Raclette cheese is a semi-hard, creamy, salty, nutty, fragrant cheese made from cow’s milk (unless it was made from goat’s milk, which it occasionally is). You can melt it on hamburgers, and use it to make divine grilled cheese or fancy macaroni-and-cheese, but I’ll stick to giving you suggestions for melting it on your raclette grill and pouring over delicious things like boiled new potatoes, French bread, and shrimp.
Traditionally, raclette cheese is made from the milk of cows that graze on the grass and herbs growing in Swiss mountain pastures. The particular mix of greens consumed by the cows is thought to give the cheese its unique flavor. In fact, cheese handmade from milk obtained at different parts of the year might have different flavors, depending on what the cows ate and ripe it was. The length of time the cheese is aged, typically from 3-6 months, will also impact the flavor.
Cows grazing on the side of a mountain in Switzerland; Photo by freemanmedia
For some, only the raclette cheese from Switzerland is authentic because only Swiss raclette comes from Swiss cows grazing in Swiss pastures. However, lots of artisan cheesemakers in the U.S. and elsewhere make wonderful creamy raclettes and we’ve always had good experiences with domestic varieties.
If you want to mix it up a little, you can also find different flavors of cheese, such as raclette with herbs, with white wine, with mushrooms, with cumin, with black pepper, and even smoked raclette. Outside of Europe, however, you might have to order these varieties online.
Different varieties of raclette cheese, ready to grill. Photo by alextoul.
The rind is edible, but you aren’t obligated to eat it. We cut off the rind before we serve it on a cutting board with a cheese knife. You can also serve it already sliced for your guests.
In Switzerland or France, raclette is typically paired with Chasselas, a wine made from grapes ubiquitous in Switzerland. It’s also known as Fendant. In the U.S., Belgian wheat beers like Hoegaarden or Blue Moon are easy to find. With their floral and citrus notes, they complement a raclette dinner very well. Cherry brandy called Kirsch is traditionally served with raclette and fondue in Switzerland, but it’s harder to come by in the U.S. (and we can’t get it in Virginia!). Our favorite drink for pairing with raclette is a local hard cider, a beer-like alcoholic beverage made from apples. The tartness cuts through the fat of the cheese and is totally refreshing.
If you can find raclette where you live, we certainly suggest you try it, or else buy it online. Otherwise, fontina, fresh asiago (not aged), gruyere, jarlsberg, emmentaler, mozzarella, and camembert are all great on the grill their own right, not just as substitutions. Check out The Tabletop Food Shop for some great cheese ideas.
Some of my favorite online stores might have just what you need for your next tabletop meal!
Asian Food Grocer has a great selection of essential ingredients and many hard-to-find items.
Cilantro Cook Shop has a great selection of quality raclette and fondue sets.
For The Gourmet has an amazing selection of cheeses and chocolates.
Sephra specializes in chocolate, caramel and fruit fondues... and fountains.