What is Raclette?
Raclette is a cheese meal where cheese is melted and consumed right away along with potatoes. Originally, half a wheel of raclette cheese was melted on the fire and then the melted layer was scraped off and served. This technique is still used along with all kinds of raclette table grills that contribute to an entertaining dinner. The meal is indigenous to many parts of Switzerland.
Legend says that a grape farmer, named Leon, from the “Valais” region in Switzerland, returned from a challenging day of work on a cold evening. He made a fire and melted a piece of cheese. Using his knife, he scraped off the first layer of melted cheese from the cheese block. The raclette meal was born.
The original raclette cheese originates in the Canton (province) of “Wallis” or “Valais” in the southwest of Switzerland. The “Valais” is a mountain region and home of the famous Matterhorn Mountain. The original cheese recipe goes back 6000 years. The cheese was famous among the Romans. It was used as a trading item and workers were paid their wages with it.
The “Valais” has its own breed of cows, called “Eringer”. A small, black, and very hardy cow that is well known for being aggressive. The pastures still show an abundant variety of grasses and herbs that contribute to the flavour and taste of the raclette cheese.
The name “Raclette du Valais” is a protected name and can only be used for raclette cheese produced in the “Valais” and according to certain criteria. Early literature tells us that cheese was melted going back as far as the 13th century. The name Raclette was created in 1874, coming from the French word “racler” meaning “to scrape”.
Typical mountain pasture in the Valais
Original Raclette du Valais
The original raclette from the “Valais” is a semi hard cheese made from raw milk in copper cheese vats. The milk is produced by family farms. Cows are pastured on the mountain slopes that maintain a specific array of grasses and herbs.
This milk gives the Raclette du Valais a unique flavour. The cheese wheels are all the same size (about 5 kg) and the name of the manufacturer is engraved on the side of the wheel.
Engraved Cheese Wheels
The Raclette du Valais is aged for at least 3 months. During that time, cheesemakers flip and brush the cheese on a regular basis to give it a protective rind (learn more about rind in What is Aged Cheese). Typically, the rind is melted along with the cheese and gives the meal a crispy unique taste. Each cheese plant that produces Raclette du Valais has a slight variation in their cheese flavours specific to the location and where the cows graze. The Raclette du Valais has a minimum of 50% fat content in dry matter, which translates to about 30% Fat at 40% moisture.
Brushing the Cheese
Other Raclette Cheese Brands
The name “raclette” is not protected and the cheese is produced in many variations in Switzerland, France, Austria, and the USA. This raclette contains around 28% fat and 40% moisture. Raclette cheese needs to melt well without losing fat during the melting process. It should contain a few small holes. Raclette cheese slices easily and tastes mild, yet aromatic, and feels smooth and creamy on the tongue. Melted raclette does not have the rubbery consistency of melted mozzarella.
There are many raclette variations available like black peppercorns, smoked, or with jalapenos.
Traditional Style Raclette
The cheese wheel is cut in half and the cut side is melted by holding it against a heat source, like a fire or an electric heater, specifically designed for that purpose. Once the first layer is melting, it is scraped onto a plate with a scraper knife. This technique is slow and forces people to wait for their turn to get the serving. This makes the meal very social, giving people lots of time to talk. The downside is that it requires an “operator” who usually doesn’t have much time to eat themselves; however, taking turns as the operator can make it fun. Raclette is served with small yellow potatoes and lots of toppings like onions, pickles of all types, capers, olives, mini corn cobs, and spices like paprika, cayenne pepper, and ground black pepper.
The Raclette Grill
Raclette Grill and Table Setup
The raclette grill is a table grill that allows each person to melt their own cheese in a separate melting dish. On top is a grill where meats, sausages, or vegetables can be cooked. This is a fun and entertaining meal. It is served with small yellow potatoes and white wine or tea. The options for toppings are endless, I give some ideas at the end of this article.
It is fun to mix different cheeses in the raclette dish. Personally, I like to put a slice of brie or soft goat cheese on top of the raclette cheese. Some people put a slice of cold cuts, like salami, on top of the cheese.
If you don’t have access to the original raclette cheese, these cheeses work well:
- Old or extra old cheddar
- Monterey Jack
- Mozzarella ( for people who prefer a mild cheese)
In general, aged cheese melts better than young cheese (young cheese is cheese that has been aged for less than 4 weeks). Young cheese can be very stringy and chewy. But you can experiment with any cheese, especially when you have a favourite. It is important that the cheese is not melted for too long. It shouldn’t bubble and the fat shouldn’t separate.
Raclette Dinner Party
Raclette is an easy meal to prepare and fun to enjoy with guests. With a stress-free preparation and a relaxed time frame for serving, the host is free to socialize and enjoy their dinner party.
Here are some tips:
- Buy enough cheese. Allow about 300 g/ 10 oz per person, which translates to about 2.5 kg/ 5.5lbs for 8 people.
- Offer some cheese variations. Include some cream cheese, goat cheese, blue, or brie to combine with the main cheese.
- Prepare your raclette grill and make sure there are enough pans and scrapers for everyone. If you expect some heavy eaters you can provide 2 pans each for these people.
- Have an extension cord ready so nobody trips over the grill cord.
- Prepare the potatoes in a pan and start boiling them when the guests arrive. Once everybody is settled in, the potatoes will be ready. It is best to use small potatoes.
- Prepare all the condiments and toppings for the dinner table. See our condiment and toppings suggestions below.
- Cut up vegetables, meat, or sausages intended for the grill. Refrigerate them until everybody is ready to eat. See suggestions below.
- Cut the cheese in slices that comfortably fit the pan. Arrange the slices nicely on two platters so people can easily reach the cheese.
- Prepare a dry white wine or tea.
- Keep in mind that the grill creates a lot of heat. Turn your room thermostat down or open a window before starting dinner.
- Sit at the table with your guests and relax. There is nothing more that needs to be done.
- In the summertime use the raclette grill on the patio or in the backyard. It makes a great outdoor meal.
There are no rules but here are some suggestions.
Fruit and vegetables:
- Corn kernels or pickled
- Sun dried tomatoes
- Green onion
- Fresh tomatoes
- Mushrooms of all kinds
- Kidney beans
- Precooked broccoli
Meat and Fish:
- Cold Cuts like salami
- Any fish or precooked prawns
- Tofu or other meat alternatives
Unique Raclette Combinations
The basic raclette recipe is served with potatoes. Toppings are used either on the cheese before it is melted or after. Typical toppings are onion, mushrooms, dill pickles, and pickled mini onion. For spices, mainly paprika and black pepper are used.
Fun ideas for individual servings
- Apple Sauce Add a teaspoon of applesauce to the melted cheese
- Brie and Grapes Melt Brie with 2 grapes cut in halves
- Hawaiian Raclette Combine cheese, ham, and pineapple
- Goat Cheese Fig and Walnut Great combination for goat cheese lovers
- Christmas Raclette Fry turkey breast on a table top grill and combine with cranberries and the cheese
- Blue Pear Combine blue cheese and pear
- The Greek Add zucchini, onion and feta to the melting pan
- The Italian Add a slice of salami, sun dried tomatoes, and pesto sauce to the cheese
- The Asian Add lemon grass, coconut flakes, and soy sauce to the cheese
- The Mexican Nacho Add nachos, ground beef, jalapenos, and kidney beans to the cheese
- The Canadian Fry the potatoes quickly on the table top grill, then add them to the melted cheese and top with ketchup.
Cheese Shark Favourites
My favourite toppings are capers and fermented peppercorns. If you never heard of fermented pepper, give it a try, it’s the best on melted cheese.
- 1 can of canned apricots or peaches
- 2 tbsp of sugar
- 1 cup of white wine
- Lemon balm
Bring wine and sugar to a boil. Take the pan off the stove and add the apricot halves or peach quarters and let it sit for 10 minutes in the covered pan. Take out the fruit and put in a bowl, add the lemon balm and serve with the raclette mea
Raclette is such an easy meal. You can create a fun dinner party with it, or it can be an easy family dinner. The basic ingredients are so commonly used in our households that most of the time we can create a raclette without planning. Another fun part is to try out different cheeses, especially local artisan cheeses. A raclette grill is a long lasting and worthwhile investment.
Have fun with it!