rooted in foods | Say “cheese” | Food and cooking

Watching champagne, melted cheese slipping from a mini grill tray onto fresh potatoes and grilled vegetables, but the camaraderie that comes while sitting around the raclette party grill is the perfect ingredient for great evenings out with friends and family.

Raclette is an Alpine tradition that has moved to Germany, finding a home on the New Year’s Eve tables. This is where I first learned about this tradition – from a German friend whose small family had three raclette grills to ensure everyone had enough opportunity to fill their plates and their stomachs.

I was instantly fascinated by this “exactly not whipped” experience with cheese. It’s an experience that draws you in for more until you simply can’t eat another morsel, even though you want to.

Derived from the French word meaning “scrape,” raclette is a cheese, dish and the name of a dish making machine. Traditional preparation involves melting the surface of a raclette wheel near a high heat and scraping it over the boiled potato slices. Cornish is a popular and traditional accompaniment and helps to slice the rich cheese.

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If you are not interested in cooking over an open fire, raclette grills are available for home use and can be purchased at specialty stores or online here in the United States. They range from about $60 for Hamilton Beach to over $300 for other brands. A good medium price point comes from Swissmar, the US partner of German brands known for their raclette and fondue equipment and accessories.

Raclette party grills are essentially indoor tabletop grills that include a grill plate or griddle over a heating element. Below the heating element are indentations that hold individual broiler trays with handles that you use to melt your cheese. Many models also include small skimmers to help transfer cheese from the broiler tray to your plate.

Place the grill in the middle of your dining table, and make sure you are close to the power outlet for the electric grills. Everyone fends themselves off during a raclette party, as with fondue parties. Meat, seafood and fish can be grilled with vegetables while the cheese is melting in the broiler tray. The cheese is then scraped from the tray to the cooked food platter and enjoyed with a variety of accompaniments such as pickles and onions.

If you don’t have a raclette party grill and still want to try the dish at home, your oven and a few small cast iron skillets or oven safe will do. Place two slices of raclette cheese in each skillet and in a hot oven — 450 F — for a few minutes until melted, then slide over boiled potatoes and grilled meats.

While raclette cheese is the traditional and favorite ingredient, it is not readily available everywhere in the United States. Basically, you want a semi-hard cheese that melts easily. Raclette cheese is similar in taste and texture to Gruyere, and is a good substitute. Varieties of Emmental, Fontina, and general Swiss cheese can also be used to provide a more traditional experience. If you prefer a less pungent cheese, butter, farmer’s cheese, and even white cheddar are suitable alternatives. Broiler pans are designed to hold cheese slices, but they work well with an ounce of shredded cheese.

For those who like to drink while entertaining, raclette pairs well with dry white wine. You want a wine that balances out the richness of the cheese; sauvignon blanc is a popular choice. However, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris are also good choices. Dry German Riesling is another option that you can try.

Gathering around a raclette grill is a great way to spend an evening with friends and family, especially in celebration of special occasions or holidays. Preparing the party is easy for the host because most of the items are prepared at the table and everyone serves themselves. For an easier affair, ask your guests to bring a small side escort to share. It will be fun to see what everyone chooses.

The Omicron virus is spreading around the world as the winter holiday season approaches, making COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots more important than ever for Americans traveling, U.S. health officials say. Tamara Lindstrom produced this report.



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