Lydia Burns always brings intriguing cheeses to my attention. This month it’s Reading Raclette, a Swiss-style of cheese, washed-rind with creamy, semi-firm texture and slight funk.
Raclette is a name derived from “racler,” French for “to scrape off,” and it refers to a type of cheese as well as a type of cheese presentation.
I first enjoyed raclette potatoes in Paris in the mid-90s at a little Left Bank restaurant that served only this dish. This French preparation involves a plate of melted cheese (usually, though not necessarily, raclette cheese), a bowl of potatoes, and a small plate of cornichons and pickled onions. As I recall, the largely French clientele at this restaurant, with characteristic Gallic fastidiousness, would carefully scrap every bit of skin off each potato, slice the potato in half, and delicately smear each half with melted cheese.
Last Christmas in the tiny Swiss town of Gruyere, we had a characteristically Swiss-type of raclette. Big blocks of cheese (in this case, Gruyere) are delivered to the table and placed under electric heaters. We waited until the tops of the blocks started bubbling and then scraped off gooey globs with the knife. The idea is not to cut into the cheese but to just slide the knife over the top to remove the hottest portions.
In the United States, the raclette presentation usually involves melting cheese in little pans and then spooning or pouring the cheese over potatoes. But you can also eat the cheese out of hand.
“Most people are familiar with fondue,” said Burns, “but fondue is so two years ago. Eric Larson, our owner at Marion Street Cheese Market, is of Swiss heritage, and we’ve sold raclettes from Day One, and they sat around for a while. But in the last couple of years, we’ve seen an increasing interest in people buying their own raclette grills.”
But you can make raclette at home without the big piece of hardware that we used in Switzerland or the relatively small and lightweight grills sold at Marion Street Cheese Market. You just need to melt good cheese (in, as in France, a simple plate), smear it over boiled potatoes and eat it with pickles.
You could use any cheese, too, though raclette cheese, as Lydia pointed out, is “designed to melt well.” Marion Street Cheese Market carries raclette and a range of similar cheeses around holiday time.
Reading Raclette is from Vermont, and Burns believes it stands up handsomely to European versions: “Just because it’s imported doesn’t mean it’s better.”