Raclette is both a cheese, and a meal based around the cheese. For information about the cheese, see Raclette Cheese.
This entry is about raclette as a meal made at the table.
It consists of a large piece of raclette cheese. You cut the rind off the cheese first so the cheese can melt easily, then slowly heat the cheese, and then swipe the cheese off as it melts.
Traditional accompaniments are dark bread, ground black pepper, boiled peeled potatoes, cornichons and/or small pickled cocktail onions. It is generally served with white wine, though light reds are also fine. Good potatoes to use are Bintjes or Charlottes. Some people like to scape the cheese directly onto the potatoes; other people like to scrape it onto the side of their plate.
You can buy lots of special paraphernalia to use for the meal. There are even special knives to go with the ceremony.
There are special electric machines that heat the cheese. Some larger ones handle the cheese in half-wheels, some in blocks. These types of devices are like a frame, open on one side, with a bracket that swivels in the middle of it. You secure a block of the cheese in the bracket, swivel it into the frame, and turn on the heat. The heat comes from a lamp overtop the cheese, usually a quartz bulb, that acts as an overhead heat source. When enough of the cheese has melted for you, you swivel the bracket out and scrape the cheese off.
Raclette Table Grills
© Denzil Green
Some Raclette machines are like mini-broilers or toaster ovens, holding separate trays for each individual diner. Some models are round, others are rectangular. Most of these mini-ovens have a top and bottom rack so you can use the top to grill or heat meats and vegetables, and the bottom rack as an oven to melt the cheese in small trays. The disadvantage of the rectangular ones can be that at the ends, there is no room to put a tray, so people at the ends of the table have to reach around to the side.
Generally, one of these mini-ovens will accommodate 7 to 8 small trays. You take your tray, put a thickish slice of the cheese in it, pop it into the oven on the bottom rack, and wait for it to melt. When the cheese is melted, you scrape it off your tray out onto your plate. Before you start eating it, you need to pop your next piece in to start it melting, because it can take up to 5 minutes.
Meanwhile or before, you have cooked meat or vegetables on the top surface. The top surface is often marble or a metal such as cast iron. The metal ones are often reversible: one side has griddle lines for pan griddling, the other side is smooth for making crepes, etc. In this way, manufacturers try to make the device a more multi-functional machine that you could also use for making quesadillas, fajitas, crepes, etc, right at the table. A marble top is less flexible.
The power sources for such machines is usually electricity.
A Raclette dinner works well for 4 to 6 people. Allow about 1/3 pound (150g) of cheese per person for the meal.
Note that you can also melt the cheese in front of a fire, the old fashioned way.
“Raclette” comes from the French verb “racler”, meaning “to scrape.”
In German, the meal is called “Walliser Raclette.”