Monday, January 19, 2009

Cheesy goodness

On Saturday we invited friends over for cheese fondue and raclette. Sweetie and I received a fondue pot as a housewarming gift from my sister-and-brother-in-law about five years ago and never got around to using it.

Making the fondue was much easier than I expected, although I think the recipe we used was a bit too heavy on the alcohol; I'll use less next time. What was really fun was serving the raclette. Why raclette, you ask? What is raclette? When is Spain? Why is Hitler? Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?

My friend A. and I met at a summer music festival in the Swiss Alps lo, these many years ago, and we befriended two women who worked in the Swiss tourist office in the little town where we were staying (it's deep in the Alps, about an hour's train ride from the Matterhorn). These two women wanted to treat us to the Valais' premiere dish, raclette, so, even though it was summer and raclette is traditionally eaten in winter, off we went. 

Raclette, served in the traditional way, consists of a huge wheel of cheese on a wooden slab, which is placed next to a large fire. As the cheese melts, it is scraped off the wooden slab and onto plates, whereupon it is eaten with new boiled potatoes. It's fantastic, an old peasant dish, very hearty and definitely meant to be consumed in winter. The cheese itself has a distinctive nutty flavor I've never tasted in any other cheese, perhaps because it uses raw (unpasteurized) milk, or perhaps because of how it is aged. My friend A. and I ate far too much of it that night 20 years ago, plus we didn't know we were supposed to drink wine to cut through all that delicious fatty goodness, and drank water instead. You can imagine what happened. Next morning we both woke up with what I can only describe as a cheese hangover; I felt like my stomach was hanging around my knees somewhere, and the idea of eating anything ever again seemed ludicrous, if not impossible.

Despite this first questionable experience with raclette, we were both eager to try it again, and this time we were prepared: we limited ourselves to smaller portions and made sure we ate vegetables and drank a lovely dry white wine. Our spouses and her son, unburdened by troublesome memories of raclette, enjoyed it wholehearted(stomached?)ly.

Of course, I don't have a huge fireplace in which to place a 50 lb. wheel of cheese to allow for traditional melting practices, so I put the cheese on a shallow plate in the oven and let it melt. The disadvantage to that method is that the cheese begins to cool and congeal almost immediately, and it really needs to be hot and almost liquid. What to do? Well, for those who love kitchen gadgets and are serious about raclette, enter the Raclette Grill. This has to be seen to be fully appreciated:

This first one is a basic grill; the cheese is heated up below, and you can grill vegetables or whatever you like on top.

This one is for the serious raclette conoisseur: it has a granite top, but otherwise works on the same principles, I believe.

A good time was had by all, even if we were gadget-challenged when it came to the raclette. There's always eBay, after all.

What did you eat/cook over the weekend?

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