A Raclette Dinner Party can really take a ‘wine and cheese party’ to a whole new level. If you enjoy a leisurely, informal dining experience with friends then a Raclette dining experience might be just the thing for you. And if you enjoy a good fondue it is definitely for you!
Raclette is actually the name of the soft, nutty, aromatic cheese that you melt under a table top grill. Each diner looks after melting their portions in little grill trays and then you pour the melted cheese over fresh baby potatoes. It is traditionally served with French cornichons which are mild, baby dill pickles, sour pickled onions and topped with fresh ground black pepper.
Raclette cheese dates back more than 700 years, when it was called Bratchäs, Swiss-German for “roasted cheese.” Raclette was mentioned in writings as early as 1291. The semi-hard cheese was easy to transport, and it was eaten by shepherds and farmers, who would place a block of cheese by a hearth or a campfire. There, it would become soft, and the melted cheese would be served with potatoes, onions and pickles.
Traditionally it was considered peasant food but I think of it as elegant in its simplicity and savouriness!
There are purpose specific raclette machines similar to the one below.
You get little trays that fit under a grilling element. The element also heats a granite stone above so you can also enjoy ‘grillade sur pierre’ or Hot Stone Cooking. You can cook shrimps or scallops, thin bits of beef etc on the top of the hot granite, each diner looking after their own portions.
If you don’t have or want a machine you can melt the cheese over a plate of potatoes in a low microwave setting. In that case I would warm the plates prior to microwaving to maintain as much heat as possible throughout the meal. I have had raclette served like this in restaurants. You get to enjoy the nutty, creamy cheese but it isn’t the same congenial dining experience as each diner attending to their own portions with the machine.
This is the Raclette machine I have, which is available on Amazon.
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There are Swiss, French and Canadian raclettes available locally. Swiss Raclette is notoriously pungent, although the taste is not really any different from the French or Canadian. But I have to warn you .. in a closed dining area it can smell sort of like…dirty socks!
There was a restaurant in Toronto some years ago appropriately name La Raclette. The maitre d’ told us over our meal they had to switch to French raclette because diners not familiar with raclette would turn and leave immediately from the smell. I don’t mind the Swiss variety and if you are dining al fresco or with open doors or windows I don’t find it to be an issue. However – you have been warned so if you have any concerns go for the French or Canadian.
The Val de Bagnes is a side valley in the French speaking part of the Swiss Canton Valais which is traditionally the core of raclette production.
You will need about 7-9 ounces per person. I get my raclette cheese at Vincenzo’s in Waterloo. Slice the cheese into about 1/4 inch slices so it can melt consistently under the grill. Each diner can put a small amount on their plate so they can replenish their grilling tray as soon as they empty the melted cheese.
Baby gourmet potatoes, fingerlings are all good. You want potatoes that are small and waxy. Plan for 6-8 potatoes per person. Boil or steam them and keep them warm in a covered dish at the table while you are dining.
French cornichons are mild baby dill pickles. The vinegar solution is much milder than the typical North American dill pickle.
Little pickled pearl onions, sour not sweet, are another typical condiment.
You can offer other pickled vegetables or peppers if you like. A bit of piquant pepper would go well against the creaminess of the cheese and potato.
You may also want to serve a tossed salad on the side. I would avoid serving any other hot vegetable or side unless it is something that you could put on the hot stone above. Otherwise it will get cold during the raclette process.
You could serve a nice French bread as well since it would be a nice foil for the raclette as well.
Raclette is quite rich so it is nice that you can have a relatively simple presentation and still be assured everyone will be satisfied.
White Wines: Look for a crisp wine with enough acidity to cut the richness of the cheese.
Alsation Riesling, Alsation Pinot Gris, White Burgundy or any crisp Chardonnay
Ontario Riesling, Pinot Gris or Chardonnays would also work well due to their tautness and minerality.
Try from the Sept 16, 2017 LCBO Release:
Closson Chase K.J.Watson Vineyard Pinot Gris 2016 (Ontario) 69445 Score 92 $22.95
Ryder Chardonnay 2015 (California, USA) 458638 $17.95
Red Wines: Look for medium bodied, fairly acidic wine to cut the richness of the cheese
Burgundy Red or any Pinot Noir, Barbaresco, GSM
Filippo Broccardo Nebbiolo 2015 #496786 $24.95
Adriano Marco e Vittorio Sanadaive Barbaresco 2013 #497909 Score 94 $33.95 (#15 on Wine Enthusiast Top 100 of 2016)
Enter the Product # above to check for wine availability near you via the LCBO Product search function.