Wintry weather conjures visions of friends gathered round a roaring fire, cooking, laughing and sharing a warm toast. Communal cooking around a hearth is sure fire way to banish the winter blues.
The alpine regions of Europe have given us great traditions of communal hearth cooking. Here at the farm, we love an evening with a tasty raclette.
Raclette is a semi firm meltable cow’s milk cheese that has given its name to a time-honored meal born in the mountains of Switzerland. Historically, Swiss cow herders would take a wheel of raclette with them when moving cows to and from the mountain pastures. Around the evening camp fire, they would place a part of the wheel close to the fire and, when it reached the perfect softness, scrape the melted layer onto bread for a nourishing, warm meal. (The term raclette derives from the French word racler, meaning “to scrape,”)
At the home hearth, a cheese wheel is cut in half or quarters, depending on the number of guests, and placed with its face close to the fire so it begins to soften and melt. The melted cheese is scraped from the wheel onto plates and served, traditionally, with bread, small firm potatoes, tiny gherkins, pickled onions, and cured meats.
In Switzerland, raclette was typically served with tea or other warm beverages. However a dry fruity white wine, such as the traditional Savoy wine, a Reisling or Pinot Gris is also a good match. (Take note that local lore cautions that other drinks, water for example, will cause the cheese to harden in the stomach, leading to indigestion. So they say.)
For the hearth-less, there are small electric table-top grills with small trays for melting the slices of cheese. Generally the grill is placed over a hot plate or griddle that will keep the cheese warm. The cheese is brought to the table sliced, with boiled or steamed potatoes, pickled vegetables and charcuterie. The accompaniments are mixed with the potatoes, topped with the cheese and set under the grill to melt and brown the cheese. Alternatively, slices of cheese may be melted and browned in the trays, then scraped over the accompaniments.
Raclette dining, like fondue dinners, are supposed to foster a relaxed and sociable atmosphere, often stretching over several hours. What better way to beat these late winter blues?
Cherry Grove Farm’s Herdsman makes a good raclette-style cheese. Think of us as you while away the hours in front of the fire.