Raclette is both a type of cheese and,
informally, a dish featuring this cheese. Traditional Raclette is a semi-firm,
salted cheese made from cow's milk. However, varieties exist made with white
wine, pepper, herbs, or smoked. The cheese originated in the Swiss canton of
Valais, but is today also produced in the French regions of Savoie and
Franche-Comté, and is available worldwide.
Raclette is also a dish indigenous to
parts of Switzerland, Wallonia and France. The Raclette cheese round is heated,
either in front of a fire or by a special machine, then scraped onto diners'
plates; the term raclette derives from the French racler, meaning "to scrape".
Traditionally, it is accompanied by small firm potatoes (Bintje, Charlotte or
Raclette varieties), gherkins, pickled onions, dried meat, such as prosciutto
and viande des Grisons, sliced peppers, tomato, onion, mushrooms, pears, and
dusted with paprika and fresh-ground black pepper.
In the Swiss canton of Valais, raclette is typically served with tea or other
warm beverages. Another popular option is to serve raclette with white wine,
such as the traditional Savoie wine or Fendant, but Riesling and Pinot Gris are
Raclette was mentioned in medieval writings as a particularly nutritious meal
consumed by peasants in mountainous Switzerland.
Traditionally, the Swiss cow herders used to take the cheese with them when they
were moving cows to or from the pastures up in the mountains. In the evenings
around the campfire, they would place the cheese next to the fire and, when it
had reached the perfect softness, scrape it on top of some bread.
A modern way of serving raclette involves
an electric table-top grill with small pans, known as coupelles, to heat slices
of raclette cheese in. Generally the grill is surmounted by a hot plate or
griddle. The cheese is brought to the table sliced, accompanied by platters of
boiled or steamed potatoes, other vegetables, charcuterie, and perhaps seafood.
Diners create their own small packages of food by cooking small amounts of meat,
vegetables and seafood on the griddle. These are then mixed with potatoes and
topped with cheese in the small, wedge-shaped coupelles that are placed under
the grill to melt and brown the cheese. Alternatively, slices of cheese may be
melted and simply poured over food on the plate.
The accent in raclette dining
is on relaxed and sociable eating and drinking, the meal often running to
several hours. French and other European supermarkets generally stock both the
grill apparatus and ready-sliced cheese and charcuterie selections for use with
it. Restaurants also provide raclette evenings for parties of diners.
Left: A modern
electric Raclette grill and various accompanying foods.