Ski lodges in the Alps in the winter are the last places you’d expect to find live-fire cooking. Especially for an ingredient most people don’t associate with grilling: cheese. But the French and Swiss Alps are home to one of the world’s great live-fire dishes-the après-ski favorite raclette. The word comes from the French verb racler, "to scrape."
Raclette (the dish) was traditionally made by placing a half or quarter wheel of cheese on a stone in front of the fireplace. (Today, most restaurants use electric raclette burners instead of the fireplace to do the melting.) As the part of the cheese next to the fire melts, it is scraped onto plates to be enjoyed with such sturdy Alpine fare as crusty bread and boiled potatoes, tangy pickled onion, and cornichons (small sour pickles). Heidi fans may remember reading about Grandfather melting the cheese in front of the fireplace in Johanna Spyri’s beloved novel.
Raclette (the cheese) has an aroma that might charitably be described as "pungent"-off-putting to all but the most ardent devotees of Limburger. But melt the cheese next to an open flame and the infamous odor disappears. The cheese becomes as creamy as butter and as mild and sweet as mozzarella. It is widely available at cheese markets and gourmet shops. You won’t have trouble locating it: Just use your nose! Raclette is made in both France and Switzerland, and the best ones are made with unpasteurized milk. Steven Jenkins, author of the Cheese Primer, recommends raclette from the towns of Bagnes, Conches, Gosmer, and Orsières in Switzerland and Brunnerois and Perrin in France.
Who says you can’t enjoy live-fire cooking in the winter? Never did something that smells so bad taste so good!
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