Raclette - Melted Mountain Cheese with Potatoes and Pickles
Melted cheese dishes were the staple food of mountain herdsman while they lived on the alp and took care of the cows, milking and cheese-making operations. The first raclette probably happened when someone left a wheel of cheese too close to the fire and the surface of the cheese started to melt. From that point, all you have to do is scrape it onto a plate and voila! You’ve got raclette. Available throughout most of Switzerland, raclette is strongly associated with the Valais canton where some of the best raclette cheese is made – in fact, the best raclette I ever had was at the restaurant in the Chateau de Villa in Sierre in the Valais (see below).
Raclette is an easy and fun meal to share with friends. Since one or more of the party will have to be leaving the table to melt more cheese at intervals, it isn’t the type of thing for a formal occasion.
Here’s what you need for an authentic raclette:
- The cheese: If you can’t find cheese specifically made for raclette, use any really good melting Swiss cheese, such as Gruyere or even Appenzeller. Make sure the cheese has a flat surface to melt in front of the fire. If you aren’t going to use a fireplace for melting the cheese, remove the rind and cut in thin slices you can melt on a non-stick pan in the oven or toaster oven.
- The potatoes: Small new potatoes boiled in their jackets. For best results, cook the potatoes at the last minute, then place in a bowl or basket lined with a heavy napkin and keep covered at the table – they should stay warm throughout the raclette eating.
- The pickles: Cornichons and pickled onions. You might have to look for cocktail onions as these are less common here.
- The drinks: A Swiss white wine from the Valais, such as a Fendant (one of the easiest Swiss wines to find in the US). Some die-hards insist you can only drink hot tea with raclette or you’ll get a stomach ache – I like my tea, but not with raclette. Serve the tea afterwards.
- Doing it: If your table is near the fireplace you’re all set. Or else, bring the toaster oven to the table (remember, this is a casual meal). Each guest takes some potatoes and pickles, then the cheese melting starts. After the cut side of the cheese has begun to melt, use a straight-edged table knife or spatula to scrape the cheese onto a plate. The cheese is eaten with the potatoes and pickles, it is not scrape onto them. For toaster oven use, place a slice of cheese in a non-stick pan and cook until it starts to bubble. Use a silicon spatula to scrape the cheese from the pan and onto a plate. Repeat.
- It’s traditional to keep eating portion after portion of raclette. In fact restaurants that serve it often offer unlimited service though most people just have a portion or two.
Here’s the great raclette place in Sierre – don’t miss a visit if you are in the Valais. It’s a good uphill walk from the train station – you’ll need to burn a few calories before your raclette.
Le Restaurant (open daily 10AM to 11PM)
Chateau de Villa
Rue Sainte-Catherine 4
Telephone from the US: +4127 455 1896
For more information on raclette, got to www.raclette-suisse.ch