Raclette can mean three things: the name of a cheese, the name of a Swiss dish involving melted cheese, and a type of grill used to melt cheese.
The word raclette comes from the French word racler, meaning "to scrape." When one eats raclette, they can expect to joyfully scrape gooey melted cheese onto their plate. More often than not, raclette (the type of cheese) is the main ingredient of raclette (the dish). However, other types of Swiss or French cheese that melt well can also be used to make the raclette dish.
Where Raclette Cheese Comes From
Raclette cheese is primarily made in the French provinces of Savoie, Franche-Comte, and in Switzerland. In Switzerland, raclette refers to a group of similar cheeses named after the village where they are made and not just to one specific cheese. Two award-winning raclette-style kinds of cheese are also made in the United States: Leelanau Cheese company offers one cheese called Leelanau Raclette and Spring Brook Farm in Vermont creates a cheese called Reading.
Both pasteurized and raw milk versions of raclette style cheese are commonly sold. The texture of raclette is usually semi-firm, supple, and springy. It's prized for its great melting quality since it doesn't become stringy or overly greasy. The flavor of raclette cheese ranges from sweet and nutty to pungent and beefy.
How to Eat Raclette
Traditionally, a wheel of raclette cheese is cut in half and heated over a fire or under a raclette grill. As the cheese melts inside the rind, it is scraped onto individual plates. Pickled vegetables like cornichons and onions are often served with the cheese. You can also serve the melted cheese with raw or cooked vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, and potatoes. Occasionally, cured meats are served with it as well.
Wheels of raclette cheese are very large, averaging around 12 pounds and 12 inches or more in diameter. Because of this, most people buy a smaller wedge of raclette and melt individual slices of the cheese. A raclette grill can be used to do this, or the cheese can be melted under a broiler.
To truly enjoy this melted cheese, throw a special raclette party. Sometimes, less is more. Celebrate with a simple modern cheese fondue night in your heatproof fondue pot. Use Emmental and Gruyere cheese along with white wine and French baguette for a delicious cheese fondue meal.
A raclette grill can be used indoors on a tabletop. Many raclette grills require slicing the cheese beforehand so that the cheese neatly melts in individual trays for serving. The Boska Raclette Quartro, for example, allows you to melt a whole quarter wheel of cheese. As it melts, the cheese is scraped directly off the rind onto serving plates.