scraper that come with it. Otherwise it looks like any other grill. I looked at some reviews on Amazon and people were raving about these grills. One person said they used it for crepes and fajitas.
The recipe is simple, melt the cheese — some say on a grill, some say in the broiler, some say on an open fire — scrape it off the pan onto a plate with boiled small potatoes, pickles, pickled onions, and crusty bread. If you order this in a restaurant it is more than likely they will cut the round of cheese into a large piece keeping the rind intact and set the whole thing under a broiler. When the top layer is melted and bubbly they will take a knife and scrape the melted cheese onto your plate.
The cheese I bought is a product of France but it is made from pasteurized milk so it will not be as good as the real thing. I’m sure the Swiss mountain air adds to the overall pleasure of eating it.
Kathleen Gamble was born and raised overseas and has traveled extensively. She has a BA in Spanish and has worked in publishing, printing, desktop publishing, translating, and purchasing. She also designs and creates her own needlepoint. She started journaling at a young age and her memoir, Expat Alien, came out of those early journals. Over the years she has edited and produced an American Women’s Organization cookbook in Moscow, Russia, and several newsletters. Her first book, Expat Alien, was published in 2012 and she recently published a cookbook, 52 Food Fridays, both available on Amazon.com. You can also follow her blog at ExpatAlien.com.