Raclette is both the name of a cheese and a way to serve and eat it. It's a Swiss cheese (literally) and eating a raclette [rah-KLEHT] is a cold-weather event. I suppose you could call it a kind of fondue. We decided to have raclette for lunch yesterday. (Here's a link to an earlier post about raclette cheeses.
Our two-person appareil à raclette
|Raclette cheese from Switzerland|
One reason for this is that the weather has turned chillier. Another is that last August, we acquired a little two-person "raclette apparatus" — un appareil à raclette (look at all these) — at the big annual fleamarket in Saint-Aignan. A friend was selling it, and it was still new in the box. We hadn't tried it out until now. Appareils à raclette come in various sizes, for serving a couple or a crowd.
This time of year you can find raclette cheese anywhere cheeses are sold. Around here that means at the supermarket, since we don't have a local cheese shop. There are pasteurized-milk raclette cheeses and raw milk raclette cheeses to choose from. The benefit of buying real raclette cheese for this kind of preparation is that it melts into a smooth, molten mass, unlike some cheeses you might try.
|Sliced chorizo, chicken, and Canadian bacon|
Each person melts a slice of cheese in the little raclette grill. The accompaniments almost always include boiled potatoes, ham of one kind or another, and cornichons (pickled gherkins). To those you can add what you want: thin-sliced roast chicken, steamed broccoli or cauliflower fleurets, salami or chorizo, cooked artichoke bottoms, sliced mushrooms, and so on — anything that would be easy to serve and not messy to eat, and would go well with melted cheese.
|Two kinds of pickles|
The original raclette utensil was a stand on which you could mount a half-round of raclette cheese and set in front of the fire in the fireplace. You used a "raclette knife" (un couteau à raclette) to scrape the melting cheese off the cut side of the cheese round onto a plate — the verb racler [rah-KLAY] means "to scrape." Nowadays, all kinds of raclette grills are self-contained, with built-in heating elements.
This is the most common type of raclette grill these days, and it comes in many sizes.
You melt cheese in the little non-stick trays under a heating element, and
you can grill or heat up meats and vegetable on top as you go.
A lot of the raclette grills now have a non-stick grilling surface on top — ours does — so that you can grill slices of ham, bacon (Canadian is best here), chicken, or mushrooms, for example, as you go. The warm melted cheese is better with warm meat than with cold meat, I think — the same is true of the boiled potatoes, which you can bring warm to the table.
Raclette and Cantal cheeses for melting
You can also try different cheeses and see what you like. I don't know how easy it would be to find actual raclette cheese in the U.S. Yesterday, we had a little piece of Cantal cheese left over, and we sliced and melted it. It was very good. I also trimmed up some the soft blue cheese called Bresse Bleu and melted that in the raclette dish under the heating element. Very delicious....