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I haven’t met a winter food tradition I didn’t like—gingerbread cookies, plum pudding, roasting chestnuts on the not-so-open fire of my oven—but it’s possible that I’ve finally met my favorite: the raclette dinner. The winter tradition of griddling Raclette cheese is interactive, satisfying, communal, and a treat for cheese fans. Make a night of it with family and friends this holiday season and settle in for some quality time, which is always better with melty cheese.
Over the weekend, I went to my first raclette dinner. It was the coziest and cheesiest way to spend an evening with friends. You may have seen raclette on your Instagram or TikTok feed in the form of a half-wheel of cheese bubbling and browning under a close heating element. An anonymous hand tilts the wheel and scrapes the charred surface, and an impossible gooey glob of cheese slides off the wheel and piles onto a plate, sandwich, or French fries. Like much of social media, it comes off as excessive, like it was created purely for a food shock factor, but raclette is a tradition that has been enjoyed for far longer than the internet box in your hand.
What is raclette?
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Raclette is a cow’s milk cheese that has the wonderful ability to melt into a saucy puddle, but it’s also the name of an entire dish. The meal, originating in the Alpine regions of France, Switzerland, and Italy, exhibits the extraordinary melting power of the eponymous cheese. You melt the cheese with direct heat from a nearby flame, or nowadays maybe an electric heating element. Scrape it onto boiled potatoes, cured meats, cornichons, or break away from tradition and scrape the liquified cheese mound onto veggies, pasta, or the closest sandwich.
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You could enjoy raclette at a restaurant, but it’s much more fun to do it at home with a group of friends or family. Don’t worry, you don’t need a fireplace, and you don’t need to hold a wedge of cheese over your electric stove. There are fantastic raclette grills you can buy that include a flat cooking surface and small, non-stick, angled scoops for you to melt slabs of raclette (like the ones above). There’s a heating element that runs underneath the griddle top and above the raclette scoops, so you can heat up meats or veggies and melt the cheese simultaneously. There are also models that only heat up the cheese scoops from the bottom but you won’t get a browned and bubbled surface with this kind. You can buy an eight-person set for entertaining, or a smaller two-scoop griddle for a constant flow of melted raclette on solo-cheese nights.
Raclette like you mean it
You can buy wedges of Raclette at specialty cheese stores, but you can also find it at Trader Joes during the winter months. To enjoy raclette at home, add quarter-inch thick slices of the cheese to the metal scoops of your electric griddle set. Place the scoop under the heating element and let it cook while you gather slices of salami, cornichons, onions, and boiled potato hunks onto your plate. In the time that it takes you to do this, about two minutes, the cheese will be a puddle in the bottom of the scoop. Leave it for a minute longer and you’ll notice a crusty, browned surface bubbling up on the cheese. I love the crisp and chewy texture that develops on the cheese after extra time under the heat, so I leave it for extra time. Remove the non-stick scoop from the heater and slide the melted Raclette over your dish of hearty nibbles. There’s no need for a scraper really, the cheese surfs out of the scoop with no more than a tilt and shake.
You could certainly enjoy it year round, but raclette is usually a cold-weather treat. In many regions, this particular cheese is only widely available during the winter, and since melting it requires consistent intense heat, the immediate space tends to heat up. Raclette makes me think of chunky sweaters, mulled wine, and any edible vehicle for cheese. I can see this being the perfect centerpiece activity for Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve, or any time you want to while away until the wee hours of the morning snacking and chatting with the people you love.