The Rhône-Alpes raclette is obviously one of the simplest cheese dishes, but it is above all a classic of the French food and gastronomy. This Savoy speciality has definitely made the delicious Swiss raclette cheese renowned worldwide. Although the traditional way to prepare the Raclette has evolved, this convivial mountain dish prepared with a raclette grill is based on processed cheese, potatoes and varied accompaniments - it is today the right meal for a friendly wintry party!
The French processed cheese dish received its name from a particular, tasty cheese from Switzerland. The name "raclette" was then derived from the French word "racler" meaning to scrape. Indeed, the particularity of this mountain meal is that you "scrape" the mouth-watering processed raclette cheese onto your plate, covering the accompaniments.
This convivial Rhône-Alpes dish was first a meal for the farmers and dairymen in the Valais canton of Switzerland who would melt the local raclette cheese by campfire or hearth and enjoy it with potatoes, charcuterie and pickles. It is believed that both raclette cheese and dish date back to 1291 under their former name, "Bratchäs".
The raclette cheese is a semi-firm, salted cheese made with cow's milk. Typically round (about 11" in diameter), this French cheese was chosen for this mountain meal as it has a creamy consistency which easily melts: when its surface begins to brown, the first layer of this soft cheese can be "scraped" and poured onto a plate with the specific raclette scraper. Nowadays, the raclette cheese includes many varieties - with pepper, herbs or mustard - but the reddening rind remains its characteristic.
Top Tip! Traditionally, apart from small steamed potatoes and local French pork products, the raclette is accompanied with gherkins, pickled onions, dried meat, Bayonne or Parma ham, sliced peppers or tomatoes and seasoned with paprika or any Provencal herbs.
Some gourmets like to prepare the garnish in their plate first and then top with the processed cheese, so that the potatoes, pickles and any other food you fancy get the flavour of the rich Swiss cheese.