Raclette: I heart Stinky Cheese!

The first time I had raclette was at the home of my friends Jeff and Jodie Morgan years ago when they lived out on the North Fork of Long Island. Jeff was a musician then that was just breaking into the wine business. Jody was a homemaker and we were having children in tandem and sharing the ins and out of potty training methodology. Jeff then went on to write about wine for the Wine Spectator and moved the family out to California and was the West Coast Editor for a long time. He is now the owner of Covenant Wines making kosher wines that are sure to be superb. There was a rose too, but I’m not up to date on that.

Jeff had lived in France at some point and the influence permeated their lifestyle. Lazy Sunday afternoons we played Jacques a dit… (Simon says) on the lawn and ate sardines stuffed with herbs right off the grill. Together Jeff and Jody were great cooks and great hosts and it was always delightful spending time with them. I pretty much always came away learning something new, the least of which was how to enjoy raclette.

The name Raclette comes from the French racler-to scrape. Traditionally a large wheel of this pungent semi soft cheese is held to the wood burning fire and the melted cheese scraped onto the waiting plate. This luscious cheese is served with boiled potatoes and cornichons or other pickled vegetables. Cured meats are also often served, but I never had it that way. One is tempted to compare this to fondue, but I would not make the comparison- they are nothing alike.

I cannot begin to tell you the blissful taste of the earthy pungent cheese with the doughy potato and the snap of the pickle. It was one of those taste moments that shock the senses into a different echelon. The reason is that it doesn’t sound all that amazing, but together it is spectacular.

Being a little remiss of a wood burning fireplace in Manhattan, I melt my cheese right onto plates that I put into a warm oven. It only takes a few minutes to melt the cheese and the hot plate maintains the melty loveliness during consumption. Just take care to handle the plate and mind the table top and not burn yourself or the veneer. There are table top grills that are the modern convenience of the day, but I’ve not tried them and prefer this basic and homey method.

This is hearty Winter fare and great to serve among a small group with one large plate in the middle of the table. My preferred wine of choice with Raclette is a flowery Reisling and the one time an off dry is enjoyable, or if you’re not a Reisling fan (and you will be once you have a good one), an aromatic Viognier or Pinot Gris is also delightful.