“Raclette” means to rake or scrape in French. It is technically not a type of cheese.
A shorthand has developed, however, naming both a cheese and the dish itself after the process of serving it. Go figure.
Think if all grating cheese, were called “Grating” (instead of the actual name of the cheese — Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano, etc.) and you’ll get the idea.
The process of making raclette involves big wheels of the right cheese, a method for heating it up on the cut side only, and then taking it off the fire at just the right moment before scraping all that melted goodness onto individual plates.
As explained to us by Arturo Chardon, maitre d’ extraordinare at Wally’s Desert Turtle in Palm Springs, California, two of the best types of Swiss cheeses for making raclette are Bagnes and aged Val da Divierne (sic) — the former an industrial cow’s milk cheese, the latter, made solely from pasture and hay-fed animals (giving it a more intense, of-the-earth quality). The fact that he brings wheels of both back from his homeland (Switzerland) for melting and scraping purposes, shows how dedicated he is to enjoying the real thing when things get nippy.
To make it properly, it is essential to have either a roaring fire going (and a giant metal gizmo to hold the cheese), or an electric raclette maker. Failing those, ELV suggests wrangling an invitation to Denise Valdez and Eric Villareale’s house, and letting Mon. Chardon (DV’s Dad), do his thing.
Served over bread or sliced potatoes, with a healthy dose of cracked pepper, pickled onions and gherkins or cornichons, there is no better winter weather food on earth.