The History of the Raclette
‘Raclette’ is actually not the name of a cooking apparatus, but a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese. Semi-soft and salted, Raclette was first made in the canton of Valais-home of the Matterhorn-in the southwestern area of Switzerland.
The dish featuring Raclette cheese dates back more than 700 years, when it was called Bratchäs, Swiss-German for “roasted cheese.” Raclette was mentioned in writings as early as 1291. Easy to transport, and it was eaten by shepherds and farmers, who would place a block of cheese by a hearth or a campfire. There, it would become soft, and the melted cheese would be served with potatoes, onions and pickles.
The name “Raclette” is derived from the French word racler, which means “to scrape.” Though it is similar to fondue-in which pieces of bread and other foods are dipped into a melted cheese mixture-Raclette is distinctive because the melted cheese is scraped from a block of cheese, then placed over or near vegetables and bread on a plate. A special Raclette knife may be used for this purpose.
Though traditionally the dish was cooked with an open flame, Raclette melting machines and grills were manufactured and gained popularity during the 1970s, when they became widely available.
Nowadays, a raclette is more often used to describe a particular type of grill. It still features some way of melting cheese, often in small pans underneath an element. But the main part of the raclette is the grill pan above the element, used to cook meat, fish, poultry and vegetables.
Both delicious and hearty, the dish is now served throughout the world. A raclette evening is a very social event, often with the ingredients brought to the table raw, with the intention that guests cook their own food, to their liking.