A homestyle raclette with a variety of cheeses and meats — Photo courtesy of Veve
Raclette has been popping up all over the web, thanks to its ooey-gooey appeal that's as visual as it is gustatory. Present in various forms – on burgers, sandwiches and more – raclette is becoming a trendy frequent flier at food markets like London's Camden Market or Melbourne's Queen Victoria Market.
But this cheese – and the dish it lends its name to – has a rich history that begins in the heart of the Alps, where it was invented as a way to warm up after a long day on the snowy slopes.
Here are a few things all turophiles need to know about raclette.
Its name hints at what it is
The word 'raclette' comes from the French verb racler, meaning to scrape. It's an allusion to the way in which the melted cheese is scraped from the half-wheel once it's been held up to a heating apparatus.
It was invented in Switzerland
Warm up after skiing with melty cheese — Photo courtesy of iStock / FamVeld
Like fondue, raclette is a typical après-ski or post-ski meal invented in Switzerland. Traditionally, the cheese would be held up to the fire to get it nice and melty. Today, most restaurants instead use a specialized heating apparatus that can support a half-wheel of cheese. The heating element can be pushed closer or pulled further away from the cheese (depending on the rate of consumption at the table!).
Raclette isn't just about the cheese
While the word raclette refers to a specific alpine cheese known for its melting ability, it's also the word used to refer to the traditional Swiss meal prepared with it – a meal that's far more than just melted cheese.
For a traditional raclette, diners first assemble a variety of ingredients onto which the cheese is to be scraped. At the very least, this includes boiled potatoes, but most of the time, various types of ham are also on offer, and bündnerfleisch, a Swiss cured meat made from beef, is a local favorite. Small cornichon pickles and white onions complete the dish and add a welcome bit of vinegar to cut through the fat.
You don't need to use raclette cheese
A true raclette cheese is protected by AOP (Appellation d'Origine Protégée), much like Champagne or Roquefort. An AOP raclette is made with the raw milk of cows that have grazed in the mountains of Switzerland. That said, today, raclette cheese is made all over the world, and it is available infused with a variety of flavors, from mustard seeds to local sweet white wine to black pepper or even truffle.
But you don't need to use raclette cheese at all to enjoy this dish. Similar semi-soft alpine cheeses like French Morbier or even Italian fontina make a delicious substitute.
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The best place to try it is Valais
Get an authentic taste in Valais — Photo courtesy of iStock / margouillatphotos
While you can enjoy raclette everywhere from Paris to Melbourne to Los Angeles, the best place to try it is where it was invented: in the canton of Valais in Switzerland. Here are just a few spots that continue to make a delicious, authentic raclette in the region:
- Chateau de Villa, Sierre
This 16th-century chateau boasts a menu of diverse local cured meats to pair with five different local cheeses for a gourmet raclette you'll surely remember.
- La Paix or La Grange, Evolène
These charming establishments boast two distinct dining rooms, both located on the scenic main street of Evolène. The La Grange side still melts its raclette cheese over an open fire.
- Boite à Fromages, Anzère
This spot, literally "the cheese box" in French, boasts a cozy, underground dining room where you can enjoy local raclette cheese.
- Raclett'House, Bruson
This establishment's plain simplicity belies the delicious treats in store. Owner Eddy boasts the title of Raclette Ambassador, an honor he does not take lightly.
You don't need a special apparatus to enjoy it at home
As long as you can melt the cheese, you can enjoy it — Photo courtesy of E+ / Maica
In most traditional raclette restaurants throughout Switzerland, you'll find raclette prepared on a special apparatus designed to hold a half-wheel of cheese. However, raclette is enjoyed at home in much smaller portions, using a very different apparatus that contains small frying pans in which the cheese can be melted.
But you don't need either one to enjoy it at home. You can easily melt your raclette cheese in a regular nonstick frying pan. It might take a bit more time to serve everyone, but the results will be just as delicious.
Untraditional methods of consumption are just as tasty
With raclette quickly gaining in popularity, people are getting very creative with how to serve it. Here are some of our favorite recent raclette inventions:
- Australian wine bar Smithward combines two very different dishes for the ultimate comfort food meal: Rac'n'Mac - a mac and cheese remix with raclette.
- Auckland, New Zealand's MELT food truck slathers melted raclette cheese on everything from French fries to meatball subs.
- Raclette sandwiches are popping up the world over, from Wisconsin's Baked Cheese Haus baguettes, which pair the cheese with bratwurst, to Paris' Grenouilles, which boasts a more traditional ham-and-pickle combo.
- Raclette NYC does its name justice with a house burger topped with melted raclette cheese, served tableside.
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