Sunday, March 7, 2010
Raclette is a type of cheese and a way to enjoy the cheese. Raclette, the cooking method, is believed to have originated in the Swiss Alps when shepherds would move their herds up the mountains. The shepherds would build a fire and place a half wheel of cheese on a stone near the fire. Once the cheese was bubbling, it would be scraped onto a plate with potatoes and gherkins. Raclette comes from the French word racler which means to scrape.
Raclette the cheese has also been called Valais, named after the region in Switzerland. This cheese dates back to the Middle Ages but was not well know outside of Valais until the 19th century. Raclette is often made in wheels ranging from 13-24 pounds. It can be made from raw or pasteurized cow’s milk. Raclette is a washed rind cheese this is semi-firm with a natural edible rind. This cheese is a pressed cooked cheese that is dense, compact, and supple with a pale yellow to ivory color paste which has a few eyes. The smell is strong due to its washed rind nature but the flavor is a blend of meaty, earthy, and floral with notes of mushroom, fruit, and nuts. Of course this cheese melts well but it loses its strong smell when heated becoming milder.
But not all wheels are created equally. There are French and Swiss varieties as well as Raclette and raclette, Raclette du Valais (AOC), and other Raclette named after the region where the cheese is made. This cheese can be factory made or produced in small artisnal batches. In 2003, Raclette de Valais was awarded Appellation D’Origine Controlee (AOC) by the Swiss Department of Agriculture. This has been greatly criticized by cheesemakers outside the Valais region and appeals have been launched objecting to the move. I prefer AOC cheese and wish this had happened sooner as their might not be so many substandard wheels of cheese calling themselves Raclette.
The raclette we sampled was purchased, as were most items in my spread, from Wegman’s. It was the only raclette they had and it was a disappointment. As it was the only offering, I expected it to be held to the standard of a high end supermarket. But it wasn’t, I would expect this cheese to be found at any supermarket. This wheel was made by Emmi, a Swiss cheese factory, it was young, soft, plasticy and pasteurized. I much prefer the raw milk style we sold at Cheesetique.
But the cheese melted well and got the job done pairing well with all the accompaniments. These included marinated mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, roasted red peppers, marinated artichokes, cornishons, seedy mustard, boiled pee wee potatoes, roasted ruby pee wee potatoes, roasted carrots, parsnips, and golden beets, Olives – Cerignola and Castelvetrano. The meats included Landjaeger, Finocchiona, Saucisson sec, Speck, and Mousse Royale au Sauterns Pate by TPC and the cheeses aside from the raclette were Beemster XO Gouda, Roth’s Private Reserve Gruyere, Brillat-Savarin frais, and Mozzarella. It was fun to mix and match different combinations and wonder just how many possibilities they were to expirement with. Our meal was well complimented by a few tasty beverages, Le Berceau Blanquette De Limoux Brut, France Maison Vergines and Lindemans Peche Lambic. But allow me to digress and talk about 2 of the other featured cheese.
Emmi has an American cheese making arm, Roth Kase and I think they make far better cheese than Emmi. I even prefer the Roth Kase Gruyere’s to their Swiss counterpoints. We enjoyed a chunk of the Roth’s Private Reserve Surchoix Gruyere which is a raw cow’s milk cheese exclusive to Wegmans. This cheese is made is small batch using Swiss copper pots and aged for at least nine months. This is a good cheese, I really like their Grand Cru and had hoped the Roth’s Private would have been aged longer, more complex, and better overall. The other cheese is the elusive Brillat-Savarin frais. I have only seen this type at Wegmans and what sets it apart from other triple crème cheeses is its lack of a bloomy rind. This is a young fresh cow’s milk cheese made by Delin in France. It is like a rich creamy butter cheesecake.
The campfire has been replaced by electric Raclette grills. There are a number of different styles, for Christmas I got a Swissmar grill with a marble top. The grill is heated from the top and the bottom and heat resistant dishes are placed in the middle. The dishes can be filled with cheese or cheese, potatoes, and any number of things. Raclette is traditionally accompanied by small boiled potatoes, pickled onions, gherkins, salami, onion, peppers, tomato, mushrooms, pears, and sprinkled with paprika and pepper. Raclette is often served with hot tea, beer, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Sparkling wine.
A Raclette party is a social gathering to leisurely enjoy this cheese and experiment with different flavor combinations. A Raclette dinner can last many hours. Just imagine yourself in a Swiss chalet, lounging by a roaring fire, cozy on fluffy pillows, with a Raclette grill and spread of cheese, meats, and vegetables. Why rush your enjoyment? Savor the flavor of the cheese and enjoy your wine and conversations. I like to leave my cheese on the grill until the top begins to brown.
Any cheese that melts well can be used on a Raclette grill such as Emmental, Appenzeller, Fontina, Mozzarella, and Gruyere. Feel free to experiment with different types of cheese like Midnight Moon or Chipotle Cheddar. I prefer to slice my cheese as needed to reduce waste and prevent the cheese from drying out. A Raclette grill is a great way to bring the family around the table and enjoy a fun and interactive dinner that is easy to assembly. It is the perfect solution when you don’t feel like cooking. Also, the top of the grill can cook kabobs, fish, mini-burgers, hotdogs, pizza, and quesadillas.
The only Raclette grill no no seems to be non-stick cooking spray. Do not use non-stick cooking spray as it will burn on to the grill. Also, don’t pile your Raclette dish too high as it has to fit in between the heating elements. Other types of Raclette grills include Raclette melters which can hold a wheel of cheese that has been cut in half and exposed to a heat source. These can be massive and can serve as the centerpiece in some Swiss restaurants.