A Raclette 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!
What is Raclette?
Raclette (pronounced rack-let) is actually the name of the soft, nutty, aromatic cheese that you melt under a table top grill. And it is actually the name of the dish as well. 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!
Cooking With a Raclette Grill
If you are the type that will enjoy raclette at home once in a while, 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.
You can buy Raclette machines on Amazon or at specialty kitchen shops. Some are granite tops and some are more of a griddle top. They both work well.
Cooking Without a Raclette Grill
It is still quite easy to enjoy a raclette party at home even if you don't have a machine. You can melt the cheese over a plate of potatoes on 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 could also put your potatoes in an oven proof casserole (a cast iron skillet is perfect!) and top them with the raclette slices. Broil, watching carefully until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Then transfer portions to individual plates.
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 approach will need some planning/coordination if everyone is to receive their hot dinner plates at the same time.
How Much Raclette Do I Need Per Person?
You will need about 7-9 ounces of raclette cheese per person. There are Swiss, French and Canadian raclettes available locally. Swiss Raclette is notoriously pungent, although the taste is not really that 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.
I get my raclette cheese at Vincenzo's in Waterloo. Recently I have seen raclette cheese pre-slices in my local No Frills so I believe it is more accessible now than ever!
Slice the cheese into about ¼ 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.
What Kind of Potatoes Do I Need For Raclette?
Baby gourmet potatoes or fingerlings are the norm. You want potatoes that are small and waxy so any baby potatoes in season would be good. Plan for 6-8 small gourmet potatoes per person. Boil or steam them and keep them warm in a covered dish at the table while you are dining.
Check out this novel approach - Salt Potatoes Raclette.
What Is Traditionally Served with Raclette?
French cornichons which are mild baby dill pickles are a traditional condiment. 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.
What Else Should I Serve?
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.
How Do I Make Raclette?
There is no recipe per se for raclette. That is what makes it such an easy entertaining idea. Purchase the raclette cheese and potatoes according to the guidelines above. Get the condiments. I strongly suggest you look for the traditional cornichons, and sour (not sweet) pickled onions. After that you can decide if you want to add some other preserves like peppers or pickled cauliflower etc.
A traditional raclette meal is not fancy and it is delicious.
- Set your table with the raclette machine in a central spot where everyone can reach it with their trays.
- Chill your chosen wine if it is white; decide if you red needs to breathe or be decanted.
- Slice the raclette cheese in to ¼" slices. Cut the slices so they will fit in the pans guests will use under the grill. Overlap the slices on a couple of serving plates. Plan to place a cheese plate at each end of the table to limit passing.
- Ensure there are lots of the condiments in dishes at both ends of the table.
- Plan to deliver the raclette potatoes to the table in covered dishes to help them stay warm. So start cooking your potatoes and time it so they are done just as you call your guests to the table.
- The plan is to preheat the raclette grill, allow guests to take a serving of cheese slices and some condiments and potatoes.
- People can start by putting a slice of cheese in their tray and under the grill. Depending on the number of guests and size of your grill, you may supply 2 trays per guest so they can keep up a good rotation of melting cheese. One tray will work if that is what you have.
- Guests continue to melt their raclette cheese and pour it over their potatoes.
Note: If you plan to serve an optional salad as an appetizer course, then do that before you preheat the grill. The grill is hot and it isn't necessary to throw off all that heat during the appetizer course. Once the salad course is done proceed with the steps above.
You don't really need bread with your raclette and potatoes at dinner so perhaps serve some crusty bread with you salad as a first course.
If you choose to add cured meats or something to cook on the grill top go ahead - but it isn't necessary.
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 would be a good match for the richness of the raclette cheese.
Ontario Riesling, Pinot Gris or Chardonnays would work especially well due to their tautness and minerality.
Red Wines: Look for medium bodied, fairly acidic wine to cut the richness of the cheese. Burgundy Red or any Pinot Noir would work well. A Merlot, an Italian Barbara or a Rhone style GSM would also be nice.
If you can't find racelette cheese I have successfully substituted Jarlsberg. It has a similar nuttiness and melts nicely. Any semi soft or soft cheese should work if it will melt nicely. Aged cheeses are drier and tend not to work well when melting is required.
Raclette cheese in the block will keep a couple of weeks, well wrapped, in the fridge. Eventually though you will see a bit of mold starting around the rind and some white mold spots on the cut edges. So I wouldn't plan to store it more than 2 weeks or so based on my experience.
Raclette is best served fresh and keeps well for quite a while in the fridge if it is sealed. Having said that I have frozen leftover sliced raclette and it melted down well afterwards. So I would say yes you can freeze raclette slices. I wouldn't freeze the block because the texture might change making it difficult or impossible to slice into nice uniform slices.
Young, slightly waxy potatoes tend to have nice flavour. In theory, any potato would work that is boiled but older starchy potatoes would not be as nice an accompaniment.
If you think of the princples of a fondue, a rustic bread would be a nice foil for the melted cheese.
If you are trying to avoid carbs then think cauliflower or broccoli or any other vegetables that marries well with cheese. Of course you will want to cook them to tender crisp in preparation for the cheese topping.
The top of a raclette machine is designed to cook other foods. Any quick cooking item that doesn't require a lot off liquid would work. Marinated shrimp or steak tips would be nice. Scallops would be ideal. Sausage rounds would crisp up nicely as well.
Other Related Recipes
A Fondue meal shares the same relaxed dining atmosphere as a Racelette dinner. Check out this Champagne Cheese Fondue.
Or Tartiflette is another another famous traditional French cheese and potato dish!