Cheese fans hold raclette in high esteem. The origins of raclette cheese are held in the Swiss Alps. Now, the cheese is popular the world over and is loved for its melting qualities. Carry on reading to explore just why this singular cheese experience inspires such ardour. This is our favourite thing to eat in the mountains and we also have one at New Year as a family.
Alpine Origins – Cheese Born from Ingenuity
Centuries ago in the Swiss Alps, cowherds grazing their animals in the harsh mountain climate devised an ingenious solution for a warm, fortifying meal. They placed large pieces of cheese near their campfires, letting the heat melt just the outer layer. Scraping off the melted shreds with a knife, they doused them over boiled potatoes or whatever simple fare they had—giving rise to the name “raclette”, from the French racler (“to scrape”). This hearty melted cheese dish fuelled the cowherds during cold nights and eventually spread in popularity at local festivals and gatherings, becoming an iconic part of Swiss culinary tradition.
From Cows to Curds – Crafting the Wheel
Traditional raclette cheese comes from the Valais region of Switzerland. There, master cheesemakers use time-honoured techniques to craft magnificent wheels. The cheese gets its creamy texture from fresh cow’s milk. The first step involves adding enzymes and rennet. This helps the milk curdle and separate.
After draining the curds from the liquid whey multiple times, the cheesemaker presses them into heavy round moulds giving them their classic wheel shape. These pressed curds then take a long soak in briny saltwater for anywhere from 24 hours to a week to impart a subtle salty flavour and allow the rind to form. The wheels then spend months in carefully controlled cellars to develop complex nutty, buttery notes all while retaining a supple, sliceable texture that melts to liquid gold.
Raclette Side Dishes
The best raclette cheese side dishes are simple yet hearty. Boiled new potatoes are a classic choice as they perfectly balance with the rich, melted cheese. Pickles and pickled onions offer a tangy contrast to mellow down the richness.
You might also want to include thinly sliced meats like prosciutto or other charcuterie elements plus some fresh vegetables such as bell peppers and mushrooms.
The Rituals and Traditions of a Raclette Feast
Indulging in raclette is about so much more than just cheese – it symbolises warmth, community, and comfort. Traditionally, raclette brings people together around a heat source where the wheel of cheese is warmed just until the top softens and starts to run. Using a special raclette scraper, this top layer gets scraped onto diners’ plates overtop boiled potatoes, pickles, cured meats, vegetables or bits of bread. Something about gathering with loved ones in the glow of the raclette oven waiting for that first scrap fills tummies, hearts and souls alike. Beyond the ooey-gooeyness, what makes raclette so satisfying stems from the primal pleasure of sharing a humble yet wonderful meal and making connections over delicious food.
Throwing an Epic Raclette Party
Want to have a magical raclette-centric soirée filled with flowing wine, swirling cheese and new friends? First step – stock up on plenty of cheese ensuring at least 6 to 8 ounces per guest. Offer multiple types to appeal to different preferences. Next, line up classic pairings like mini potatoes, cornichons, and charcuterie as well as fun additions like grapes, roasted veggies or crusty bread. For equipment, invest in a tabletop raclette grill with pans for melting cheese and cooking accompaniments. Designate an area for the raclette station and encourage guests to take turns manning this cheesy headquarters. As host, your most important job involves keeping wine glasses filled and spirits high! With stunning melted cheese as the star attraction, your party promises Alpine cosiness no matter the weather outside.
Raclette vs Fondue – Battle of the Melted Cheese Dishes
At first glance, raclette and fondue seem almost indistinguishable – after all, few pleasures exist greater than dipping into bubbling cauldrons of melted cheese! But the two dishes actually offer quite distinct cheese experiences. Where fondue features smoother, denser melted cheese with seasoning blended throughout, raclette retains more texture when liquefied with chunks of actual cheese dispersed throughout the creamy melt. Fondue also comes pre-seasoned with wine, garlic, and kirsch liqueur, lending it intensely rich, boozy flavours compared to raclette’s more delicate dairy essence. While fondue works magic with bite-size morsels like bread cubes or veggies, raclette shines when draped over hearty baked potatoes or charcuterie. At the end of the day, no clear winner emerges in this cheesy showdown – both equally deliver mouthfuls of happiness!
Raclette Culture and Festivals
In Switzerland, raclette plays a lead role both culturally and culinarily year-round, but especially during summer and winter raclette festivals. Visitors gather around enormous raclette ovens assembled outside, sizzling rows of cheese wheels just waiting to get scraped. Revellers pass hours waiting for the first heavenly swipe while taking in Alpine views, listening to traditional musicians, browsing craft booths and watching local dancers. It makes for an unforgettable experience steeped in heritage – a far cry from humble cowherds huddling over fires! Attending one of these festivals promises beautiful sights and flavours allowing you to vicariously live the romantic raclette lifestyle.
How and Where to Buy Raclette Cheese
Though raclette originated in the breathtaking Alpine meadows and slopes of Switzerland – one of the most beautiful places in Europe – today you can find this beloved melted cheese dish in many parts of the world. From high-end gourmet stores to online outlets, there are plenty of places where you can buy quality Swiss raclette.
If you’re dining out, keep an eye out for raclette on the menu at specialty cheese restaurants or French and Swiss eateries, which often serve this iconic melted cheese experience. Partaking in raclette at one of these establishments can transport your tastebuds back to the majestic mountain valleys where this singular cheese was first created and enjoyed by humble cowherds centuries ago.
Going Vegetarian – Plant-Based Raclette Options
No need to forego gooey, smooth raclette if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. Plenty of dairy-free cheese options now exist that nicely mimic melty, stretchy textures when heated. Leading brands like Miyoko’s Creamery and Violife create plant-based wheels using coconut or nut-based cultures that impressively emulate the decadent raclette experience. You can also opt for just melting plain nut-based cheese alternatives over veggies and meatless proteins. Pair with all your favourite spuds and pickles but instead of charcuterie, load up on mushrooms, roasted squash, chickpeas and other plant-goods. The possibilities for insanely delicious cruelty-free raclette remain endless!
Nutritional Value of Raclette
Raclette contains high levels of protein. This cheese is also rich in calcium and phosphorus, nutrients that support bone health. However, raclette also boasts a high fat content. Enjoying smaller portions paired with ample vegetables can create a flavourful, balanced meal. Consuming raclette in moderation as part of a varied diet allows one to reap the benefits of its key nutrients while limiting fat intake. Pairing smaller amounts with vegetable sides is an easy way to incorporate this cheese into a healthy lifestyle.
Wrapping it Up
A single bite of decadent melted raclette cheese draped over a crispy potato reveals why this singular Swiss dish has caught on like wildfire across the globe. The rustic richness and celebration of simple culinary pleasures in raclette explain its special place in the cheese pantheon and why so many have caught cheese fever from this dish.