What is Raclette?
Raclette is a type of traditional cheese from Switzerland that is melted using a special grill with a granite cooktop and then scraped onto bread, potatoes, or vegetables.
It's a great party dish because the grill is large enough to heat multiple small pans in which guests melt the raclette while simultaneously grilling vegetables and other pairings. All the host needs to do is supply the equipment, cheese, breads, vegetables, and other pairings, toppings, or sauces.
Throwing a raclette party has plenty of benefits for both the host and guests. If you're the host, you'll prep before the party and spend time with guests because you won't be stuck cooking the whole time. Raclette feels gourmet, but it's so easy to prepare and you don't have to be a gourmet cook. Your guests can choose how they want to eat their raclette, they'll go home satisfied (cheese is an excellent source of protein, after all), and after they leave, you'll have the easiest clean-up ever.
Watch Now: How to Throw a Raclette Party
A Traditional Raclette
The type of cheese traditionally used is actually called raclette, a semi-soft creamy-textured rind cheese made of cow's milk that melts well. Raclette is a centuries-old Swiss food likely originated by shepherds and farmers who'd take a block of cheese to melt and eat by a campfire while herding. Today, many other types of cow's milk cheeses are melted for raclette dishes and served in different combinations, including:
- Cheddar cheese
If you're hoping to serve traditional raclette cheese, you'll possibly find it in the specialty cheese section of a better grocer, a specialty cheese shop, or even online. Raclette cheeses come from all over the world, and even from Vermont, so you don't have to be concerned about importing them.
What Is a Raclette Grill?
It is possible to have a raclette dinner without a special raclette grill. You simply need a frying pan or pot to melt the cheese. But a raclette grill is much more efficient for melting cheese and grilling pairings—not to mention it's more festive than using a frying pan for a party.
You won't need the kind of commercial raclette warmer that melts large wheels of cheese. But you can easily find an electric tabletop raclette grill just about anywhere you can find small kitchen appliances and small indoor grills. The grill looks almost like a traditional griddle, but it's designed with two warming levels. Individual portions of cheese are put in small pans, called coupelles, which are heated on the bottom shelf of the grill under a heating element. The top of the grill is typically covered by a grill stone, like granite, where you can grill vegetables and other items. Grills come in various sizes to accommodate between four and eight coupelles.
Use precautions when cooking with a raclette grill:
- Make sure children do not come near the hot cooking surface or place hands in the pan area to prevent burns.
- Assign a grill master if you're uncomfortable leaving an unattended grill.
- Use heat-resistant cooking tools on the grill.
- Unplug the grill when finished to allow it to cool down.
Preparing and Serving Raclette
- Set out freshly sliced vegetables and fruits on separate serving platters.
- Line a serving basket or bowl with a napkin, and wrap the cooked potatoes in it to keep them warm before serving them with the melted cheese.
- Add bowls of any other trimmings, such as garlic croutons, cocktail onions, and condiments (pesto and sweet hot mustard, for example).
- Display a pepper mill, paprika, and crushed herbs to spice up the dishes.
- Put out skewers for guests to neatly collect their food choices for the grill top.
- Cut the unmelted raclette cheese into pan-sized slices (some raclette cheeses come precut to fit the pans), and set them out on another serving dish so guests can grab them to melt.
When prepping cheese, if you have raclette cheese with a rind, don't cut it completely off. Scrape away some of the edible rind, but leave the rest so you can get a crisp, flavorful crust as it melts. Then, melt the cheese on the grill.
When melting raclette, make sure you don't overcook it. Otherwise, the albumin gets grainy and the fat separates.
Planning Your Dinner Party
Raclette parties are best for smaller groups of around eight people per grill. Of course you can set up two grills for larger parties. Though raclette grills are best used by adults, older children who are more coordinated when it comes to using hot appliances may also find eating gooey melted cheese as fun as a pizza party.
Have some fun when it comes to hosting your raclette dinner. Host a "potluck raclette" dinner and ask guests to bring one unusual or artisanal vegetable or other items to share. Some delicious ideas that go with raclette include:
- Ghost peppers
- Cornichons (small French pickles)
What to Serve with Raclette
Besides vegetables, fruits, and trimmings, you can serve other side dishes with raclette. For example, some guests may want to forgo the potatoes, so set out crusty bread or baguette with the raclette.
Round out the meal by serving a light seasonal salad as a starter. Place nearby a charcuterie board filled with cured meats, such as prosciutto, to complement the cheese. Finish off the raclette meal with slightly sweet fruit sorbet, platters of fresh fruit, or a fruit salad for dessert.
If any cheese is left over, cover with plastic wrap. It will keep for about six weeks in the refrigerator or three months in the freezer.
Drinks to Accompany Raclette
Cheese is notoriously salty, so you'll want to have plenty of drinks on hand to hydrate your guests. But the drinks you offer need to help digest the cheese and refresh the mouth after so much fromage, so try to discourage water-only drinkers. Suggested alcoholic and non-alcoholic choices can include:
- Dry white wine, such as a Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc, with acidic content to keep the cheese tasting smooth
- Swiss rosé wine
- A light-bodied, high-acid red wine, such as Burgundy Pinot Noir or Cru Beaujolais
- A kirschwasser, or kirsch, which is a clear, colorless brandy (for digestion)
- Chilled light beer
- Tea, such as ginger tea, stimulates digestion