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Last year I went to Switzerland for a conference where I learned about the wonders of Rösti and efficient public transport. But above all, I learned about the Swiss and cheese. I’m always hearing about how Americans are known for putting cheese on everything, but I’m pretty sure the Swiss take the (cheese)cake. They dunk things in cheese (fondue), broil cheese on thin crusts (tarte flambée), and pour melted cheese on bread (Chäsbrätel). What I didn’t get to try when I was there was Raclette, which seems to be the Swiss version of Chinese hot pot. Essentially you have a spread of small boiled potatoes, vegetables, gherkins, pickled onions, and charcuterie and then you pour melted cheese on it right before you eat it. The cheese used is typically a Raclette, though Emmentaler or Gruyere work as well. Traditionally, this was done by the fire. Today, for large groups and restaurants, a wedge is placed over a professional grill such as this and the cheese scraped out onto the plate as it melts with a raclette knife. For home use, you have tabletop grills such as this Swissmar, where each person has an individual tray which holds a slice of cheese under the heating element. One nice feature of these tabletop grills is that while the cheese trays go under the heating element, the top can be used as a grill for cooking things. Like hot pot, Raclette is a relaxed affair where you chat as your cheese melts.

The RoboGourmet is an apartment dweller, so having an 8-person grill seems a bit extravagant and space-consuming. A few months ago, however, Wine.Woot had the Boska Holland Mini-Raclette grill for $20 and I pounced. The Mini-Raclette is a two person grill, though if you are patient or have other dinner items, you could probably use it for four people. It’s fairly well built, being pretty much a heating element, a couple of non-stick trays, and a non-stick top. It comes with a pair of plastic spatulas, which is handy for getting the cheese out of the trays, but being non-stick, the cheese pours out pretty easily. The cord is a bit short, so an extension cord is a good thing to have. Usage is pretty simple – turn on the grill, let it warm up for a few minutes, then place cheese in the trays and pop them under the grill. The cheese melts in a few minutes, and if you wait a bit longer, it even browns nicely. With two people, you can keep a near-constant flow of melted cheese out of this thing if you immediately put more cheese in to melt while you eat. Clean up is a cinch – wipe out the trays, spatulas, and the removable top with a sponge and some soap and quickly run a damp cloth over the exterior of the grill (after you’ve unplugged it and let it cool!).

I’ve used it a few times so far, and it’s pretty tasty. I go with small boiled potatoes (I get a mix of fingerling, red creamer, new potatoes, and purple potatoes) with the skin on, sautéed mushrooms, picked onions, cornichons, and Prosciutto. I typically serve with a sautéed green vegetable and optionally a good crusty bread like my local Acme Bread Company baguettes or bâtards. I have not had this with wine, but I imagine a dry white or a beaujolais, as suggested here, would work nicely.

David Lebovitz’s article on Raclette in Switzerland. <- photos!

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