Raclette, the Swiss Meal Experience

I lived in Switzerland for about 18 months, and while there, I was introduced to a meal experience called Raclette.

(Here is a list of Swiss recipes in case you are interested.) Swiss Recipes

I say it was an experience because the dish wasn’t something that one person labored over for 3 hours, presented on the table and then observed being inhaled in ten minutes. No, eating Raclette took time and was a customized affair that lasted the entire dinner time.

If you added wine to the mix, Raclette could last for hours.

Think Fondue, and you’ll get closer to the Raclette experience.

To have this meal, you need a Raclette grill, which can be square or circular, and sits in the middle of the table where all guests can reach it. There are usually two levels to the grill. Every guest has their own small pan, and by small, I mean like 4 x 5 inches.
These little pans fit onto the grill, and that’s where the food gets cooked. You load up your little pan, put it on the grill, let it cook, eat the contents, and repeat the process. You see why a meal can take a while. The average person will load and reload their pan at least three times, if not four.  And then wait while each pan-load cooks.
Swiss Raclette involves boiled new potatoes, Raclette cheese, and toppings. The potatoes get boiled ahead of time and are set out on the table. The Raclette cheese is sliced and set on a platter. The toppings can be corn, olives, peas, mushrooms, onions, pickles, sausage, kielbasa, etc.
Some toppings are better prepared ahead of time. For example, if the onions, sausage, and kielbasa are cooked prior to being put on the table, then the function of the grill becomes simply heating the panfuls through instead of actually cooking everything.

The small pans always get loaded with Raclette cheese. Usually it’s the first item to be laid down. Then the other toppings get piled on top of the cheese. I’ve known some eaters to put toppings in their pans first and add the cheese on top.

As I said earlier, Raclette is a highly customizable meal, and it doesn’t matter if you put your cheese first on the pan or last or in the middle. Any no one would care if you ate the cheese slice by slice without cooking it at all and just dumped raw toppings on to your boiled potatoes. There is no manual or code for how to do Raclette. The entire goal is to experience it with friends and family and just enjoy.

When I moved back from Switzerland, I had to search high and low for a Raclette grill. Finally found one made by Tefal—a two-level round grill that came with eight triangular pans with little bamboo paddles for scraping melted cheese and toppings from the pan onto the potatoes. I’ve had it for years now.

My kids were small when I lived in Switzerland, and they are grown now, but to this day, when they are home and can pick a special meal, they choose Raclette.
I have found Raclette cheese at Whole Foods for a price you’d expect to pay for moon rocks, so instead I usually buy Gruyere and mozzarella. The kids don’t like cheese much stronger than mozz, so I get the Gruyere for myself.

So there you have it: Raclette from Switzerland. It’s a simple meal to prepare. It brings people together for a dining experience that can be supplemented with salad (eat it while the first panful cooks) and wine (drink it throughout!). Honestly, it’s a winner.

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