Ah Raclette. It's a cheese, and it's what you call dinner when serving this cheese, melted and scraped from the wheel. (The word raclette is from the French racler, "to scrape".)
There is something aesthetically perfect about Raclette, which is hard to pin down. The cheese is firm, but not hard; balanced in flavor, and with superb melting characteristics. Excess calcium is rinsed out with clear water before pressing, to keep the curd tender. I age this cheese for four months, with regular brine washings.
I first tried Raclette while visiting Mont Tremblant on a ski trip, and I was somewhat skeptical. I mean, cheese melted on potatoes sounds both boring and unhealthy, doesn't it? However, neither is true. It is complex and delicious to eat, and just as nutritious as the raw milk from which it's made. On that occasion, a heating appliance was placed on the table, with the cheese held close to a glowing coil. We scraped the fragrant cheese from the wheel onto waiting plates.
It's not really necessary to have serious Raclette equipment to enjoy this cheese; you can melt pieces in ramekins to enjoy simply with pieces of boiled potato:
A pierrade is a stone-topped raclette grill. The cheese or sauce is in small pans underneath the heating element, and a stone cooking surface sits on top. Small pieces of meat and vegetable are quickly cooked on the hot stone, and then coated with the hot cheese or sauce. Each guest may cook their own pieces of meat and melt their own cheese.
Once the action starts, things go rather quickly. It can be a bit chaotic. So, it's a good idea to get everything staged for preparation: marinated chicken or beef, sliced onion, peppers, and other vegetables, cornichon and pepper for garnish:
Doing this is fun, and it's primal. It's slightly reminiscent of camping, or perhaps Korean barbecue. But this is your restaurant...there is no cleaver-wielding attendant standing over you. You're just melting cheese, watching your food searing on a piece of granite. Resist the urge to make cave paintings on my dining room wall.
Plate and garnish. Serve Raclette with a fruity white wine.
Other uses for Raclette:
This cheese has a lot of potential. Chef Jason Tostrup of the Inn at Weathersfield made some delicate fritters out of this cheese, accompanied by Woods Cider Jelly. Altogether a brilliant innovation.