Raclette, the distinctive cheese dish with origins in the Swiss Alps, has a history that goes back many hundreds of years. Once the fare of farmers and shepherds for a midday or evening meal, Raclette is often still served as it was centuries ago; rich, melted cheese is combined with potatoes and other vegetables for a warming and hearty dish. Though different variations of the dish have emerged throughout the years--and cooking methods have been updated--the distinctive flavor of Raclette has remained remarkably and deliciously unchanged through time.
Raclette is both the name of a popular Swiss cow's milk cheese as well the name of a warm dish created by melting the cheese and serving it with a variety of foods. Semi-soft and salted, Raclette was first made in the canton of Valais--home of the Matterhorn--in the southwestern area of Switzerland. Later, Raclette cheese was produced in parts of France, Austria, Germany, Finland and the United States. It's still made to this day.
The dish featuring Raclette cheese dates back more than 700 years, when it was called Bratchäs, Swiss-German for "roasted cheese." Raclette was mentioned in writings as early as 1291. The semi-hard cheese was easy to transport, and it was eaten by shepherds and farmers, who would place a block of cheese by a hearth or a campfire. There, it would become soft, and the melted cheese would be served with potatoes, onions and pickles.
The distinctive flavor and texture of raclette cheese was important in the development and history of the dish. Made from unpasteurized cows' milk, Raclette is pale yellow, with small holes throughout and a brownish orange rind. When heated, it has a creamy consistency, and its balanced fat content and moisture allow it to melt evenly without separating or becoming oily.
The name "Raclette" is derived from the French word racler, which means "to scrape." Though it is similar to fondue--in which pieces of bread and other foods are dipped into a melted cheese mixture--Raclette is distinctive because the melted cheese is scraped from a block of cheese, then placed over or near vegetables and bread on a plate. A special Raclette knife may be used for this purpose.
Cooking and Serving Methods
Though traditionally the dish was cooked with an open flame, Raclette melting machines and grills were manufactured and gained popularity during the 1970s, when they became widely available. Once a vegetarian dish served simply with boiled and pickled vegetables and bread, Raclette now may feature many kinds of meat, fish, and poultry as well. Both delicious and hearty, the dish is now served throughout the world.