What is raclette? Consider it a more sophisticated answer to fondue.
It is the name of a cheese, as well as a dish and the machine used to make it.
Raclette — which derives from the French word meaning “to scrape” — involves melting the surface of a wheel of semi-soft raclette cheese, then scraping the gooey part onto boiled potatoes and other accompaniments.
A tradition of the Swiss Alps, raclette is little known in the United States. But that may be changing.
The pungent, washed-rind cheese has been made in Switzerland for centuries in the canton of Valais. Its most distinctive feature is that it becomes creamy and smooth when melted.
The Swiss eat it as a meal, accompanied by boiled potatoes, cornichons and pearl onions, with liberal drafts of white wine or tea. Raclette also makes great street food, served on a slab of bread.
In the United States, it’s hard to find outside high-end cheese shops and supermarkets such as Whole Foods Market.
Raclette should naturally appeal to palates weaned on grilled cheese. But a number of obstacles have slowed its rise. Raclette traditionally has been imported, which can make it both expensive and hard to find. While most raclette is imported, a number of American cheese makers have begun producing it.
Emmi Roth USA, the American arm of a large Swiss cheese maker, has been making small amounts of raclette for about 20 years. Leelanau Cheese Company in Michigan began crafting handmade raclette in 1995. And last winter, Spring Brook Farm in Vermont began offering raclette.
While that means there is more of it is available, getting the word out is another story.
“Even the imported Swiss and French raclette aren’t really marketed and there are only a few producers in the U.S. making it,” says Nora Weiser, executive director of the American Cheese Society, based in Denver, Colo.
It’s no longer hard to find a raclette machine. A trip to the mall and retailers like Williams-Sonoma will do. They also are readily available online.
Boska, a Dutch company that sells raclette machines, says U.S. sales of professional setups have doubled since last year. Home models have grown as much as 30 percent.
But raclette aficionados say even equipment shouldn’t stand in your way.
“You don’t need a fancy oven,” says Rene Weber, master cheese maker and vice president of operations for Emmi Roth USA. “You can just cut a quarter-inch slice, put it in a Teflon pan, and heat it up and when it melts you put it on a plate. That’s how the Swiss eat it at home.”
Raclette is the perfect party food. Like fondue, it’s all about melting cheese. The biggest difference is that raclette (the name of both the cheese used and the overall dish) is grilled or broiled, rather than cooked in a pot.
Typically, raclette is melted in individual portions using a special raclette grill. The cheese then is scraped onto a person’s plate over a serving of boiled potatoes, pickled onions and gherkins or cornichons (a kind of small pickle).
Raclette grills usually have two levels — a top for heating vegetables or meat, and a lower broiler level for melting the cheese. Individual pans are used for melting the cheese.
Raclette cheese is obviously the most popular cheese to use to for the dish. If you can’t find it, another firm, easy-melting Swiss cheese can be substituted, such as Emmentaler.
New Year’s Eve Raclette
For the potatoes:
2pounds new or fingerling potatoes
For the marinated vegetables:
1/2cup rice or sherry vinegar
1teaspoon kosher salt
1/2teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2teaspoon ground black pepper
2tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1cup frozen peeled pearl onions, thawed
3red bell peppers, cored and sliced
1pound green beans, trimmed
12 ounces small button mushrooms
For the accompaniments:
4ounces dry salami, sliced
1pound cooked, peeled shrimp
1/2cup marinated artichokes
1/2cup gherkins or cornichons
2pounds raclette cheese, sliced
Heat the oven to 200 degrees.
To prepare the potatoes, fill a large pot with the potatoes and enough salted water to cover them by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over medium-high and cook for 15 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain the potatoes, then return them to the pot, cover and place in the oven to keep warm.
While the potatoes are cooking, start the vegetables. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the vinegar, sugar, salt, paprika and black pepper to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt.
In a large bowl, combine the thyme, onions, red peppers, green beans and mushrooms. Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the vegetables then set aside, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.
To serve, follow the product directions for heating and using your raclette grill. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the marinated vegetables to a platter. Arrange the potatoes and other accompaniments in bowls or on plates at the table. Guests can heat their vegetables on the top of the grill and melt their cheese using the grill’s broiler according to product directions. Top potatoes with the vegetables and melted cheese.
Makes 8 servings. Per serving: 730 calories; 360 calories from fat (49 percent of total calories); 40 g fat (23 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 215 mg cholesterol; 41 g carbohydrate; 7 g fiber; 10 g sugar; 55 g protein; 1370 mg sodium
Recipe by Alison Ladman