Admit it. Who doesn't like melted cheese? What if I told you that there is a deliciously easy dish where melted cheese is the star...where you are allowed, even encouraged, to just eat melted cheese...where you enter cheese heaven.
A long time ago, Swiss shepherds from the French speaking Valais region of Switzerland needed food that was cheap and would not spoil easily...something that could be easily made on a campfire after a day of herding sheep. At the end of day, they would gather around the fire and roast some potatoes. Then they would take a big piece of cheese and put it close to the fire. Once it started melting, it would be scraped onto the finished baked potatoes. It was filling, nourishing and delicious. In French, "racler" means to scrape and so Raclette cheese was born. Today, it not only popular in the ski regions of Europe but all over the continent and while you can eat this cheese cold, it really is at its best when it is melted. Frankly, this is better than fondue.
Dear Husband and I were introduced to Raclette back in the early 1990's and I remember purchasing my first Raclette grill back in 1997. Back then, it was incredibly difficult to find the cheese, especially where we were living in Georgia. However, every so often, we would find some and then dance a little jig, giddy with the excitement of our impending dinner. Once we moved to Washington, DC, it was easier to find and we had the dinners a little more often in the winter months. Dear Daughter, at that time, refused to eat the cheese, but she loved scraping it onto our plates.
Then we moved back to Europe and our first appliance purchase was a European Raclette grill. The cheese was far more abundant. Not only could you find it at the cheese counter but you could find various presliced varieties that were quite tasty. The dinners increased and Dear Daughter finally decided that it was pretty good.
When we moved from Germany to Belgium, we hit the Raclette jackpot! The Belgians love the stuff. Food stands at local fests would serve piping hot, melted slices of the cheese. The grocery stores would stock varieties of Raclette...Alpine Raclette, Raclette with pepper, Raclette with wine. Our consumption of Raclette dramatically increased. Dear Daughter actually became a bit weary of the dinners. "Mom, we have had it four times this month already." I held on to my Raclette grill until the day before we left the country.
So, what is the big deal? It is just cheese. For us, it is an experience. It transports us to other times. It is a time for us to gather around the table and spend time talking. It is relaxed and social...not to mention, delicious.
Here is how it goes...We have found both French Raclette and Swiss Raclette at Penn Mac here in Pittsburgh. We prefer the Swiss version. We purchase a pound, which sound like a lot and perhaps it is. On the evening of the dinner, I slice the block into thin slices, which is a little difficult as the cheese is semi-soft. We enjoy the rind, but you can also remove it.
We always serve Raclette with potatoes. Sometimes, we set out those small pickled cocktail onions. Then we decide on a meat. Normally, we cut up cubes of steak but we have also used shrimp. In Europe, charcuterie is frequently served but I have been told that we eat a lot of pork so I will keep this post pork-free!
Still having difficulty picturing it? Here is a photo although my expert photographer was not available...so it seems a bit off...but you get the idea.
While the potatoes are crisping and the meat is cooking on the top, the cheese is melting underneath. When the cheese is ready, take a few pieces of potatoes and meat and put them on your plate. I take a moment or two to cut these a little smaller and then I scrape the cheese onto the mixture.
This isn't a fast meal. That is one of its appeals. For us, we spend about an hour around the table, cooking and talking. It is totally relaxing and while it makes for a great weekend meal...sometimes, it is luxurious to have this on a weeknight. We know...it was last Tuesday's dinner!
Make your next appliance purchase a Raclette Grill. If you cannot find the cheese, order it online. Transport you and your family to the Alps, if just for a little while.