All About Raclette

Imagine fuzzy mukluks, après ski gear, a cozy fire in Switzerland, and a sexy blonde ski instructor. (This last item can be gendered in any way you like). What do you eat while cradling your slope-sore body in floor pillows? Not gloppy fondue, which is strictly for the tourists, but Raclette, a rich, fatty cheese toasted until it’s gooey and deliciously browned.

While our current economic apoplexy might have cancelled this winter’s Alpine ski trip, you can still get Raclette at Larchmont’s Auray Gourmet. For the cost of the cheese (and the insurance of a loaned credit card, which seems fair since these machines can run up to 300 bucks) you can borrow a Raclette melter to entertain your friends at home. (But obviously—you’re on your own for ski instructors. Craig’s List is a good place to start.)

It goes like this: spike the cold Raclette on the swing arm, then swing the cheese under the electrical heating element. After a few moments, the cheese will become translucent, then bubbly, then mouthwatering fragrant and liquid. When the cheese is about to drip and make a mess, you safely swing the arm away from heat, then scrape off a pool of gooey deliciousness and serve it with boiled potatoes and pickles. (Raclette comes from the French word for “scrape”.) It’s fast, fun and interactive — and like pizza, quesadillas, welsh rarebit, panini, croque monsieur, etc. it’s a gooey cheez-and-carb delivery system. What’s not to love.

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But unlike downscale fondue, which is usually made with non-descript cheese (and stabilized with flour or cornstarch and spiked with wine or kirsh), Raclette is all about terrior. It’s foodie heaven, chock full of snob appeal and infinitely parsable facts. Auray offers two types of Raclette, Swiss and French, both semi-firm, unpasteurized, high-altitude cheeses where the dairy herd grazes on above-the-treeline plants. According to that bilious Knight of Cheese Steve Jenkins, it’s the grazing diversity of these mountainous cows gives Raclette its high butterfat and distinct flavor. Also according to Jenkins, both unmelted cheeses have a full beefy flavor, which only intensifies with heating. We can agree—Raclette is big and mouthfilling; it’s satisfying, a meal.

(Skip to the next paragraph if you’re not a card-carrying cheese geek). While the flavor profiles are similar, the difference between French and Swiss Raclette is this. French Raclette is from the mountainous Jura region that borders the Alps and includes Franche-Comte, Savoie and Haute Savoie. It’s a washed rind cheese. The Swiss cheeses come from any of little towns in the uppermost cantons of the Swiss Alps, and it arrives encased in traditional wax. Both cheeses will set you back about $19 per pound at Auray, and you’ll need at least 3 1/2 pounds to make the Raclette machine work.

But the best thing of all about Raclette is that it absolutely requires booze to wash it all down. According to Swiss legend, if you don’t drink alcohol with melted Raclette, the cheese can form balls in your stomach and kill you. That’s right, you can die of cheese balls—which sounds dreadful. In respect to this very real danger, we advocate safety first—and bottle after bottle of Gilliard Fendant Les Murettes 750ml 2006 , on sale now at Bedford Wine Merchants for $25.99.

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