Greetings dear readers and friends. We are in full Christmas-mode over here, and there are so many holiday events taking place that it’s hard to keep up. We’ve been to a lighting-ceremony in the center of the village – complete with hot wine & Christmas carols (luckily they handed out the words or I would have been très lost), we’ve decorated Christmas trees with the school children, and have also spent a lovely morning at the Toulon Christmas market.
And what’s great at this busy time of year is that just when you thought you couldn’t cook another French meal or host another French dinner party (which includes appetizers, an entrée, a main dish, salad, a cheese course, & a dessert mind you!), raclette season kicks off.
And what a wonderful time of year it is…
(A small caveat here, as the French might say, if you’re not a big meat-eater you might want to click on over to another post, because a raclette party is big on meat, very big.)
My husband loves to remind me of the fact that, way back in 2010, I turned my nose up at the idea of raclette and gave it a big American “yuck!” for emphasis. But perhaps you will understand why, as we get into the nuts and bolts of what makes up a raclette evening.
First, you’ll need cheese, and lots of it. Special “raclette” labeled cheese is sold in the supermarkets and, if you’re a purist, you can also buy it at a cheese shop, fromagerie. When I first got pulled into the raclette loop, I knew all the standard kinds of cheese – which come packaged in square slabs that are perfect for melting. Now, you can buy raclette cheese sprinkled with pepper, infused with white wine, smoked, and even mustard-flavored raclette.
Besides the cheese labeled “raclette” in the supermarket, other cheeses to try are: maroilles, munster, morbier and reblochon.
Next, you’ll need different cold cuts (charcuterie): Parma ham, cooked ham (sliced), pancetta, salami, bacon (round kind, not the strips), speck, coppa, to name a few. Everyone has their favorites. I’m a salami kinda gal (thankfully raclette is not year-round!).
Lastly, you’ll need the cerise sur la gâteau (cherry on the cake) so to speak… potatoes. There are also special raclette-labeled potatoes in the shops – which must be of chair firm, “firm flesh”, like charlotte, nicola, amandine, or franceline potatoes.
So, what happens to all of these items? Well, basically, they are all mixed together in a kind of melted-cheese heaven.
Maybe it sounds weird, maybe it sounds wonderful, but it is indeed a hard & fast winter tradition in France. As the host, you boil the potatoes (skin on or off according to tastes), set out the cheese and cold cut platters, and crank up your raclette machine.
Each guest gets a special cheese tray, 2 trays if you’re a real wizard, which they use to melt their selected raclette cheese – peppered, mustard-flavored, smoked, or traditional. Said cheese is then poured over a potato which has already had a slice of charcuterie placed on top of it.
Also, you’ll need some wine, a few good choices are: Apremont, Riesling, Jura, & Cabernet Sauvignon. Some people prefer red, we tend to stick with white.
Some folks even like to add eggs to the mix and cook them on their raclette machine, but we haven’t gone that far yet. Small pickles, cornichons, are also popular to have on hand.
Violà, this is raclette.
What’s so great about it? Apart from the fact that even though it sounds pretty horrible, it’s actually delicious… the best thing about a raclette party is the convivial spirit. French folks seem to let their hair down and the whole evening is really relaxed. There’s no fretting about if the presentation of the entrée came out perfect (if only I’d drizzled just a tad more balsamic vinegar!), or if the timing of the meal was correct (how can I keep all of these steaks hot, the sauce is ready to go!), etc etc etc… It’s hard to be fussy about food when you’re ladling oodles of cheese over smashed potatoes. Raclette is a messy affair.
And for the host / hostess… there’s very little prep and very little clean-up! What’s not to love?
We hosted a raclette dinner two weekends ago, and we’ve got another one planned this Saturday night… and I couldn’t be happier. It might mean a few more long walks around the village, but it’s a no-stress, comforting way to enjoy the season.
Bon week-end & happy raclette-ing!