It seems strange, to use the article die for Raclette, though two sources I’ve looked at on the web use die. I’ve always used der. However, my trusty Duden insists it can be either die or das (but definitely not der). One of my weakest links in German is articles, I will be the first to admit that. However, usually I know when it’s die or not. It’s usually differentiating between der and das that is difficult for me (I like to blame my family’s Swabian dialect, which tends to use der for a lot of nouns that High German frowns upon). This is why die Raclette is particularly disturbing for me.
Nevertheless, I digress. The point is to tell you a little bit about Raclette (there, we’ll avoid the article completely!). This Swiss dish consists of the eponymous cheese, melted and served with boiled potatoes, dill pickles, pickled onions, and thinly sliced smoked ham. A little googling, and some memories of my family’s Raclette nights (see above), and I came up with the following rough history and explanation of Raclette:
The dish is thought to be as old as 400 years old, and was traditionally invented and eaten in the mountainous French-speaking canton of Wallis (Valais in French, they have to be more distinguished). I say “invented” because it has a unique preparation: originally, one sets an entire chunk of a wheel of Raclette onto a stone slab that is set next to an open pit fire. The cheese will begin to melt, and at that point you scrape off the exposed section and replace the cheese by the fire. Thus the name Raclette, which comes from the French verb to scrape: racler. Because it’s hard to control the heat (you have to switch out the stones when they get too hot) there are many electric machines nowadays to do the work for you. Some simply replace the fire with a heat source, but still require an entire chunk of cheese, and others require slices that are melted in mini pans by a heat source from above. These machines can get really fancy with grills on top to sauté additional vegetables and meats for accompaniment. Raclette didn’t actually become well-known outside of the Valais canton until 1909, at the national Canton Fair, to which the people of Valais brought their favorite food, then called Bratkäse (transl. “fried cheese“). At the fair it was given its more dignified-sounding French name (what’s up with that?) as well as its introduction into international cuisine. Today many Swiss families all over the country, as well as many German families, eat Raclette very regularly. It’s also known in the States, and if you don’t want to invest in one of your very own, you can rent Raclette machines from some gourmet cheese stores in larger cities (St. Louis is an example). The cheese, in small chunks, should be available in any cheese store that rents out machines, but you should also check out the cheese section of Trader Joe’s if there is one in your area.
And now for my own musings: I recall learning in one of my countless German Studies courses in college (perhaps the one in which we had a guest lecturer from Geneva for four weeks?) that Switzerland to this day, mainly in the more traditional, rural areas, is known for its communal cooking. That’s not to say the whole village comes together and cooks. What I mean is that the family, usually an extended family with several generations living in the same house, will eat together at the dinner table, usually all with their own utensils but out of the same serving dish (i.e. no plates of your own). It seems only logical for me then that, along with one of Switzerland’s best products, cheese, we get two incredibly good, communal dishes: Fondue and Raclette. Both of these are really fun family foods, but also great to bring a group of friends together on a cold night. Let’s hope though, that we won’t have too many more cold evenings ahead. Spring is inching its way into the Dresden area slowly, and I hope that it continues to get warmer. But if it doesn’t, perhaps I just might go out and rent one of those machines…
“Raclette und Mehr: Wissenswertes.” URL: http://www.raclette.de/wissen/die_geschichte.php4 [accessed March 27, 2007].
“Der Raclette-Käse – Info.” URL: http://home.balcab.ch/r.l.sperandio/rezept_191.html [accessed March 27, 2007].