If you’re looking for a new way to celebrate the holidays with warm, melty cheese, raclette is the perfect special occasion cheese recipe to try in 2021. Here’s everything you need to know to serve raclette for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or your next holiday party.
What Is Raclette?
First, let’s clarify something. Raclette (capital R) is the name of a traditional cheese that originated in the French and Swiss Alps. But raclette (lower-case r) is also the method of serving this cheese melted over bread, potatoes, or other goodies. Both names come from the French verb racler, “to scrape,” which harks back to the origins of this iconic cheese.
When Was Raclette Invented?
Raclette—both the cheese and the dish—originated centuries ago with French and Swiss Alpine herdsmen, who would bring their herds up the mountains to high-elevation pastures to graze in the spring and summer, then back down to the valleys again in the fall. This kind of seasonal migration is known as transhumance.
Along the way, they’d stop at chalets, or cheesemaking huts, to pool their cows’ milk with that of other farmers. They’d make firm, large-format Alpine classics like Emmental and Gruyère as well as smaller wheels of a semi-firm washed-rind cheese (which we now know as Raclette).
To complement the meals they’d cook over a roaring fire, these herdsmen would cut open a wheel, set it close to the flames, and let the cut surface get bubbly and melty—then scrape that goodness over potatoes or hunks of bread, hence the name. This tradition is thought to be at least 400 years old.
What Equipment Do You Need to Serve Raclette?
If you have a fireplace or fire pit and don’t mind springing for a half or quarter wheel of raclette, you can melt the cheese the traditional way. But most of us will need some specialized gear to host a raclette dinner party.
An electric raclette grill, sometimes called a “partyclette,” is the perfect appliance to serve raclette for a crowd. A central heating element warms nonstick paddles loaded with slices of raclette cheese. There are typically eight paddles—one for each guest so they can melt their own cheese. Some models also include a cooking surface above the paddles where veggies, meats, and seafood can be grilled throughout the evening.
If space is a concern or you’re looking to prepare raclette for just one or two, look for a candle-powered mini raclette grill. Simply load the nonstick paddle, light the candles, and let the cheese melt before draping it over potatoes or bread.
If you love to grill even in winter, you’ll be excited to know that there are even “barbeclette” cheese melters. These small, rectangular nonstick pans are perfect for melting batches of cheese as you barbecue.
Where to Buy Raclette Cheese
You can buy Raclette cheese at most cheese shops and some well-stocked supermarkets. If you plan to purchase Raclette imported from Europe, keep an eye out for Swiss varieties made the traditional way with raw milk, as French types imported into the U.S. must be pasteurized.
Many American artisan cheesemakers also produce Raclette-style cheeses or other semi-soft or semi-firm washed-rind styles that work well as a substitute. Cheese Grotto sells a couple of American artisan Raclette-style cheeses in our online store.
Redhead Creamery in Minnesota produces a raw milk Raclette-style. Their St. Anthony is an award-winning semi-soft washed rind with tangy, buttery, and meaty notes. Another good raw milk option is nutty, grassy Reading Raclette, made by Spring Brook Farm in Vermont.
How Much Raclette Cheese Per Person?
Once you’ve got your gear and a place to buy Raclette cheese, it’s time to talk numbers. How much cheese you’ll need to buy depends on how many people you plan to serve.
Plan for six to eight ounces of Raclette cheese per guest. If you’re planning a romantic raclette evening with your sweetie, you should be good with three-quarters of a pound to one pound of cheese. For a raclette dinner party with eight attendees, purchase around four pounds of cheese (better to have too much than not enough!).
What Do You Serve With Raclette?
What do you eat with raclette cheese? The classic preparation features roasted or boiled potatoes, typically baby or fingerling sized, in a waxy variety like Yukon Gold (rather than a starchy variety like Russet). You’ll also want some baguettes or other artisan bread on hand as a melted cheese carrying device.
Other classic raclette accompaniments include whole-grain mustard and cornichons or other tart pickles to provide acidity and cut the richness of the cheese. Cured meats like speck, prosciutto, or dry-cured sausage complement its meaty notes. Other cheese board staples like nuts, dried fruit, and preserves like jam can be a part of your raclette spread, too.
A crisp green salad tossed in zingy vinaigrette is another good way to balance out the meal, but you have a lot of flexibility when it comes to veggies. You could serve a crudite platter of crunchy, refreshing raw vegetables or contemporary cold-season sides like roasted Brussels sprouts, roasted winter squash, or caramelized leeks, too.
As for what to drink, the classic wine to serve with raclette is a crisp, dry white wine that will bring some much-needed acidity to refresh your palate between bites of rich, gooey cheese. Roussette, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Grüner Veltliner, or even a nice dry Riesling can all pair well with raclette.
How to Serve Raclette Cheese
Once you’ve got your gear, food, and drink together, you’ll need to do a little prep before your raclette feast begins.
First, wash the parts of your raclette grill that will come into contact with food according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure your beverages are chilling in the fridge several hours before you plan to serve them.
In addition to making any cooked sides, you’ll want to slice up your raclette cheese before your guests show up so that everything is ready for them to start melting. Cut the cheese into quarter-inch-thick slices that fit onto your raclette grill’s paddles. You can take care of this step the night before as long as you cover the cheese well with plastic wrap or seal it in an airtight container.
Remove the cheese from the fridge at least an hour before guests arrive so it can come up to room temperature. That’s also a good time to cut bread into slices or rounds if you like (although if you’re simply serving baguettes, you can simply have your guests tear off chunks throughout the night, as the French do).
Finally, set the table and have a celebratory glass of wine before the party starts. Once your guests arrive, plug in or light the raclette grill, load up your paddles with luscious cheese, start melting, and have fun!
Have you ever tried raclette? Tag us @cheesegrotto on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and let us know!