Let’s Make Raclette

September 1, 2008 | By | COMMENTS

[The Amateur Gourmet is on vacation and, while he's gone, he's asked his friends to cover for him. You remember Adam's friend John Kaslauskas as the friend he went to Paris with three years ago. John had such a fantastic time that now he's living in Europe for three months, where he's eating, marathon training and writing screenplays. Right now he's in Geneva, staying with his brother, sister-in-law and nephew. In this post, John's Nephew, Nico, teaches him all about raclette--a traditional Swiss dish.]

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When Adam asked me to do a guest blog about some of my food adventures in Europe, I immediately jumped at the chance. As if I needed a reason to go to an amazing Swiss restaurant or spend a weekend at a vineyard sampling local wines. I didn’t. Hearing me talk about possible food adventures, my 7-year old nephew Nicolas perked up and said, “If you want to eat some really good food, I can make you something!” I asked him what he’d make and he shrugged: “I could make Blue Cheese mashed potatoes. They’re really good.” I told him that I needed to eat something a little more…well, Swiss. Unfazed, he said, “I’ve lived in Geneva for almost my whole life. I can make you something Swiss, if you want. Maybe Raclette?” I asked what raclette was and he said, “Basically, it’s just cheese on potatoes. “ “So it’s sort of like fondue?” I asked. “It’s a bit better than fondue,” Nico explained, “I think fondue tastes like wine. I’ll make you a really good raclette, Uncle John. You’ll like it,” he promises. Raclette it is.

So Raclette, it turns out, is both a type of cheese and a dish, popular in the French-speaking part of Switzerland near the Alps (where we were). The cheese comes from cows and is made primarily in the Valais canton of Switzerland. The dish “raclette” is typically served at restaurants tableside by scraping melting raclette cheese off of a huge cheese wheel onto boiled or roasted potatoes. Like this:

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Only it’s not really the season for Raclette. It’s a hearty meal and best enjoyed after a really cold day skiing in the Swiss Alps. But it’s August. And my nephew wants to make it. But, it’s right up there with fondue, clocks and chocolate as something the Swiss are known for, so I was game.

Nicolas first took me to the local grocery story where we pick up pre-sliced raclette cheese (plain and also some with peppercorn and others with garlic) as well as some viande sechee (literally “dried meat”), new potatoes, Cornichons (gherkin pickles) and picked onions. Here’s Nico showing me what cheese to get (if only his crocs were Mario Batali-inspired orange!):

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And here is a close-up of what we got:

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Back at home, we started a pot of boiling water for the potatoes. Nico’s mom, Joanne, despite being 38 weeks pregnant, was supervising the whole process and wasn’t too keen on the idea of letting her son drop things into boiling water – especially in front of an unseen Internet audience. Ever enterprising, Nicolas offered a compromise: he would use a ladle to gently place the potatoes in the pot. Like this:

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Nico said, “Safety first, Uncle John!” While those boiled away we set the table with a Raclette grill and all the sides we had just bought. It looked like this:

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Nicolas saw me taking a picture and said, “WAIT! There’s something missing!” before disappearing into his bedroom. He reemerged with one final important touch for our Swiss meal:

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When the potatoes had finished boiling, it was time to melt the cheese in the grill:

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And while we waited for the cheese to melt, Nico assembled his plate:

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You can let the cheese get as melted as you want. Nicolas advised me: ”It tastes best when it’s brown, but it tastes really good and so sometimes I can’t wait that long.” With that he looked under the grill and announced, “It’s ready!” So his mom helped him carefully pull the melted cheese out on its little tray:

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And, using a small scraper, scrape the melted cheese onto the boiled potato:

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And that’s all it takes. We were ready to eat…and Nicolas was pretty excited about it:

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I’ll admit I was a little skeptical about how this would taste. But it was delicious…and Nicolas was right. You could let the cheese melt a little longer and it would get slightly brown and crispy, which made it even more delicious. I would have taken a picture of the browned cheese, but I was too busy eating it!

It’s a hearty meal – I was glad that I had done an 8-mile run earlier that day – but it was really delicious! Oh and I completely understand those who would see Raclette as more of a cold-weather food. When it’s freezing out, it would be an amazing comfort food. In the middle of August, it’s not quite the same. I mentioned this to Nico’s mom, Joanne, and Nico overheard me. He said, “Well, Uncle John, if you feel too hot I know what will help!” And he certainly did:

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  • http://expiring.blogspot.com selena

    great post, john!

  • Uly

    Well, Nico is just the cutest little gourmet on two legs or four, isn’t he!

  • choyoyo

    Fun post! And Nico is absolutely adorable!

  • http://yseult.mediaevaliter.com Yseult

    How nice to read an article about Raclette here!

    Just a few things to clear up maybe. Originally Raclette cheese was the cheese made from the milk the cows gave over the summer while being on the ‘alpage’. If you take the Valais and look at it, you’ll see that it’s the hottest and sunniest canton and valley north of the alps in Switzerland. So the cows get mounted into the alps where the air is fresher and the grass is greener ;-) That cheese is called ‘fromage d’alpage’ (cheese from the alp) – which is never older than two to three months – as opposed to the ‘fromage de laitrie’ (cheese from the dairy). In times where you couldn’t conserve that cheese, Raclette was only eaten in the summer months plus 2 or 3 months, so up until November maybe. And that makes it primarly a summer dish, not a winter dish.

    Hard to believe, but true. If you’ve ever been on a hot day on an alpage after hours of hiking and get that wonderful cheese that barely leaves any grease in the plate, you’ll find that the stretch isn’t that far.

    Splendid post!

  • Megan

    This is the most AMAZING story ever on Food Network! I want to make Raclette today, do you think they have the things I need at Market Basket?

  • Amy

    I love the idea of kids helping in the kitchen. Who knows, maybe Nicolas IS the next Mario Batali in blue crocs!

  • Bob

    This post is really well-written. Does John already have a food blog too? He should!

  • Barb P.

    We loved it! Good job Nico!!Could you make this for me when you come to the states?????

  • Peg

    That was a terrific post! Nico is totally going to be a gormet chef one day and John can edit his cookbooks! Loved this!

  • Janice

    This brings back a great memory. One summer a friend of mine who was living in Paris and I went to Anncy (spelling?)on the Swiss border. At night we went into a small restaurant where they were melting raclette cheese by the fireplace. Cheese on potatoes!! I fell in love with this dish.

  • Tiffany

    What a cute kid. And a nice addition to my Swiss food repertoire, which until now consisted only of several different forms of fondue.

  • Eileen

    Great job, Nico! I’m hungry already.

  • Janice

    This wonderful story brought back a great memory. One summer, a friend of mine living in Paris and I went down to Annecy for a few days. One night we found a small restaurant and they were melting raclette cheese by the fireplace. I will never forget how wonderful the bowl of potatoes tasted with the melted cheese on it.

    Thanks for a great story!!

  • http://feistyfoodie.blogspot.com Yvo

    Awww, good job using the adorable nephew, he totally got me to comment :) Awww… he’s so cute! I’ve got to find a Swiss restaurant to try this raclette thing, I’ve seen those tabletop “raclette grills” before but was never 100% sure what made it different from fondue per se. Thanks for clearing that up!

  • Lindsay

    This is my favorite post ever.

    Nico is so cute and who can resist melted cheese?!

  • http://cupcakesforgina.blogspot.com Gina

    My raclette maker was one of the harder things to leave behind in Lyon. We had so many good times together! Also, hi John, I met you when you guys were in Paris 3 years ago.

  • Kimberly

    This meal sounds fantastic! Thanks for the engaging post.

  • http://www.adventuresinsf.blogspot.com Jamie

    What a great post! I hadn’t heard of Raclette before, it actually does look really yummy! Great post John, and Nico is adorable! We have a gourmet chef on our hands!

  • http://scalloped-edge.blogspot.com Joanna

    Oh. Gosh. Painfully cute.

    I had Raclette when my parents took me to Switzerland, and I remember thinking it was the best thing ever, but I was also 12 years old and all I really remembered about the dish itself is that there was a lot of cheese involved. (Pretty sure I also thought it was rock-let. Like the Rockettes, only… cheesier?) Anyway it’s 90 degrees in NY today and I want Raclette now too!

  • http://erinsfoodfiles.blogspot.com Erin

    This is like the cutest thing, EVER.

  • Halie

    Cutest post ever on Amateur Gourmet. Seriously, Nicolas is giving Adam a run for his money.

  • Suzanne

    The meal looks great. I’d like to know the brand of glass plates! They are really terrific looking.

  • DD

    The restaurant in Annency was probably Freti, one of my absolute favorite restaurants of all time. I LOVED the Raclette there and I am sad that there are not more NYC restaurants that have the requisite Raclette melting contraptions.

  • Ben

    Sooo cute. And the kid is adorable too. ;-)

  • Meghan

    Good God Nico is charming!

  • Mer

    Love it! How fun was that for Nico?!! So cute…

  • Joanne

    Suzanne,

    The plates are called “Noria” and I bought them at Micasa, a popular store in Switzerland.

    Nico’s dad has hated those plates since I bought them, so just know that I really appreciated your comment! :)

  • http://www.tomatokumato.com emiglia

    This is absolutely adorable! I just ate raclette out of season too, with some tourists. I can’t lie: I thoroughly enjoyed it, even in early September!

  • jackie

    Nico and John…you are the most adorable chefs ever! I think I need to come to Switzerland and have this dish. But for now, I must go eat something with melty cheese…. Hopefully Nico could share his recipe for Blue Cheese Mashed Potatoes too. Yum!

  • http://www.belwoodny.com rcolesny

    Just broil the whole half cheese wheel in front of the open fire. Use a home made wood shelf covered with aluminium foil. Protect the floor: it drips a lot…

  • Lucy Gage

    I want to make raclette for some friends but I don’t have a special grill. Do you think it will work in a regular broiler oven? Any tips?

    We are in Southeast Alaska and it is -14c, perfect cheese meal weather. Luckily there is also an amazing cheese shop just a 2 hr drive away so we have the cheese! Unlike last year when we had everything BUT the cheese.

    Cheers!

  • Kim

    What a great story. I received a raclette as a gift and I have been hesitant to use it…but now it’s going to receive it’s maiden voyage tomorrow. Thanks so much for the clear, concise, even a kid could do it article.

  • Kim

    What a great story. I received a raclette as a gift and I have been hesitant to use it…but now it’s going to receive it’s maiden voyage tomorrow. Thanks so much for the clear, concise, even a kid could do it article.