When I awoke one morning earlier this week, I was greeted by the first snowfall of the season. It evoked a sense of euphoria. The cozy, white, fleecy comforter, an illusion made up of elements of frozen water was mesmerizing. Crystal by crystal, I watched as the snow mounds grew into peaks of white foamy, frothy meringues that were ankle-deep.
Picturesque, sculpturesque, an incredibly magical vision that made me wonder, how one can go to sleep with a bleak dark setting and in several hours, and wake up to a completely enchanting morning. It was almost like a mise en scene!
It made me think of Switzerland, snow peaks, alpine climate, ski chalets. As though I had been on a ski slope in the brisk cold air, my mind craved for a après-ski meal; kaffe-crème, raclette and swiss rosti.
Although it isn’t quite yet ski season, I felt compelled to share my memories of raclette, well celebrated in much of Europe, here especially in the Moselle Region. After all, what better winter recipes and foods, other than a raclette or fondue of swiss cheeses with paired wines, that warm our hearts and bodies.
Ironically, my first taste of raclette wasn’t in the Swiss slopes, but actually in Hong Kong back in the 70’s with my family. My parents had just come back from Europe and my father wanted us to experience Swiss food in Hong Kong.
Chesa, a bijoux at The Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon, was a perfect initial find and we frequented this establishment after our first experience. The Chesa, offering a traditional alpine experience for decades, has maintained their Raclette du Valais as well as Fondue Montagnarde on their menu for over 50 years.
Many Ways to Enjoy
Raclette is both the name of the semi- soft Swiss cheese made of milk from cows that have grazed on the Swiss Alps, and the name of the après-ski dish traditionally made from the same cheese. The creamy texture is nutty slightly sweet and salty at the same time. This gently aromatic cheese tends to become more pungent as it ages further, typically the aging process is three to six months. The wheel is an edible washed rind and will get harder during the aging process.
Unlike a fondue, where the cheese (gruyere/emmenthal) is melted in a pot over a flame with the addition of white wine, the raclette is melted on a table-top heating element with coupelles (small trays under the grill that catch the melted cheese). Then the cheese is scraped onto accompaniments such as rosti (grated and pan-fried new potatoes cakes), vegetables, pickled onions, cornichon, and bread. (The French verb “racler” means “to scrape”.)
As wonderful as raclette is on its own, these days you will find this unique cheese fused with truffles, mustard seeds, sweet white wine, or black pepper. LetzeBurger FoodTruck in Luxembourg even created a “Raclette Burger” just for the season.
A Great Party Dish
I introduced the raclette concept at a wedding banquet for a client back in Hong Kong in the 80’s. The reception took place on the lawns of the Hong Kong Country Club under a white marquee, decorated with white pin lights and heavily laden white jasmine florals, against the variegated ivy. The florals had been flown in from Thailand.
The raclette table was a monochromatic delight – all white foods; scallops, oysters, crabmeat, halibut and grouper. Poached chicken salad with cashews, confit of white asparagus, endives with egg and apple salad, white beans salad, shaved turnip and kohlrabi salad. Yogurt and cheese dips, creamed white corn, a medley of tofu-cauliflower-water chestnuts and white button mushroom curry in coconut cream. White peaches, custard apples, and frosted bananas.
The skirting of the banquet table was dripping with ivy cascading to the ground. I remember deliberately placing the raclette at the end of the long banquet table next to the roasted Peking duck, which started as lead to all the brown food.
As I was setting up the space, I was thankful to learn, that the weather would be perfect as forecasted, even though this was in December. The jasmine perfumed the air with a sweet fragrance, every now and then there would be a trace of the subtle aromas of the raclette cheese as it melted to feed one hundred and seventy guests.
No matter where you are this winter and regardless of whether the snow falls where you live, raclette is a wonderful and satisfying experience, as well as a great party dish.
Don’t Forget to Pair
For the full raclette experience, be sure to pair it with a champagne, crémant or a white wine. A dry young white wine, that is refreshing offers beautiful minerality, can overcome the fat. However, it should not be too acidic is the general rule for this convivial meal.
Best paired with:
Alsace Riesling, a terroir-driven, hence fruit-forward.
Rousette de Savoie which offers notes of herbs, bergamot and honey.
Champagne and or sparkling works as well.
My current fave: Crémant Brut by Domain Alice Hartman from the Moselle Region, Luxembourg. Bubbles that last the entire glass, elegant finish, minerals, pear notes.