Do you want to impress your friends? Your date? Your mom? My mom? It’s cold AF outside, which means there is no better time to fill miniature shovels with cheese, heat them up over hot coils until they bubble—no, gurgle—and pour them over boiled potatoes in front of everyone you know. It’s time for raclette. [Blows alphorn].
I experienced my first raclette night almost a decade ago in France, and I can still remember what it tasted like. I came home after an exhausting day to an apartment filled with the delicate, nutty aroma of stringy raclette, and my French roommate and her friends hovering over their grill with strips of ham in one hand and glasses of Côtes du Rhône in the other. I melted. And now, I'm here to sing the praises of the raclette girl that has both enhanced my social life and been responsible for some of my favorite home meals. But first, a little background on the joy of this melty, magical cheese.
The art of raclette isn’t just another way of eating cheese—and, no, it’s not fondue. Raclette is its own universe. It’s a next-level, Ratatouille-type, show-pony way of turning a humble cheese into a serotonin-poppin’ winter ritual for you and your buds during these cold, dark nights. It’s an affordable, theatrical, and foolproof cure for my wintertime SAD in the form of dinner, so let’s get into the dos, don’ts, and musts of the best way to eat cheese.
What is raclette, exactly?
Raclette is both the name of a specific cheese, as well as the activity of melting it, pouring it over potatoes, and pouring those potatoes down your abyssal gullet. It’s Swiss in origin, believed to be over 400 years old, and is still beloved in neighboring countries including Belgium and France as a hearty winter dinner that you can make for under €20. In the United States, you’ve probably seen people shaving off melted raclette at winter holiday markets, at restaurants, or inside the San Francisco Ferry Building—courtesy of this apparatus:
Now that’s the kind of wumbo raclette machine one would see in public/at a RHONY birthday party, so I thought for sure they’d cost thousands of dollars. Turns out, you can get a copper and concrete machine for less than two Benjamins at Food52:
Stunning. But, you also kind of need a massive wheel of cheese for that, which is pricey, somewhat unwieldy, and just not where I’m at in my life right now. Most DIY-racletters will use a smaller machine à raclette that consists of a grill on stilts under which little shovels and rakes, dedicated to melting cheese, are placed for heating. I know that sounds like a bad Salvador Dalí painting, but this is what I mean:
I own two raclette machines, one designed for two people, and another for eight. You can find plenty of rectangular raclette machines out there, but I think the round grills are best—your friends will crowd around it like a 1998 game of Pretty Pretty Princess:
What do you need for the perfect raclette night?
OK, so you have your raclette grill. Now you need the tasty trappings and tablescape swagger.
The heart of a traditional raclette spread is cheese, potatoes, red wine, and maybe some butter lettuce for a side salad. Everything else [gestures in gabagool] is not canon. Once, I posted an Instagram story with vegetables on top of my raclette grill, and a friend in France responded with, “YO c kwa cette tomate??” (“YO, WTF is that tomato doing there?”). I loved my tomato addition, but I still blushed from across the Atlantic.
Convening for raclette night is a sacred tradition. Once you switch on that grill, you agree to partake in a long-running, traditional trance of cheese, taters, and charcuterie (usually ham) that only stops once you’re ready to go to bed. It’s your absolute human right to melt chocolate and anchovies on your raclette machine if you want, but do understand that you’re probably a monster, and I have a crush on you.
The reason raclette cheese is used is because it melts well and has a very light, buttery flavor. However, I also enjoy melting Comté and manchego, and grilling little cornichons and red onions on top of the grill. I’ve also seen people place an egg in the shovel, or chop up bell peppers and mushrooms for consideration. Just know your dinner audience, and then build out your spread accordingly. I love to make Country Bumpkin™ raclette spreads with checkered or Provençal-style tablecloths, Laguiole cheese knives, and mismatched plates.
I actually find raclette a lot easier to serve and prepare than fondue, which I love, but requires me to get over my irrational fear of Sterno. When you first unbox your raclette grill, plug it in and run it for about five minutes, with nothing on it, and then let it cool before giving it a wash with some soap.
Now that your machine is clean and prepped, you can boil your taters, slice your cheese a few centimeters thick, and switch on your grill. Voilà!
Raclette is an ideal winter dinner-party activity. If you’re feeling tired, hungry, and out of ideas for how to safely gather with your vaccinated crew this January, let the art of raclette do all the dazzling for you. Not only is the grill easy to use and affordable, but it’s likely your pals have never been to a raclette night—let alone one like yours, you saucy sailor. Buy a nice bottle of wine, put on your best Ina Garten cosplay/host outfit from Talbots, and get ready to massage and bon voyage.
Bon appétit, and don’t forget to top off the night with some Poire Williams Eau de Vie (unaged pear brandy that gets you
hammered pleasantly tipsy).
The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story.