Swiss raclette is a semihard Alpine cow's milk cheese. It's native to the Swiss Alps but also produced on the French side of the Alps, as well as in the U.S. Raclette has exceptional melting properties and is traditionally served in fondue and raclette dinners, where it's melted and scraped over boiled potatoes. The word raclette is derived from the French word racler, which means "to scrape."
• Made from: Cow's milk
• Origin: Switzerland and France
• Texture: Semihard
• Color: Ivory to light yellow
What Is Raclette?
Raclette is an Alpine cow's milk cheese, available in specialty stores and markets that carry a good selection of European cheese, and is relatively expensive. It has a firm, smooth, and creamy texture, is ivory-pale yellow in color with small irregular holes, and has an edible orange-brown rind. The flavor of raclette will vary slightly depending on the region in which it's produced, but it generally has a floral aroma and is nutty, fruity, spicy, and milky in flavor.
Switzerland produces the majority of raclette (approximately 80 percent). The cheese is produced from milk that comes from cows that graze on fresh meadow grass in the summer and meadow hay during the winter. Other countries make raclette cheese, most notably France, where the cheese is produced on the French side of the Alps in the Savoie (Savoy) region. Its production and uses are similar to the Swiss. While Swiss raclette can be stronger in flavor, with a slightly floral, buttery, and mildly pungent flavor, French raclette is smooth and buttery.
How Raclette Is Made
Raclette is native to the Swiss canton or region of Valais, where it is made exclusively from raw (unpasteurized) cow's milk using traditional ancestral methods and benefits from protected designation of origin (PDO or AOP) status. Valaisan raclette has a fresh, tangy, and floral flavor and is marketed as Raclette du Valais AOP. Raclette is also produced in other Swiss regions, where it's marketed as Raclette Suisse. Swiss raclette is produced from pasteurized, thermized (lightly heated), or raw milk and has a mild, aromatic, and floral flavor.
Raclette's flavor is created by using high-quality milk, preferably from grass-fed cows, and special bacterial strains that create lactic acid and secondary metabolic flavor products. It does not undergo a propionic acid fermentation (which Emmenthal does) and therefore has no or few small holes. The cheese is formed into wheels, and the pressed wheels are soaked in a salt brine and smeared with a mixture of yeast and coryneform bacteria (gram-positive rods). The wheels are then placed in a cellar on red pine benches for ripening where they age for three to six months. The wooden shelves help to create the moist rind, and during this process, the cheese is washed and turned at regular intervals.
If raclette is not available, another Alpine-style cheese with good melting properties may be substituted, such as Swiss Gruyère, Emmenthal, and Vacherin Fribourgeois, or French Beaufort and Comté.
Raclette has very good melting properties since the fat content does not separate and pool as grease. This makes it an ideal cheese for raclette dinners and cheese fondue, or any dish that requires melted cheese, such as gratins and casseroles, grilled cheese sandwiches, and pasta and egg dishes.
To store in the refrigerator, wrap the cheese in waxed or parchment paper and place it in a zip-close bag or a plastic container. This will allow a limited amount of airflow without permeating the refrigerator with cheese smell. If any mold forms, thoroughly cut around the mold, taking care to not touch the mold with your knife. Raclette can be kept in your refrigerator for up to six weeks. It can also be frozen for up to three months with minimal effect on flavor and texture. To freeze, tightly wrap hand-sized blocks in plastic or coarsely grate and store in zip-closed bags with all of the air compressed. Allow the cheese to defrost overnight in the refrigerator before using it.
Raclette may be easily substituted for any other Alpine melting cheese, including Gruyère, Emmenthal, and Comté, in the following recipes.
• Fondue Savoyarde
Raclette vs. Gruyère
Raclette and Gruyère are both Swiss Alpine cheeses and are often interchangeable in dishes that require melting cheese. Raclette is a semihard cheese and Gruyère is a hard cheese that is aged for at least six months and up to 24 months. Raclette and a young Gruyère share a creamy and nutty flavor, while an aged Gruyère is more earthy and grainy. In traditional Swiss dishes, raclette is the cheese scraped over potatoes in a raclette dinner, while Gruyère is melted in fondue.
Can You Eat the Rind?
Raclette has an edible washed rind, which helps flavor-boosting bacteria grow, which in turn adds flavor to the cheese.