With one swift stroke of a blade, molten cheese slides down a cut rind like a heady dairy avalanche. A pungent aroma fills the air. These are the trappings of raclette, a sister dish to fondue with centuries-old Swiss origins. “The first raclette party happened when a bunch of shepherds sat around a fire scraping melted cheese onto their bread,” explains Steve Jones, owner of Portland’s Cheese Bar and Chizu. The charm of the ritual springs from the act of “racletting,” or scraping, a big hunk of oozy, bubbling cheese straight from the wheel, rather than melting a hodgepodge of wedges into a drippy fondue. Every winter, Jones whips out his ornate electric raclette machine to honor the rustic tradition at his Southeast Portland cheese shop. We asked Jones for the secret to a perfect winter raclette party, with cheese tips, essential pairings, and DIY shortcuts to help ring in the new year.
Raclette was born in the Swiss region of Valais and typically hails from either side of the Alps. But unlike Roquefort, it has no special pedigree. It should be semihard, three- to six-month-old cow’s milk cheese with a washed rind. Plan on buying ¼ pound of cheese per person.
French or Swiss Raclette - Super-creamy workhorse with hazelnut undercurrents
Spring Brook Farm’s Reading (VT) - Tangy and caramel-flavored with a rich, umami mouthfeel
Vintage Cheese Co’s Mountina (MT) - Sweet and mellow, with a slightly bitter edge
Crusty Bread - Try Little T Baker’s “Long Skinny” baguette.
New Potatoes - Boil the fresh, “uncured” tubers in salted water.
Cornichons - “The combination of acid and fat ... that’s the magic,” says Jones.
Cured Meat - Bresaola (salted, aged beef) or Olympia Provisions’ Sweetheart ham
Mustard - Jones favors Edmond Fallot’s Burgundy mustard.
Dry White Wine - Check out Domaine Labbé Abymes ($14), from near raclette’s birthplace.
There are hundreds of different raclette contraptions: some slant from above, while others rotate like a rotisserie. Prices range from $50 to $500 at most cooking supply stores, like Sur La Table. You can rent Cheese Bar’s raclette machine for free when you buy a quarter wheel of cheese ($60–70).
For a more DIY approach, Jones recommends slicing the cheese into ⅓-inch-thick wedges, placing them on a baking sheet, and putting it under the broiler for a minute or two, or until bubbling but not brown. Scrape over the fixins and raise a glass to 2016.