Melted cheese as the basis for dinner? Yes please!! No it’s not fondue, it’s raclette – the Swiss tradition that is becoming all the rage. Raclette is actually a kind of semi-hard cow’s milk cheese, as well as a method of melting said cheese into a dinner party sensation. Years ago as a wedding present, my family friend Beverly, gave us an 8 person raclette maker along with a mega waffle iron. The genius of a large raclette maker is that the top acts as a griddle so she explained it would be great for pancakes etc but if we wanted to it also doubled as this thing called a raclette maker, something very popular up in Canada where she lives.
I sort of forgot about its secondary use until one day, low and behold, Crate and Barrel had an entire raclette display set up. Up until then I didn’t realize it meant melting cheese and pairing it with all of my favorite things! I ran home, pulled it out and raclette night has been popular in the Costello house ever since. Friends love raclette night because it’s a fun communal way of eating that encourages sitting around, cracking into some bottles and experimenting with different combinations. When I first started doing raclette it was hard to find the actual cheese but now I am seeing it everywhere. If you are in DC, Righteous Cheese carries an imported raclette from Switzerland (right) as well as one made in Vermont (left). They also carry it at Trader Joes and Whole Foods. As you can see it looks like Swiss cheese (duh) but has a much more nutty, rich flavor.
You can always improvise with another kind of melting cheese if you can’t find raclette – I won’t tell anyone. The real trick is getting one of the makers. The 8 person version is the most popular because raclette is meant to be shared but I also found this cute one for 2 people. I really like this version from Williams Sonoma as you can have a larger “coupelle” at the top to share but it doesn’t have the grill/griddle portion. If you are going to get one I say go whole hog and get the one with the griddle on top so it’s a multi use item. Now that you have your maker and your cheese you are going to need to find stuff to dip into that melty goodness. I like to go classic with a mix of hearty vegetables, cured meats and of course BREAD. The Swiss are also partial to pickled items with their cheese that gives it a nice tang.
For this raclette party I served the following: roasted brussel sprouts, prosciutto, calabrese salami, boiled baby new potatoes, cornichon, baguette slices, crackers, green grapes and grainy mustard. Also good would be pickled onions, roasted turkey or ham, asparagus spears, chutney, kettle cooked potato chips…the list goes on and on. That’s what is so fun about this dinner party is that all you really do is assemble.
To go with the raclette I suggest getting some nice Belgian beer like these Chimays I picked up. The beer makes a great foil to the cheese – we also had some nice artisanal cider from Millstone, which was particularly great with the Vermont raclette.
Lest you think people will go away hungry, don’t – eating this much cheese really fills you up. But just in case it is a good idea to end the night with something sweet. I made this amazing blood orange tart with salted caramel on top.
I have seen lots of local wine bars and cheese shops doing raclette nights so check out your local ones and see if you can get on the bandwagon. I am sure once you have done it you will want to get a raclette maker for yourself!