Raclette is not only a name of one of my top five favorite cheeses, but it is also a way to eat. I should say it could be a way to live, because if I could get away with it, I’d eat this way every day! Let me explain.
My family and I took an extended trip through Eastern France about ten years ago, and thankfully, we visited Chamonix. It’s a most magical and picturesque Alpine town, situated at the base of the Alps.
One evening we were wandering through the village trying to pick out our dinner spot. We’re very picky about such things. And then I smelled it. That undeniable smell of warm, stinky cheese. I followed my nose to a restaurant with outside seating – all woodsy and cozy. Even in May, it was chilly at night. Then I noticed these strange contraptions on diners’ tables. This is when and where I discovered Raclette.
Raclette is a cheese – cows’ milk variety – that comes from the Rhones-Alpes region of France. It’s a bit cow-y, but not strong like Reblochon, see tartiflette. I prefer French raclette over Swiss raclette, but that’s just a personal preference. Raclette has an inherent, specific viscosity. If you have noticed, hot cheeses can be thin and runny, or barely move at all – like rubber. Melted raclette is pourable, but not runny.
The verb “racler” in French means “to scrape.” So this is what you do when you raclette (verb): the raclette (noun) melts because of a heat source, then you scrape the melted cheese onto your bread or potatoes. Originally, the wheels of raclette were melted over or in front of an actual fire.
The contraptions I noticed on the tables of this restaurant in Chamonix were mini versions of traditional fireplace-styled raclettes. A rustic arm of sorts held the piece of cheese, with a fire source underneath, and diners scraped away at the cheese!
After returning home, you can bet I researched raclette, and lo and behold! There were electric raclette makers!!! Not as provincial as sitting around a fire waiting for your blob of melted cheese, but that’s ok. I’m talking about having the most fun you can imagine cooking yourself a dinner that revolves around cheese!!!
In general, there are two kinds of raclette makers. The one on the right is extremely expensive, and not really that much fun I wouldn’t think. It holds a quarter wheel, but I’ve seen similar ones that hold a half wheel. Too much waiting for the cheese to melt.
This one, shown below, from Williams Sonoma, is very similar to the three I now own. They cost much less and are way more fun, because you can melt your cheese in the little dishes down below, there are eight of them, and grill meats and breads on the upper granite slab. Yes, I now own three raclette makers – I mean, the more people, the merrier!
Unfortunately, I can’t refer you to the brand I own because I can’t find them anywhere. I guess after years of inviting friends to raclette with me, all of the grills were sold! I would recommend purchasing the grill with the highest rating from a respected company, like Williams-Sonoma, or Amazon.
Raclette cheese wheels are about 15 pounds, but it’s possible to purchase a quarter wheel from igourmet.com, and that will probably get you through the holidays, depending on how many people want to get in on the fun.
So here’s what to do if you want to have a Raclette night, my way.
Raclette Menu for 2 people*
2 filet mignons
2-4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
Raclette, about 2 pounds
1 loaf of good hearty bread
Salad toppings such as tomato, mushrooms, and hearts of palm
Vinaigrette of choice, I recommend a beet-apple vinaigrette**
1 cooked potato, sliced into quarters, lengthwise
Set two places at the dining table. You’ll need a small plate, a knife, and a fork. The grill comes with the dishes for the cheese, plus the little scrapers with which to remove the cheese from the dishes. I also recommend tongs to pick up the cheese, as well as the other goodies you’re going to have on the table.
Thinly slice the filets and place the slices on a plate. Blend together the olive oil, garlic, and salt until smooth. Pour over the filet slices and set aside. The marination can also be done the day before; bring the beef to room temperature before beginning to raclette.
Cut up the Raclette (cheese) into about 2″ squares, about 1/3 ” thick. Place on a plate and set on the table.
Slice the bread into 1/4″ slices; place in a bowl or basket and set on the table. If you prefer, grill them ahead of time.
Divide the salad greens into four bowls. Divide the salad toppings between the four salads. Put these four bowls next to the four plates already on the table.
Place the vinaigrette in a serving bowl or carafe for self-service.
Divide the quartered potatoes among the plates.
Place the cornichons and onions on a little plate on the table.
The electric raclette maker goes in the middle of the table. One raclette maker will easily work for four people at a square table.
Turn on the raclette. Give it a good 15 minutes to heat up properly.
Place a piece of cheese in a dish to start the melting process. Place a piece or two of the marinated beef on the top to grill. If you wish, add a little butter to the top and grill a few pieces of bread; that’s optional. Add some vinaigrette to your salad, and help yourself to the cornichons and pickled onions.
As the bread grills, place it on the plate. Using the scraper, scrape the cheese out of the dish and onto your bread. Cook your beef how you like it. Eat as is, or place it on your salad. Eat, cook, continue.
* For more people, just double or triple the menu suggestions. I’ve had eight people raclette with the three raclette grills, and it worked great!
** The beet-apple vinaigrette goes really well with the sweet, creamy cheese. If I were to use a more basic vinaigrette, I would include sliced beets on the salad.
note: On experiencing raclette, I have only seen raclette on menus in the states at restaurants in ski towns, but only served during the ski season. But I have had raclette at the Burrough Market in London, a very large farmers’ market, at different times of the year. So I’m not really sure about the rules on raclette and when to expect it. Nonetheless, I would recommend trying it whenever and wherever!