Slices of raclette cheese with various items for pairing
While the winter season in the United States is welcomed by trick-or-treating and family gatherings around roast turkey, my memories growing up in Switzerland are defined by delicious broiled cheese, where winter's arrival is commemorated by raclette and fondue - think Heidi and her grandfather's old chalet high in the snow covered Swiss Alps. Restaurants like The Melting Pot have popularized fondue, however raclette remains relatively unknown outside of France and Switzerland.
Wanting to share this fun seasonal tradition, we began hosting raclette parties several years back, to rave reviews from our US friends. If like us, you love spending an evening laughing with friends over mounds of melted cheese, here's everything you need to know to throw a party of your own.
A critical component to any raclette meal is the machine used to broil the cheese. A quick search on Amazon and you'll find that machines range in shapes and sizes, from round to rectangular, serving anywhere from 4 to 12 people. Our favorite is the classic 8 person machine by Swissmar.
The Cheese And Where To Buy It
Raclette is all about the cheese from which the meal derives its name. Over the years, we've taken liberties with the side dishes, but the actual cheese used is where we draw the line. Yes, you could melt brie or cheddar, but if you're going to call it a "raclette party", you should be serving raclette cheese.
Your best bet and most reliable source for finding said cheese is your local cheese monger. Our favorite shop in Charlotte is Orrman's Cheese Shop and back in our Boston days, we regularly frequented Fromaggio Kitchen in the South End and Wasik's in Wellesley.
While you won't find raclette on the shelves of your local grocer, Trader Joe's has been carrying the cheese as a seasonal item for the past few years. But beware, supply is limited and their inventory goes fast. We've also had luck sourcing from Whole Foods Market. And of course, in this day and age, there is always the internet.
Traditionally, a raclette meal starts with a platter of thinly sliced cured beef, known as Bünderfleisch. Unable to find Bünderfleisch in the US, we substitute with Bresaola, its Italian equivalent. With charcuterie trays being in full vogue, we like to incorporate the bresaola into a larger display of cured meats and small bites, for guests to enjoy while they sip on a cocktail, waiting for others to arrive.
A charcuterie tray to start the evening. Try to limit the amount of cheese on the tray given the raclette that will follow
As uncompromising as we may be around the type of cheese used, the foods we pair with the cheese have evolved over the years. Where a traditional Swiss raclette consists simply of boiled new potatoes, pickled gherkins, and melted cheese, we've expanded the offerings, which we've found to be most helpful when accommodating guests with varying dietary restrictions. Whether they're gluten-free, lactose intolerant, or vegetarian, a good mix of sides ensures that everyone will be satisfied.
What We've Added
How to Serve
The raclette machine should sit in the center of the table, such that everyone can reach their respective raclette tray. Depending on the size of your party, you may want to have a serving of cheese and sides on each end of the table. This will ensure that everyone has easy access to all of the fixings, avoiding a constant passing of dishes throughout the meal.
The potatoes should be boiled right before everyone is ready to sit down. To keep them warm, line the potato serving bowl with cotton linens or a dish towel, folding the edges overtop of the potatoes.
To reheat the cooked sausages, peppers, and onions, we typically use the raclette griddle. Friends of ours recently came up with the idea of using a crockpot trio to keep their sides warm, which if space allows, is a great option.
A perfectly melted and bubbly slice of raclette cheese (Photo credit - Off The Eaten Path)
What to drink
An unoaked, high acidity, white wine or warm tea are typically served with raclette. In Switzerland, one would drink Chasselas, a wine produced in the Swiss region of the Valais. Alas, Switzerland exports very little, if any, of its wine, so you'll need to resort to something from another region. Excellent options include Alsatian Pinot Gris or Chardonnay from Chablis. A wide range of white wines will work well. Although, we recommend steering clear of heavily oaked Chardonnays and sweet wines.
The Swiss would tell you to avoid drinking cold or carbonated beverages, as these make digesting the cheese more difficult. Our beer loving friends, however, have challenged this notion and to date no one has complained. As a result, we offer a variety of beverages to our friends, even if our preferred choice remains white wine.
Don't Forget Dessert
After a rich meal like raclette, you'll want to keep things light for dessert. Our two favorite options are fruit tart and/or orange slices marinated in Grand Marnier.
Enjoy The Leftovers
If you end up with lots of leftovers, rejoice! This is an easy and tasty dish to enjoy the next day. Simply chop up the leftover cheese, potatoes, sausage, peppers, onions, and bacon and toss together in a baking dish. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees until the cheese is fully melted and enjoy a hearty leftover casserole.
Cheers and Happy Holidays!