Throw A Dinner Party That’s Actually Fun With Raclette

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One of the reasons I love to travel is that it exposes me to many new kinds of culinary adventures.  So many adventures, that it seems I can’t even recall them all.  In my mid twenties I spent two weeks in Switzerland and discovered a traditional cheese meal called raclette.  Those memories came flooding back when I was recently in Park City and attended a work dinner at a restaurant which served us raclette in front of a roaring fire.

With its roots in Switzerland, Raclette refers to a round of cheese that is traditionally heated in front of a fire and then scraped onto diners plates.  Our dinner in Park City used the traditional method and I fell in love with raclette all over again.  Warm, creamy, melted cheese – what’s not to love!

Raclette - Traditional Fire

Raclette – Traditional Fire

Since most people don’t have a stone hearth large enough to cook dinner, a more modern way of cooking and serving raclette was created.  It involves the use of an electric table-top grill and small pans, or coupelles.  The coupelles heat the slices of cheese along with other accompaniments. 

The cheese is brought to the table sliced, accompanied by platters of small firm potatoes (Bintje, Charlotte or Raclette varieties), gherkins, meats and seafood, paprika, and other bits of goodies. The sides and cheese are put in the coupelles then placed under the grill to melt and brown the cheese.  It’s a bit like fondue but using your own melting tray instead of a communal bowl.  It lends itself to an interactive, fun, relaxed dining party, with the meal often running to several hours.

Upon my return from Park City, I decided to throw a raclette party myself.  As only appropriate, it turned out to be a snowy night in Charlotte.  My condo has floor-to-ceiling windows, so the scenery was beautiful and while we we’re in the Alps completely appropriate.  We couldn’t have had more fun and the raclette as a smash hit.

If you plan to have a raclette party, I recommend making sure you have plenty of time for preparation.  While your guests will be cooking, the work cutting up all the sides and cheese is substantial. 

Most popular accoutrements from my party were:
– Pineapple
– Shrimp with truffle butter
– Gherkin pickles with Hungarian paprika
– Filet mignon with cremini mushrooms
– Cherry tomatoes with turkey bacon

Some of the wines that are commonly recommended to serve are Savoy, Fendant, Riesling, and Pinot Gris.  As always, I like to serve things most people have never tried before.  As such, I served a variety of wines that all worked well:
– Sincerely 2010 Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa
– Santa Margherita 2010 Pinot Grigio from Italy
– Edi Simcic 2011 Rubikon from Slovenia
– Weingut Michlits 2011 Pinot Noir Frizzante (ie bubbles) from Austria

If you plan to host a raclette party and need to shop for it:
To buy a raclette machine – visit raclettecorner.com, williamsonoma.com, or  amazon.com
To buy raclette cheese – Whole Foods and Dean & Deluca often carry it, Traders Joe’s carries it during the holidays, and you can always get it online at sites like raclettecorner.com

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