While grocery shopping last week, I noticed a wheel of raclette cheese at the cheese counter. The sight of that cheese brought back warm memories of the first time I tasted it, during my time in France, with my host family gathered around the table on a cold winter’s night. The memory of raclette, the meal and the cheese, struck me as a great way to spend the holiday with family.
Raclette is a type of cow’s milk cheese from France and Switzerland. The cheese has a ripe scent and a mild flavor at room temperature. When melted, the scent can be very strong. The flavor also increases, but, if you are put off by strong cheese smells, don’t be in this case: the cheese flavor is subtle and complex when melted, much like other cheeses used for fondue.
Raclette is also the name of a traditional dish of those regions. In sum, the cheese is melted and scraped onto a plate of cooked potatoes, with cured meats and pickles (like gherkins and capers) on the side. Melting the cheese can be done in a variety of ways – traditionally the round of cheese was placed beside a fire and scraped onto potatoes as the surface melted. A more modern technique includes the use of a raclette party set which is a kind of hotplate that diners can cook foods on top of and melt cheese underneath in an individual non-stick tray (my French host family had one of these).
Without a fire or a raclette grill, however, you can just put slices of the cheese on a cookie sheet and heat in a conventional oven at up to 400 degrees. Just watch the cheese and when it is all melted, remove the tray from the oven and slide it over the potatoes, and eat immediately. The cheese will firm back up pretty quickly and while it will still be delicious as it cools, the signature flavor most noticeable when it is freshly melted. After cooking for days, an easy meal of raclette was a great way to get the family around the table without much effort.
Of course, with all the time we saved cooking by making raclette, we decided to whip up a batch of that Chain Letter Cinnamon bread, this time adding some nuts for decoration. We brought a starter with us down to Jen’s southern family and now, since it has split into four new starters, we can safely say that this Amish bread has invaded the South!
One year ago: Syrian Lemon and Olive Chicken
About this author: I'm a New Yorker who would rather cook than go out to restaurants. Sometimes I think I may be in the wrong city for that. Then I remember the exotic ingredients I'd be hard-pressed to find if I lived somewhere else. My cooking style is an eclectic range of everyday-American, Italian, middle-eastern, with extensive forays into Japanese cuisine, and some pit-stops into Indian and African cuisines. I love to try my hand at recreating dishes I taste. While I enjoy most anything with a flavor, from high cuisine to instant junk food, I have a soft spot in my belly for home-style cooking no matter the geographic or ethnic origin. Read more from this author...