Raclette is a cheese from Switzerland made with whole cow's milk. It has a thin, brownish-orange rind and a firm, supple body that is ivory to light yellow with few, if any, holes. It is classified as semi-hard. Raclette has a very distinctive flavor; nutty, slightly acidic, aromatic and similar to Gruyere-type cheeses. The rind is edible. It melts well and is used in many casseroles. It can be used in grilled cheese sandwiches, too.
Raclette dinners are very popular because they are so easy to make. Slices of Raclette cheese are melted in small pans, then eaten with boiled potatoes, pickles and dried meats. The cheese was originally melted from the whole wheel in front of the fire, then scraped onto the plate, but now, a tabletop appliance is popular.
Buying Raclette Cheese
If you are in Switzerland, a visit to Chateau de Villa in Sierre for a dinner of "Bratchäs" or Raclette is a very good idea.
How Raclette is Made
Raclette is a cheese from Switzerland which is made in several districts (Kanton) north of the Alps. It is made from pasteurized cows' milk except in Valais canton or Wallis canton, where it is made with raw milk.
It has a light brown-tinted, edible rind and a buttery, smooth interior that is ivory to light yellow with few, if any, holes. It is 45% fat (dry weight). Raclette has a very distinctive flavor; nutty, aromatic and similar to Gruyere-type cheeses. The flavor of handmade raclette varies with the season and what the cows are fed. Large-batch raclette has the same flavor all year long. Since the word, raclette, cannot be linked to a specific town or area and cannot be protected, look for authentic Swiss raclette if you want the best cheese experience.
The flavor is created by using good quality milk, preferably from grass-fed cows, and special bacterial strains which create lactic acid and secondary metabolic, flavor products. It does not undergo a propionic acid fermentation (which Emmentaler does) and therefore has no/few holes. The pressed cheese wheel is soaked in a salt brine, smeared with a mixture of yeast and coryneform bacteria (gram positive rods) and then placed in a cellar on red pine benches for ripening. These wooden shelves may color and help create the Schmiere or moist rind. This tradition at the very least helps the cellar retain a certain atmosphere conducive to cheese maturation. It is aged for three to six months.
Raclette has very good melting properties since the fat content does not separate and pool as grease. This makes it a good cheese to use as a casserole topper or in the famous and delicious raclette dinner. Very popular on New Year's Eve in Germany, a Raclette party takes almost no time to prepare and tastes great, since you are just browning the cheese and pouring onto your plate to eat with potatoes and pickles. Buy the cheese ahead of time, it tends to sell out around the end of the year.
In German-speaking Switzerland, raclette is also known as Bratchäs, pronounced with a hard ch like "k." It means "grilled cheese." It has been a Swiss specialty since at least 1291 AD when William Tell was purported to eat it.