p1: Raclette

(my apologies on the delay in posting, have had quite the busy and interested last couple weeks, hopefully should get a couple of these backed up posts out a little quicker than usual)

The Dish

23I remember the one time I went to France as a High School Student, part of our trip led us down somewhere to the Southern Coast (can’t remember where, I sadly wasn’t as travel-and-culinary-focused back then as I am now). When preparing for this travel, one of the biggest memories that still sticks in my mind is a heavy suggestion from my teacher to try a local specialty, “Raclette.” It looked and sounded so good… but despite my hopes I never had the chance to actually experience it, either in the group or with the family I stayed with for a week.

Though in hindsight, as I’ve learned in recent years, that was a pretty stupid thing to expect from a dish that’s inherently from the ALPINE regions of the country, near the Swiss border… not that close to the South of the country.

Its humble origins lie on the other side of that border, the original cheese being of Swiss invention instead of French, though the French do make their own Raclette near the border. 700 years ago, the cheese was the main sustenance of choice for the area farmers. After a long day of work, local shepherds, or Valais vineyard workers (some say one started it, some the other, maybe it’s just both), would sit around a fire, jamming a big block of cheese on a wood stick and sticking next to the heat to melt and soften.

This becomes the origins of the dish based solely around grilling the cheese over an open flame until it gets gooey and crisp, before letting it melt over the choice potatoes and other sides. Originally, this preparation was actually referred to as Bratchäss, Swiss for “roasted.” At some point, though, the name of both the cheese and dish changed to “Raclette,” a variation of racler, meaning “to scrape” in French, indicative of the long scrapings of melted surface cheese from the big block before returning it to the fire.

A Word On…

20140411_173032The Cheese:As with many alpine-cheese-based French dishes on here, one has the choice of both a French and Swiss version of the Cheese in question. Thus there are raclettes from two different countries, if you can get the good ones from a local cheese shop. From what I was told, the Swiss version should be slightly firmer, with a simpler and singular flavor, wheras the French version contains a bit more of that funky personality. For the sake of keeping to the same goal as others, I of course went with a big, big wedge of French raclette. I wish I could have gotten a whole half-wheel like is traditional for better scraping, but that’s a lot of money!

On another note, in case one can’t find a “wheel” of the cheese to cut from, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some stores have it plastic-wrapped and sold in smaller blocks (like that one greek “grilling cheese”). Though it’s not as fresh and ideal, it’ll work.

If looking for a substitute, the flavor sorta reminds me of Taleggio; just make sure you get one that’s REALLY young, while it’s still firm enough to slice and/or skewer.

The Accompaniments:Often in France, this melted cheese will be scraped over a plate with Gherkin or Cornichon pickles, pickled or raw onions, sausage, some kind of cured meat, and/or potatoes. But, other than the potatoes, I wouldn’t put any of these as stringent requirements unless one is REALLY trying to stay traditional. Just use whatever you want or have lying around the house; I roasted a pan of cherry tomatoes, bacon, and a whole onion (which I then seared to caramelized goodness) for my little plate of goodies. You can put in bell peppers, anchovies, olives, compotes, etc… or just drizzle hot cheese into your mouth.20140411_180018

The Melting:There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and the same goes for melting cheese… you know, just not as hairy. Of course, if one wants to make it like they did back in the day, then they’ll stick with just the one; holding it over a fire. Obviously, the bigger the chunk the better; stays on the skewer and can control the melting. Though I’ve found it can be a bit tricky to get the melting and scraping right, need a bit of time to get used to it (had quite a few messy random hodgepodges of cheese scrapings on my first attempts). But once you do it’s sorta fun.

enhanced-buzz-21238-1385761799-9Other somewhat more reliable methods exist though. Such as the very one-minded appliance made exclusively for melting raclette cheese… with these tiny little skillet pans that one sticks on what looks to be a cross between a portable broiler, toaster oven, and Panini press. Cool as it is, please, for the love of god, do not be the kind of person that stoops low enough to buy it. Just use a nonstick cast iron pan in an oven or something.

One of my favorite alternatives is just laying slices of the cheese over the desired accompaniments and broiling. It melts wonderfully, looks great, and you’re actually able to get that awesomely crispy golden crust, which I found was quite difficult to do over a fire unless one is willing to risk a higher percentage of meltage loss.


One Big Hunk of Cheese (preferably Raclette)

Cooked Potatoes (optional)

Onions, raw or cooked (optional)

Tomatoes and other Veggies (optional)

Gherkins and/or Olives (optional)

Bacon (optional)

Air-dried meats like Prosciutto (optional)


  • Skewer Cheese (or just hold if large enough), holding directly over the fire until a large enough proportion has softened and melted, getting the edges crispy if possible.20140411_185750
  • Carefully scrape onto potatoes and other accompanying edibles as preferred. Repeat process.20140411_190309
  • Alternatively, arrange potatoes and accompanying in an oven-proof sauté pan.20140413_111248
  • Slice and layer cheese over top, sticking pan under a broiler set on High. Let melt until golden and crispy around part of it.20140413_111818
  • Remove and scoop onto serving plate.

The Verdict

20140413_111953I will say, using the fire to cook it is fun, but it’s a bit tricky and takes some time to get right (let alone a proper hot open-air fire, as opposed to something made in a grill box). Tedious too, gotta do one plate at a time when serving people. Though it’s cheap, I’ll admit the broiler method ended up yielding the more desired result. I actually got golden and crispy edges too, which is what I really wanted. So take that as it is and decide for yourself how you might treat it (or do like me, get a big wedge and try both!).

As for the actual tastings and result…. Omnomnomnomnom. God I loooovvveee a good cheese and potato dish. The raclette really gets that nice fond-like crispiness around its surface when hot enough, and it has a deliciously mellow yet moldy/funky undertone to it, like a milder Tallegio (think I said that before though…). When you get a bite of everything all at once; cheese, potato, tomato, meat, olives or capers, onion, etc; it all ends up that perfectly harmonized blend of flavors and senses. Maybe not all that “heavenly,” but very comforting and satisfying when done right.

Oh, and it tastes pretty good without cooking too. I suggest getting the cheese for yourself at some point!

Primary Pairing – Mead20140411_184451

There are a couple classic pairings for this rustic mountain dish, and loads of other pairings that are suggested across the alcohol board online, but I find the most interesting is in the form of “Hot Drinks.” Being a hot, crusty dish to be eaten in the cold of winter, raclette is often drunk with similarly warmed beverages, usually some sort of tea or maybe mulled wine.

I thought it’d be fun to try the use of Mead instead of others; I like the idea of honey and cheese. Not to mention who doesn’t love a good cup of mulled mead whenever they head to the Renaissance Fair on a chilly day?

20140411_173704My Bottle:Chaucer’s Mead

Mead and honeywine can be a tricky thing to pick out, I’ve found. Unless you’ve actually tasted it, you have no idea what a particular bottle will be like in the glass… which I guess is true for every wine and beer, but at least they have indications (region, grape, style and ageing denominations, etc). Mead only ever says mead… and I’ve tasted ones that are thick and musky like an oversweet Riesling and others that are dry and practically flavorless, without knowing either way. Gotta pick carefully.

So at the very least, this mead’s hanging label proclamation of “semi-sweet,” addition of spice packets for mulling, and Middle-age connotations was able to help me get an idea that it would be, indeed, much like the warm meads I’ve had at the local Renaissance Fair. And it was, and very tasty at that.

Tried it both chilled and mulled just for the heck of it, hard to say which one I liked better… notably different. Mulled lost the muskiness and gained a lighter, almost fresher consistency, sliding down easily to cut through the rustic funk with its warmth, while the chilled acted like a tender nectar to fill the mouth, accentuating the rustic and moldy flavors. It’s very lacking in the acid department, but the sweetness and filling mouthfeel easily make up for it, not to mention it’s comforting.

Either way it was good. And it’s from Cali, so should be a mead one can get in most if not every state.20140411_184541

Secondary Pairing – Savoie White

A French Alpine dish, with its own strong ties to Switzerland, one just can’t plan a meal of it without considering the iconic regions hidden in that little mountain border, Jura and Savoie. Jura’s usually quite oxidative, so I’d rather stick with the simpler, continentally acidic and fresh wines of Savoie. The good quality, chasselas based whites are said to have quite the personality, great for matching up to the unique flavor. Most of what we can find in stores, though, are of the more affordable variety, less distinct but very youthful. Again, fresh and acidic, with a simple citrusy palette to cut right through the fatty and cheese profile. As one would expect and hope to drink on a cold night, tired from a day of skiing and sitting by the fire with a hot, comforting dish of melted cheese and potatoes.

Though heck, if you can find a Swiss white wine from Valais (one of their best regions for the typical Chasselas-based drink, and origin of Raclette itself), take the opportunity to marry this fated reunion post-haste.

p1: Aligot

The Dish

With a name reminiscent of an Urban Farm Animal, Aligot originated around 1120(supposedly) in Aubrac Monasteries, which often hosted many Pilgrims passing through on their long journeys; especially come winter. As they knocked on the large wooden doors, the pilgrims would ask the monks for “l’aliquod,” or “Something.”

The practicing monks, looking to conceive from inexpensive ingredients to properly feed and warm them, melted and combined Bread with the Tomme cheese which they made by hand. This simple dish soon became firmly engrained with the Monastery and the region, popularized by the pilgrims who would travel and introduce the dish afar. In the 19th century, the simple bread was replaced with the newly discovered Potato, and a deliciously smooth, rich, and cheesy creation was born. Now much improved, the tradition of Aligot fully cemented itself into Auvergne’s culinary practices, along with catapulting itself up as a French Classic.

enhanced-buzz-8672-1385764619-6Nowadays, though many would argue that it’s served in only one capacity, Aligot can contribute any part of a meal. Some people serve it on the side, some serve it from a booth at a market, and sometimes it’s used as the main meal in social gatherings.

The dish itself, as one would expect, is quite simple. Potatoes are boiled, mashed, and recooked with some form of milk or cream, butter, and a healthy proportion of French cheese, usually a form of Tomme. As it’s stirred, it turns into one of two forms: a silky, ribbony smooth, fondue-like dip of melted potato, or a firm, stretchy cheese-based starch dish. As a kickback to the origins, it is traditionally served with Toasted Bread, and can often be accompanied by a local Sausage on the sideSAMSUNG.

Doesn’t it just sound like the one perfect item in my list of 44 to thus make during the Superbowl? I certainly agreed! Which is why I’m happy to have had an excuse to try it out so early!

A Word On…

Potatoes: Any all-purpose kind of potato can be used (some even use waxy reds), some recipes even apply Yellows and Golds. But typically, various Russets; I wish we could have the selection they do in France and Britain, it’s quite interesting the different qualities their brown potatoes can have. Sadly, it’s a no-go here, so no use even getting into it.

Cheese: There are three classic cheeses in this dish. The main two are Tomme d’Auvergne and Tomme de Laguiole, two wash-rinded grey mold cheeses with soft and meltable funky insides, with a somewhat secondarily used cheese in Cantal. While the first two are quite a bitch, if not almost impossible to find outside of the highly specialized (or some uniquely random) cheese shops, Cantal is more available.
When it comes to Substitutions, which are quite likely to be needed, Cantal is also the easiest; it’s basically just a Mild, French Cheddar with a washed rind. White cheddar is very suitable in its place.

The Tommes are a bit more tricky in finding a “proper” replacement; from my research, they’re both NuttySAMSUNG, with the Auvergne also containing noted Herby and Mushroomy notes. From what I could tell, the closest French cheese in comparison really is another Tomme, specifically the Tomme de Savoie (others ARE notably different), which I acquired. Though I almost think I found an even better cheese in the Italian Quadrello di Bufala (Buffalo Milk for the win!).
Of course, other people have found a bevy of other cheese to use instead, some of my favorite ideas being: Lancashire, Langres, Mont Enebro, Raclette, and last of all Gruyere, which is probably one of the simplest and farthest from original flavors but very easily acquired and approachable for beginners (plus there are many different kinds when you get into it, so one can expand in a fun way). I’ve seen others use Mozzarella and other cheeses, but that’s just getting really cheap and far away from what this recipe IS.SAMSUNG

When it comes down to the final decision, I love the idea and suggest using a Blend of two of one of three styles. A Cantal, or similarly mild and developed Cheddar; a Tomme or other washed rind; or, an interesting shared trait among some of the other replacements, a kind of Creamy Goat Cheese, preferably with some ageing and/or development. All in all, depends on what flavors one prefers and can get their hands on.

Milk: This seems to differ a lot; some recipes use all whole milk, some use Crème Fraiche, and some heavy cream; then there’s some that didn’t have anything at all besides butter and cheese. I would originally say Crème Fraiche is traditional, but I’m not fully sure, and either way I didn’t have the time I wanted to make it myself so I can’t properly test. Heavy Cream initially stood out too, but for once I actually felt like the simple flavors of warmed milk felt more right than simply fatty cream. At the moment, I’d say it all depends on what you want to do, or what particular online recipe you want to follow. I ultimately decided to just use the rest of some leftover Cream we had in the fridge mixed with Milk.

Boiling: practically all recipes call for boiling the potatoes, but I found one that steamed them instead. Intrigued, I thought I’d try it myself for fun as a more delicate, softer way to cook the tubers. And it seems I may have been right. But either method is fine really; I just like the idea of the second (think I’ll use it a bit more often for other interesting things!).

Proportions and Consistency: So, I’ve seen Aligots with no milk and huge amounts of butter, just cheese, large amounts of cream with only half-ish the amount of cheese, more median percentages of each, etc. With that, as mentioned in Milk, it’s hard to tell not only what’s traditional, but which variations should be used to get that perfect, unique “Aligot consistency.” If I were to haphazard a guess as to the most classic, I’d say it’d be using smaller amounts of thick, flavor crème fraiche and thus loading up on EITHER Butter (for smooth and drippy) or Cheese (for extremely stretchy).

2 lbs Russet Potatoes, Peeled
2 Garlic Cloves, crushed
1 cup Whole Milk
¼ cup Heavy Cream
4 Tb (1/2 stick) Butter, cubed and Chilled
6-8oz Tomme de Savoie
6-8oz Cantal
Salt n Pepper
Parsley Leaves


  1. Cut Potatoes into even size pieces, Steam cook with a sprinkle of Salt until soft throughout, 20-25 minutes.SAMSUNG
  2. While potatoes are steaming, combine Milk, Cream, and Garlic in a pan on Low/Warm heat to warm up and infuse the aromatic flavors.SAMSUNG
  3. Similarly, take your chosen Cheeses and Shred Finely, taking care to not include any of the firm, funky rind (you can save that for yourself 😉 ). Reserve.SAMSUNG
  4. Transfer cooked potatoes to a strainer to ensure any vestiges of water drain out; supposedly one should cover with a towel to absorb the steam. Not sure if it’s really useful, but doesn’t hurt.SAMSUNG
  5. Mash or Rice potatoes back into the warm (and drained) cooking pot.
  6. Fold in chilled Butter, melting.SAMSUNG
  7. Move to Medium-low heat, stir in warmed milk mixture until smooth.SAMSUNG
  8. Add in shredded cheese, first a small amount and then more as it melts, continuing to stir, heat, and mix until all of it’s added and the potato-cheese mixture changes texture, turning Smooth and Stringy.SAMSUNG
  9. Transfer to serving container, garnishing with sprinkles of Chopped Parsley and Ground Pepper.SAMSUNG
  10. Serve immediately alongside Grilled Baguette and possibly Sausage if desired.

The Verdict

Best. Cheesy Potatoes. Ever. Just so smooth, and soft, with what ended up a delicate and gentle undertone of the uniquely French cheeses. And it was just so interesting eating the fluffy white starch on top of crispy, charred baguette, but with its notable departure between mashed potatoes and dip it worked. Not to mention it’s nice having the textural difference, even if Atkins is likely to hunt me down in the coming weeks… I’m scared…

Sadly, I don’t feel I was able to reproduce this dish properly; or at least, not in the version that I wanted. It was never able to get to that almost fondue-like velvety nature which I was looking for. Which, as mentioned earlier, may have been due to improper dairy proportions; I definitely wish I had more cheese to add in, looking back at recipes showed much higher amounts of the aged curds than what I had on hand.

I’m starting to consider that part of my issue in trying to find that perfectly svelt, ribbony melted consistency might also have lied in the fact that I chose to RICE my potatoes over simply Mashing them. Though normally it helps in creating smooth, evenly textured mashed potatoes, it also “fluffs them up,” adding air or something to increase the volume and change the consistency. For this purpose, it may have been better to leave them dense and compacted; as one is supposed to “cook” it in the pot for a while, constantly stirring with the cheese and milk, it would have probably smoothed out anyways. But, that’s something to note for another time; I’m still quite happy with the other traditional version of Aligot that I ended up with.

Plus, the leftovers are AMAZING! I swear, this is the only kind of mashed potato that I’ve ever enjoyed eating while cold (well except for my Mom’s Cheesy Potatoes, but that’s sorta different). But what’s truly remarkable is that the delicate, subtle cheese flavors come out even more noticeably after it’s sat for a bit. I still have yet to reheat it traditionally to enjoy the rest.

Speaking of which, it’d probably be great to use for making Croquettes much in the same way as these.

Primary Pairing – Jura Blanc

Though it’s traditionally served with Red Wine from the Auvergne region (which I have absolutely no clue as to where to start looking to find), and despite the fun cliché of pairing alongside the similarly sounding Aligoté from Burgundy, after seeing this recipe I just couldn’t help but to crave something from Jura! For those as yet unaware, as it’s truly not the most known of regions unless one really gets into French regions, the small area is located just East of Burgundy, nestled into the mountain ranges and plains between it and Switzerland. It’s nowhere near the Massif Central (where Auvergne’s located), but they’re both in the Alps so why the heck not?
What really makes Jura wine fun is the subtle veining of oxidation which the region’s grown up applying, creating very unique aromas and flavor palettes. Not to mention the use of purely unique regional grapes like Jacquere, a relative to Gewurztraminer, and the super light red Poulsard, which makes the perfect pairing when eating Aligot with a rich, tenderly chewy sausage.

I don’t know where the hell Buzzfeed got the idea to pair this dish (which had no mention of sausage in their post) with a Cabernet Sauv. Please, I beg people, do NOT attempt this. Truly pairing Wine and Cheese is a difficult and complex process, and almost always exclusive to White wine. The oft un-thought aspects of saltiness (which EVER cheese is exposed to, sometimes more noticeably than others) and the cheese’s unique rich, heavy, almost chalky fat composition will just play havoc with multiple compounds and flavor elements in wine. This is especially true with Tannins (and many other things, but for simple purposes we’ll stick with just this), interacting to turn flavors bitter and exemplify the more unpleasant mouthfeels of the wine and starchy-moldy cheese constructs. At the end of the day, Cab Sauv is one of the WORST wines to pair with a cheese dish unless you know what you’re doing (there ARE some hard, firm aged cheeses that hold less of these dangerous qualities and can meld well with the bigger flavors).

Now, of course, cooking and melting cheeses in dishes like this can severely reduce their overall impact, but it’s something that should still be considered. Especially since this dish has absolutely no firm, meaty texture to justify the need for a red wine; it’s mashed potatoes on bread, I mean seriously. Having a wine with fresh, gripping acidity from a cool climate like Jura is perfect for cutting through any vestiges of cream and fat. Not to mention bringing in the light twist of lightly salty oxidation to match and bring out the nutty French flavors of the cheese. Finally, I like to think the overall simple dish is a great accompaniment to let the rare wine shine fully. Which is what you really want; they aren’t found at most stores, and they’re a bit higher on the spending list; minimum $25-ish (which is what I had to get).

For a more affordable wine in the same spirit, Abymes de Savoie (a region close by, noticeably different but still fresh, light, and able to pair nicely) is notably more affordable.

My Bottle: DomaSAMSUNGine de l’Aigle a Deux Tetes, Cotes du Jura “En Griffez” (Chardonnay)

I’m… not really much of a chardonnay person; maybe it’s from the whole global popularization, various “wine lovers” who only drink Chardonnay and Cabernet, etc. But this one, this one I’ve liked since I first smelled it in class over half a year ago. It’s just so…. “Jura.”

The very first thing one notices is the familiar notes of the toasted, creamy barrel, or maybe it’s the buttery notes of malolactic fermentation… but different. There’s more of the raw nuts,SAMSUNG maybe some of that popcorn kernels, and of course that unique yeastiness and oxidation reminiscent of sherry, but much lighter. Despite the distinct presence, which again goes so nicely with the particular cheesy notes, the wine is still full and bright with the fresh fruit and mineral qualities of un-barreled styles. It’s such a great mouthful to enjoy along with the grilled bread and full, creamy starch. Not to mention the light oxidation, and possible skin contact, could help it to stand up to the texture of the traditional meat.
Oh, btw, this bottle comes with a wax covering. Fair warning. It’s quite messy to open; I do normally have a trick for it, basically just ignore the “cutting” phase and stick the corkscrew straight in, twisting and carefully pull. Most Wax tops just pop off in an almost-clean circle. This one decided it didn’t want to do that, the wax felt a little more firm and crisp than others. So be prepared to clean up.
Secondary Pairing – Normandy or other French Cider

Mmmm, so yum, I love using a nice dry or barely off-dry cider in place of whites, SAMSUNGespecially with meals that contain those sorta-iffy, unsure qualities (bit of salty, sweet, spicy, very sour, or whatever). They’re fresh, obviously fruity; like having the traditionally accompanying fruit plate directly in the glass. And the fun little sparkle from the carbonation to bring its fullness up to match the body and any light textures.

I actually had a Pear Cider at the superbowl party too, so I was able to test out the pairing myself! It definitely came through; I really love that light musky, or possible yeasty, flavors from the bittersweet fruit used in conjunction with the subtly unctuous Tomme de Savoie. Plus it feels more suitable to slam down during the festivities as opposed to a nice wine.