Raclette Cheese Info
Scraping Melted Raclette
This recipe is for a cheese that is one of my all-time favorites. It is an Alpine cheese that has a huge history in France and Switzerland, going back to long before they knew they were France and Switzerland.
The cheese is a moister version of the dryer long aged Alpine cheese.
The cheese, of course, is Raclette, and refers to both the cheese itself, as well as the way it is prepared at the table.
The root of this word, "raclere" meaning "to scrape." Which is exactly how the cheese makers in the mountains would eat the cheese. The cut face of the cheese would be held to the fire until it began to melt, then the soft cheese would be scraped onto boiled potatoes or a piece of bread. This method has now evolved into a tradition inAlpine region restaurants known as "Raclette", referring to the entire table event and not just the cheese.
The cheese is brought to the table in a special holder with a heating element. The plates will include boiled potatoes, some cornichon pickles, and some local ham. When the cheese melts, it is scraped onto the potatoes and the meal is ready. I do love the smell of the caramelized and slightly burnt cheese. This is quite similar to the Savoie meal called "Tarteflette", made with Reblochon cheese, except that the cheese is melted over potatoes in the pan.
About Raclette Cheese
Raclette is a mountain cheese which was originally produced by shepherds during the summer in the mountains. This is a cheese made from raw milk, pressed, with a washed and brushed rind.
Again this month, I throw in another reference to Heidi, a novel I read when young. In the book, Heidi, a little orphan girl lives at her grandfathers cottage, in the Swiss mountains. Her Grandfather prepared it for her by melting a similar cheese in front of a roaring fire, so the "Raclette" on the menu is nothing new, just upscaled a tad.
Raclette is a semi-firm cows milk cheese that is usually fashioned into a wheel of about 6 kg (13 lb.). It is most commonly used for melting (but I love it just the way it comes).
In France, they are referred to as "Les pâtes préssées non-cuites". These are slightly pressed cheeses but usually not heated very high during the process, less than 100F. This group also includes other cheeses like the tomes des Pyrénées, Morbier, Raclette, as well as Tomme de Savoie. These cheeses all have a longer shelf life than the soft curd or "pâtes molles", that may be of 3-6 months. They cannot usually be found over 6 months old, but occasional batches can be tasted with a corresponding sharpness and complexity of flavor.
They are most often aged with a washed rind, but occasionally natural rinds are produced (a mosaic of yeast/mold/bacteria) as in the Tomme de Savoie. The washed rind will produce a very distinctive flavor and leave the cheese with a beautiful crust of reddish orange protection to protect it through its aging life
A Breif History of Raclette Cheese
This Raclette style of cheese and heating over fires was mentioned in medieval writings, found in texts from Swiss-German convents dating from as far as 1291. It was described as a particularly nutritious meal consumed in mountainous Switzerland and France (Savoy region). It was even then known in the region as "roasted cheese".
Variations in Style
France and Switzerland | While Switzerland supplies 80% of Raclette, the French cheeses are slightly softer with a smooth and creamy flavor. It is done in a slightly different style which makes it softer and milder than its Swiss cousin.
You can usually tell the difference in moisture by looking at the form sides. If straight they have less moisture; more moisture usually leaves rather rounded sided.
United States | My first intro to an American made Raclette came when an old brewing friend came by with a sample of the cheese he was helping with in Michigan. I was blown away by the quality. This was from Leelanau Cheese and made by John and Anne Hoyt in the Suttons Bay area of Michigan. Should have been no surprise when I found that he had studied cheese making in Valais, and Anne was from France making cheese in both Switzerland and France.
Spring Brook Farms in Vermont makes a Raclette style of cheese they call Reading. It is made from raw cows milk in Reading, VT on a farm that teaches urban kids where food comes from. I must say that this is my current favorite cheese, but then again it is easier to find here on the east coast
Both of these compare quite well to samples I have brought back from the Alps.