I’ll never forget the first time I had raclette. We were introduced to this interactive meal (involving individual pans, wooden scrapers and melted cheese) years ago while visiting family in Switzerland. I also remember declaring on the spot that it was my favorite dish ever.
Since then, I’ve enjoyed raclette a million times over. While the novelty has worn off, the deliciousness hasn’t.
Raclette, pronounced rah-KLEHT, refers to both a type of cheese and a traditional Swiss dish that features said cheese. It originated in the Swiss canton of Valais where, as legend has it, the Alpine herdsmen set up camp for the night and when some cheese got too close to the fire, it melted onto a rock. Not wanting to waste (the Swiss are incredibly resourceful), they scraped it up (hence the French root word “racler,” meaning “to scrape”) and declared it delicious.
If you go to a Swiss street festival today, you’ll see raclette being served in a close-to-traditional fashion. A huge half-wheel is heated, cut side up, under an electric heat source until it melts and bubbles, after which it is scraped off over tiny boiled potatoes or bread. But most Swiss homes have a raclette grill. In the same spirit as fondue, diners sit in a circle around the grill, armed with little individual pans. In goes a slice of raclette (along with any desired fixins’ – I love sliced pineapple) and under the grill it goes. When it’s ready, wooden scrapers are used to ensure that every bit makes it to your plate. And if that weren't enough, the top of the unit is equipped with a flat, open grill -- perfect for grilling sausages, prosciutto, veggies or baguette slices. Along with small, boiled potatoes, this cheesy dish is eaten alongside cornichons and pickled onions for digestion.
So the other night we decided to have a spontaneous, mid-week, semi-celebratory dinner party in honor of our good friend Nick, who was moving to Bogota, Colombia to do legal work for a year. Raclette seemed the natural choice. Not only is it interactive, easily assembled AND delicious, it’s one of the few dishes that makes you slow down, take your time and enjoy the experience.
Followed by a fresh green salad and a rustic apple tart, our friends were sent home with content bellies. It’s easy to see why this 700+-year-old tradition lives on.