The weather is getting cooler, the days are getting shorter, it’s time for some comfort food, and nothing says comfort louder and clearer than melting cheese.
Raclette is both a type of cheese and a communal meal.
Raclette (the cheese) is a pressed, semi-firm, and a bit pungent cow’s milk cheese that melts easily without liquefying. It tastes similar to Morbier and is made in Switzerland and France.
Raclette (the dish) is a fun method of preparing and serving cheese, meats, vegetables, potatoes and bread in a festive, communal setting. In Switzerland (and in the Savoie region of France), Raclette is as popular as fondue (leave it to the Swiss to come up with multiple methods to melt cheese!).
The word raclette is derived from the French verb racler, which means to scrape. It refers to how medieval hunters and shepherds in the Swiss canton of Valais would scrape cheese with their hunting knives while sitting around a campfire, melting the cheese near the flames, then dripping it onto crusty bread, over roasted potatoes, sausages and other preserved meats, to make a hearty campfire meal.
This has evolved through the centuries into a traditional cool-weather indoor treat, where friends and family sit around the Raclette grill, munching on spicy sausages, sliced meats, crunchy pickled vegetables, while drinking Fendant or any other crisp white wine.
In order to prepare this dish, you’ll need a Raclette grill — a small tabletop electric grill with a space beneath it for melting cheese in small 2 to 3 ounce trays; although you could make do with just a stove and a baking sheet, but preparing the meal tableside is half the fun.
Raclette grills are available at most well-stocked kitchen stores and online, which is where we purchased ours). If you don’t have a Raclette gruill, ytou can simply melt the cheese in a sauce pan on the stove top. The result will be the same; all you’ll be missing is the communal melting.
- 1 pound Raclette cheese
- 24 small, new, waxy potatoes
- Pickled onions
- Sausage (I prefer garlic sausage, but use whatever kind you like)
- Thickly sliced cured meats (Prosciutto, Speck, Westphalia ham, Bresaola, etc.)
- Crusty sour bread like levain
- Freshly ground pepper
- Paprika (half sharp, sharp or smoked — your choice)
- Whole grain mustard
Boil potatoes in their skin until tender, slice in half, and set aside. Set table with meat, pickled veggies, slices of bread.
Trim rind off cheese, slice into eight equal pieces. Place the sausages onto the Raclette grill and cook.
Have each diner take a slice of cheese and place it into their individual Raclette tray and slide it under the grill.
(This is a good time to eat a few slices of ham and some cornichons.)
When the cheese is melted and turning brown at the edges, remove the tray from under the grill.
Scrape the cheese from the tray onto a potato, give it a grind of pepper and/or paprika, and eat.
Put some mustard onto a slice of bread, put a hunk of sausage or meat on the bread, top with a pickled onion and some melted Raclette, and eat.
Try different combinations: bread, potatoes, raclette, sausage and mustard, or sausage with Raclette and paprika, or ham on bread with Raclette and pickled onions — there are myriad combinations.
Wash down with a good amount crisp white wine (in Switzerland, they drink Fendant, made from the local chasselas grape, but any non-oaky light to medium-bodied wine will do), hard cider or beer (legend has it that you will get indigestion if you drink water with Raclette).
Repeat until full. Serves four.
If you don’t have a Raclette Grill, simply melt the cheese slowly in a non-stick, sheet pan or pot over low heat.
Do You Fondue?
It’s wintertime and thoughts turn to melted cheese. That’s right, it’s Fondue Time! Personally, I can’t think of a better way to eat some cheese.
The name Fondue comes from the past participle of the French verb fondre (to melt), so a literal translation would be melted. The name refers to a Swiss dish consisting of bread dipped into a communal pot filled with melted Swiss cheeses. It’s a soothing, and healthful meal that is easy to prepare, and fun to eat. It makes a great family meal that also works well as a romantic dinner for two.
Alameda and Oakland Magazine Article on Loire Wines
(Article originally appeared in May/June 2011 issues of Alameda and Oakland magazines)
The Loire Valley is one of France’s largest and most diverse wine regions, with 65 designated wine appellations (called AOC or Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) along a 300-plus mile stretch of beautiful countryside, dotted with chateaux and lightly rolling hills, and filled with history, wars, romance, great cuisine and lovely wines.
The Loire River is the longest in France, and one of the last wild rivers in Europe; it starts in the Massif Central, and travels north and west until it empties into the Atlantic Ocean near Brittany.
Loire wines are crafted from around a dozen different grape varieties, including some of the best expressions of Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Melon de Bourgogne in the world. Other varietals include include Pinot Noir, Gamay Noir, Malbec (called Côt in the region), Pineau d’Aunis and Grolleau. Loire wines can be bone dry, off-dry or sweet; still or sparkling, crisp or round, made for immediate consumption, or crafted to age for dozens of years.
The Loire produces primarily white wines (over 70 percent of production), and is the second largest sparkling wine region in France, after Champagne. Red wines tend to be softer and lighter in style and very food friendly.
Gourmet Names Farmstead One of the Best Cheese Shops in the USA!
Tucked into a cozy space in the Alameda Marketplace, Farmstead Cheeses & Wines offers a small but mighty selection of well-chosen cheeses, from regional favorites like Humboldt Fog to Italy's finest Parmiggiano-Reggiano. Farmstead keeps relatively small quantities of cheeses on hand, which means that products are always fresh, including can't-miss favorites like the milky burrata and bufala mozzarella.
Oakland Magazine Article on Cahors
Impressed by Cahors: A Bit About the Jewel of Southwest France
- Jeff Diamond (also appeared in Alameda Magazine)
I had the great fortune to visit the winelands of France twice this year — the first a whirlwind trip from Roussillon to Alsace, with stops in Provence, the Rhône and Burgundy; while the second trip focused on the southwest, where I visited wineries in Bordeaux and Cahors. I was very impressed with the wines and wineries of Cahors.
Cahors is in the beautiful Lot River Valley, home to stunning scenery, deep history and pre-history, amazing gastronomic culture and noble red wines made from Malbec grapes.
Alameda and Oakland Magazine Article on the Roussillon
Discover Roussillon: Hardscrabble Southern France Region Produces Great Table Wines by Jeff Diamond
I recently returned from a wine buying trip in France, and while the entire sojourn was informative, eye-opening and full of the joy of great wine, food and, well, France, it was my first stop that opened my eyes to a new world of wine that I had known little about beforehand. It was the Roussillon, a tiny appellation tucked against the Pyrenees in far southern France.
Alameda and Oakland Magazine Article On Sherry
Here's an article I wrote on Sherry, which appeared in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of Alameda and Oakland Magazine
Sherry – Not Just for Grandma Anymore
Sherry is one of the world's most misunderstood and under-appreciated wines. Most folks who don't know about Sherry think it's either for cooking or for solely to serve when your grandmother visits.
Sherry is classified as a fortified wine – one that's made stronger by and preserved by the addition of brandy. Sherries can age for years, or even decades.