Last Christmas my little sister and I went on a European adventure where we went to as many Christmas markets as we could find. Among some of the best things we stumbled upon on our trip was raclette. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
We were in the beautiful Christmas Market in Cologne, Germany, when we first glimpsed the cheese. Under a canopy of twinkling Christmas lights in the shadow of the breathtaking Cologne Cathedral, my sister and I noticed a man with a device that looked strait out of the Middle Ages. The machine was simple really: a crank, some clips, and a heat lamp. An enormous half wheel of cheese was fastened with metal clamps, and the man turned and cranked the whole assembly to get the cheese closer to the heat hanging above it. As the cheese got closer to the broiler-like device, magic started. The center paste of the cheese – bookended by a sturdy brown rind that held everything together – began to bubble and brown, becoming loose and gooey at the touch.
The kind German gentleman behind the counter took a thin spatula that closely resembled something you would ice a cake with, and scraped it across the top of the cheese. It looked like the most delicious glob of goo you have ever seen. Some parts were charred ;by the broiler, but most were just perfectly warm in the cool evening in northern Germany. With a twinkle in his eye, the man spread the cheese on a thick slice of smooth homemade bread and handed it over. The steaming pile of cheese was about as close to a Christmas miracle as I had ever found.
Raclette is a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese from the French and Swiss Alps. The name of the cheese comes from a dish by the same name that made the cheese famous. Raclette (the meal) is made by heating the cheese and scraping the melted portion onto boiled potatoes, sliced charcuterie, cornichons, and other treats. The word “raclette” is derived from the French verb racler, which means “to scrape.” Though the dish is most commonly found in Switzerland, France and Germany have wholeheartedly embraced the delicious gooeyness.
Raclette cheese originated several hundred years ago in the canton of Valais in the southwest region of Switzerland. The first mention of the cheese came about in 1291 in writings where it was called “Bratchäs,” meaning “roasted cheese” in Swiss-German. It is believed that local herdsmen of valleys in the Swiss Alps traveled with this semi-soft cheese and placed it near campfires, where it would melt. As time progressed, the melty cheese was used more frequently in a variety of dishes. It was found that the melted cheese could be scraped off the block and then eaten with potatoes, onions, and other vegetables and served with tea or kirsch, a cherry brandy. The tradition of melting and scraping raclette soon spread throughout the valleys of the Swiss Alps and the rest of the world.
Raclette cheese is pale yellow in color with a few small holes dispersed throughout. Once melted, its texture is creamy and does not separate. Raclette is similar to fondue but remains distinctive since the melted portion of cheese is scraped off the cheese block, often with a special raclette knife. Today, raclette grills are a popular way to serve the cheese.
Switzerland supplies over 80% of the world’s raclette cheese, while France and the US also make raclette. French raclette is slightly softer than Swiss raclette and has a stronger aroma with a smooth creamy flavor.
Get your own!
Melting your own raclette at home can be easy! Aside from a good broiler in your oven, here are some great devices you can try to perfect your melty raclette.
All the devices below can be found at Boska
This is what we will call the starter model. This “Cheese Barbeclette” is only $13.99 and is a great way to get you hooked on some melty cheese. The easy design works with stovetop and is ready to provide melted cheese in minutes.
This “Partyclette ToGo Oak” model, for $24.99, is for the partygoer who wants to share cheesy goodness with their treasured friends. It slowly heats the cheese from underneath, making it a slow but delicious process.
Things escalate quickly with this Raclette Quattro model, which will set you back a cool $300.00. This is the starter model of the system found at Christmas markets all over Europe and will make you the life of the party.
This is the king of all raclette warming devices and is best used to heat up cheese for the masses. While the Rachlette Demi, at $500.00, may seem a bit much, think of all the amazing gooey dishes that you can enjoy with this self-heating, cheese-producing machine! If I were you, I would start your letter to Santa now…
Raclette information by iGourmetPhoto Credit: Image courtesy of French Revolution Food