|Raclette maker in action!|
I'm happy to report that my heartache this weekend was eased a little with a foot of fresh powder overnight and a day of skiing on Sunday. This was the most snow we've gotten in one storm since Thanksgiving so it was a real treat. It was one of those skiing days when the visibility is so low that it is totally disorienting. Luckily we know the mountain well. The little glades that I've been practicing in were extra fun with the fresh snow. It's always quieter in the trees, especially on powder days.
By about three o'clock, as my legs were getting pretty tired and I had reached the point where I was wondering whether or not I really needed to be turning so much, the clouds started to lift. Although the top of the mountain was still overcast, windy and chilly, at mid-mountain, we could see the sun smiling on town. It was good motivation to keep getting on the lift and heading back to the top. I know I'm biased and I don't have much to compare it to, but I really think we have one of the prettiest ski basins around. The view is so huge and lovely.
I've been holding off posting about Raclette for a while because, well, we haven't had any winter weather or justifiable reasons, such as a day of rigorous winter sports, to indulge in copious amounts of French cheese. (Not that this has stopped us. We've still eaten plenty of melted cheese this winter, but it seemed silly to write about an après-ski dinner when it's 65 degrees in town.) Even so, February was a good month.
I'm also motivated by the fact that I want to get this off my plate and lighten things up a little in March. February was short, but we packed in a lot good meals; most of which involved French cheese and crème fraîche.
Of course, February is when we celebrated Tartifête, a highlight of every year, by eating tartiflette and drinking French wine.
That's not the half of it though. Andrew's parents sent us home with a Raclette maker the last time we visited. These are the times when I know I was destined to marry into this family. Who happens to have an extra Raclette maker sitting around in the garage? My in-laws, that's who. And thanks to them, we have been enjoying cheesy meals all winter.
I first had Raclette at a host family's house in Blois, France when I was 17. I was spending the summer in the Loire Valley through a program with the local Lions Club, and I was supposed to be learning all about French culture. Even though it was the middle of summer and we were far from the Alps, my host family apparently decided that eating Raclette was a necessary cultural lesson. My French was not great at the time, and I didn't really understand much about the meal that they were serving other than it was eaten in the Alps and involved a lot of French cheese. That was enough to keep me wanting more.
Raclette is another one of those amazing dishes gifted to us by the people of the Alps. I don't know what you think of when you think of the Alps, but for me, I think of melted cheese and snowy peaks. Yes, please! The Alps have given me some of my favorite meals.
Raclette is both a cheese and a dish. Raclette cheese is a cow's milk cheese, which is typically melted and scraped (French verb racler) onto diners' plates and eaten with potatoes, charcuterie, cornichons and pickled onions. Traditionally, a big wheel of cheese would be heated in front of a fire and then the melted parts scraped onto the plates. I've never eaten it this way, but I will the next time I'm in the Alps. I've always had Raclette using a modern Raclette maker, which is an electric machine that plugs in and heats up a broiler. The cheese and other accoutrements are placed in little individual sized trays, placed under the broiler to melt and then scraped onto diners' plates. I realize as I'm writing this that it seems kind of odd, but I promise that it is actually fun in addition to delicious.
|The Raclette maker and small individual trays.|
|The trays are slid under the broiler to melt the cheese.|
It's a super fun meal to have with a group of people. Everyone can personalize their meal to meet their preferences and tastes, and eating Raclette is relaxing and a fun way to socialize. It is easy to put together for the host because all that you have to do is set out all of the ingredients and people "cook" and serve themselves.
I've bought Raclette cheese at both my local coop and the Whole Foods. I don't typically like to own appliances I only use a few times a year so if I hadn't received this as a gift, I probably wouldn't have one of my own, but I know that you can rent the machines in nice cheese shops, like Surdyk's if you're in Minneapolis.
The first time we used the Raclette maker, I stuck to a traditional spread, which usually includes the Raclette cheese, potatoes and charcuterie. However, I quickly realized that the traditional spread is a little boring, at least when you're at home at your dining room table and not in Switzerland melting your cheese by open fire. So, I decided to spice it up a little and added lots more ingredients.
Here's what I generally include in our spread:
- Raclette Cheese, sliced
- Fingerling potatoes, skin on, roasted, quartered
- Roasted asparagus, cut into 1" segments
- Ham, thickly sliced
- Proscuitto or pancetta
- Quail's eggs
- Sliced apple
- Caramelized onions
- Sliced baguette
- Dijon mustard
- Crème fraîche
- Cornichons (small French pickles)
All layered together, these ingredients can make some spectacular combos, as I'm sure you can imagine.
I like to serve Raclette with a nice, big green salad. The last time we had it, I piled my arugula salad on top of my creations, and it was great.
For more information on Raclette, see David Lebovitz's great article or the Wikipedia page.