Raclette: A Traditional Meal or a Cheese?
It’s both actually… Even though the French may have lent their language in naming this cheese, it is widely believed Raclette originated in the canton of Valais in Switzerland. Folklore has it that at the end of the 19th century, in the chill of Fall, as the wine harvest was drawing to a close, grape gatherers sat down to enjoy a loaf of brown bread, some cheese, and a bottle of wine. One of the men stabbed a piece of cheese with a large buck knife, and approached the crackling fire to warm himself while he ate. His skewered cheese began to melt and run with a crisp, golden texture, which he then scraped off of his knife and onto his bread. He found the taste had become especially intense and flavorful as a result of his impromptu, accidental ‘preparation’. In fact, it was so extraordinary he invited his friends to have a taste, who promptly agreed that the flavor was divine. They each heated and scraped their cheese, flaking it upon boiled potatoes, pickled onions, and gherkins, all made absolutely scrumptious with the melted cheese. Thereafter, this sort of meal became traditional for Alpine farmers and shepherds.
Specific cheeses were developed for this style of melting, scraping and serving, the most popular of which carries the name Raclette. So what does Raclette mean exactly? Well, not surprisingly, it is derived from the French word “racler” which means “to scrape off.” Not just a name for the cheese, it’s also the term used to describe the traditional Swiss dish, prepared essentially as described above. These days, however, larger sections of cheese are typically used. Sometimes preparations are more rustic and closer in nature to the original, campfire version described above; a large wheel of cheese is cut in half so that the cut edge may be melted in front of a fire. Nowadays machines are available which hold the cheese in place, while an electrical element melts the surface. Either way you melt it, the end result of Raclette preparation is the same: the cheese is scraped onto other foods, such as potatoes boiled in their skins and served with pickles. Of course, there are many variations of this dish, but the principle remains the same.
Not only is the wonderful flavor of Raclette perfect for this melted cheese style of dining, the texture and consistency is perfect for this method; it melts uniformly, without forming a greasy layer, and holds together without becoming completely liquid.
The traditional meal is served by boiling potatoes and arranging thick slices topped with Raclette on a serving plate that can be used in a broiler. When the cheese is melted, serve with pickles, cornichons (pickled gherkin cucumbers), cocktail onions, artichoke hearts, slices of tomatoes and avocados, olive spreads and the like. We have discovered many other ways to enjoy this cheese. Here’s a few you may want to try.
- Try cooked fish fillets, sliced ham, chicken, or turkey topped with thin slices of Raclette and broiled until melted.
- Substitute French or Sourdough bread for the potatoes.
- Place thinly sliced Raclette on top of steamed or sautéed broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, peppers, eggplant, mushrooms, or any vegetable favorite, and place briefly under the broiler.
- Top thick slices of unpeeled apples and pears with Raclette and broil.
- Add small cubes of Raclette to scrambled eggs or omelets, or thin slices on top of fried or poached eggs.
Tasting Notes: The Raclette we have sent you is an artisanal cheese that is firm and pressed with a natural rind. The pate is typically smooth but may have small holes. You’ll find that this cheese has a slightly spicy, but not overpowering flavor that intensifies when melted. Its fat content is 45%, enough to aid in melting, but not so high as to turn greasy under the influence of heat.
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