CHEESE of the MONTH (through October 31)
Spring Brook Farm Reading Raclette $1.50 off/pound
A semi-soft Raclette-style cheese ideally suited for melting over vegetables, bread, or meats, yet it can stand alone on any cheese plate.
Robin Elwood, Guest cheese-blogger
One of the best parts of any given day at the Co-op is talking about cheese. So when Downtown Cheeseboss Stephanie Willard asked me to write a few words about Raclette, I was immediately enthusiastic. Unfortunately, I’d never tried it, so I had to ask her a few questions.
“Cheese can be just as seasonal as fruits or vegetables,” she said. “Raclette is definitely a fall and winter cheese; it’s comforting and warm and gooey. In cold weather, you melt it almost like a fondue, and eat it with bread and vegetables.”
She went on to say that Raclette is a soft cow’s milk cheese, aged at least 2 months.
Both the Cordata and Downtown stores carry an imported traditional Raclette. Solaipro Raclette Latte Cru can be described as dense and compact, yet supple, and is about 45% milk fat. As tradition dictates, it is also a little bit stinky. Recently, both stores also picked up an artisanal domestic Raclette-style cheese from Spring Brook Farm in Vermont. Reading Raclette is not only true to tradition, it is produced by the “Farms for City Kids” program which provides hands-on farming programs where urban youth explore new dimensions of learning as academics are integrated into everyday farm activities that practice and teach sustainability.
The name Raclette comes from the French verb Racler, meaning “to scrape.” That’s a traditional way to eat it; melting it as you go, and scraping the melted parts onto whatever you are eating.
Steph told me that she and some friends were going to make a meal of Raclette that evening. In the meantime, she suggested I ask Downtown deli cook Paul Manthe about Raclette’s history. Paul’s family came from Switzerland, and he seems to know most things about food. He also happens to have a great sense of humor. Here are his thoughts:
“Raclette was originally a cow-herders dish. Basically, it consisted of breaking open a wheel of cheese, partially melting it over an open fire, and scraping up the melted cheese with whatever you had; bread chunks, potato slices, polenta, pickles, cured meats, whatever. Like most Swiss cow-herder dishes, it’s just some stuff that’s left over, and you make the best of it. These days, they also sell little burner apparatuses and spirit lamps, so you can serve it individually, but that’s for non-Swiss and soft flatlanders. Real Swiss hold it over the fire with their hand until it’s very soft, (the cheese, not the hand), scrape the cheese off onto a plate with a knife, and eat it.”
A few days later, I asked Stephanie about her Racclette dinner party.
“It was really amazing!” she said. “At room temperature, it’s a fairly tangy, ‘stinky’ cheese. Roasting it, it suddenly becomes buttery, salty, and gloriously creamy. It goes great with everything.”
Steph melted the cheese by putting it in a small cast-iron skillet and baking it in a fairly hot oven. When it became soft and began to bubble at the edges, she took it to the table, where hungry guests and a variety of crudités waited. They dipped into it with cauliflower, bread, potatoes, and Brussels sprouts.
I asked Steph how Raclette held up as leftovers. Was it still great reheated?
“Tragically, it was really fabulous, and we ate WAY too much of it,” she lamented. “There were no leftovers, so we just don’t know.” Luckily, both cheese departments slice the wheels up and sell it by the pound, so if you’d like to make your own experiment with alpine cheese, you know where to go.