Raclette, Switzerland and France
For millennia, cheese has been a part of almost every culture on earth capable of extracting milk from mammals in order to extend its shelf life. While some softer cheeses are fragile and are consumable for only a few hours, many develop thick rinds that allow them to be kept for longer periods of time. Of the latter, some of the cheeses from Switzerland and France develop a rind thick enough to allow them to be served in a style known as raclette (from the French word for scraping); several varieties of these cheeses are also called Raclette, including the French Tomme de Savoie.
For the cheese to be used for raclette it needs to be sturdy enough to withstand falling apart when heat is applied; this process melts the interior while leaving the rind intact. In days gone by, half-wheels would be placed by an open fire to liquefy the cheese – the wheel is then tilted and the melt is scraped out with a knife and onto dried meats, potatoes, bread and other easy-to-preserve items in a reverse process that is best described as “cheese fondon’t”. As the cheese cools, it solidifies on the foodstuffs it has been applied to.
Thanks to modern science, there’s no need to lug that wheel of cheese up the side of a mountain only to have your rabbit fur hat catch fire causing you to do a triple gainer into a snow bank (unless you’re into that sort of thing); Swissmar, West Bend, Cuisinart and a bushel of other manufacturers make raclette grills for up to 8 people – some of these are even available at Wal-Mart, meaning that your grill may end up costing less than the cheese. Most raclette grills are electric; the flat top is used for grilling meats while the cheese, cut into slices, is melted in small trays that are placed underneath.
Don’t underestimate the value of making your guests work for their food at your next holiday party; there’s the extra added benefit of keeping them occupied when conversation lags and giving them something to talk about when they leave. Raclette is an age-old tradition that has been updated to be incorporated into whatever festivities you happen to be celebrating allowing you to be the big cheese this holiday season.