Why you should care
Because this will give you a whole new reason to say “Cheese!”
Clanking cowbells were my alarm clock, while the cows’ moos served as “snooze.” I would peer out groggily from my bedroom window at the four-legged noisemakers. I was teaching French at a small Swiss boarding school, where I fell in love with the Alpine view, a fellow teacher and raclette.
Colleagues and students alike looked forward to the evenings, when we would queue in the courtyard, baked potatoes in hand, waiting for oozing cheese to be scraped onto our plates from a half-circle-shaped raclette burner. And while that summer ended long ago — along with my fling — my love for the original Swiss cheese lives on.
While raclette is a dish best served hot, this 8.3-million-strong land of neutrality is happy to eat it year-round — rain, snow or shine.
According to Jürg Kriech, director of Bern-based Raclette Suisse, everyone in his homeland loves this pale yellow, wheel-shaped foodstuff, a semihard cheese made up of more water than its compatriots, Gruyère and Emmenthal. It enjoys a tradition dating back to 13th-century Swiss cow herders — those boisterous bovine were trying to tell me something — but today it’s consumed by many other Europeans, especially in France and Germany.
The “national meat,” as Kriech refers to it, is always aromatic, but the taste changes, he says, depending on how long it has matured. Three-month-old raclette tends to be acidic, milky and mild, while a more mature wheel of six months offers a bolder flavor. Swiss cheese-lovers tend to prefer theirs melted over potatoes or small vegetables — and refuse to pair raclette with meat or still water. “It is the meat,” Kriech says, acknowledging that raclette can be used in pasta sauces and on pizza. According to Kriech’s colleague Daniela Pachali, the best drinks to accompany the cheese are white wine, hot tea, beer or sparkling water, to keep it from “sitting in your stomach like a stone.” And while raclette is a dish best served hot, this 8.3-million-strong land of neutrality is happy to eat it year-round — rain, snow or shine.
In other places, raclette is considered a winter feast. One New Year’s Eve a few years back, while I was living in Germany, I joined some friends for dinner and was thrilled to learn that their Neujahr tradition included gathering around a table equipped with a party-style raclette burner — complete with individual trays for melting as much of the creamy goodness as we liked. In addition to tiny onions, potatoes and other veggies, the Deutsch happily fry up bacon bits or beef to pair with the heavy cheese.
A few days after my German reunion with raclette, I was the proud owner of my very own burner (available in electric, gas and candle varieties). It lets me share with my family the remarkable flavor of a cheese I learned to love years ago, and reminds me of my romantic Swiss summer.