References to raclette emerged as early as 1291, while the first mention of a recipe for fondue was found in 1699.
It was only in the beginning of the 20th century that melted cheese garnered a wide audience. A cantonal exhibition was held in 1909, where only the best regional wines were offered, accompanied by melted cheese.
Raclette comes from ‘racler’, a word in the French-Swiss dialect, which means to scrape. It originated in Switzerland, where cow herders took the cheese with them when they were directing cows to or from pastures in the mountains. They would place the cheese next to campfires, and scrape it on top of bread after it had softened enough.
Eating raclette is considered a typical après-ski or post-ski activity. Raclette is also the word used to describe a traditional Swiss meal that's more elaborate than melted cheese. For a traditional raclette, those eating first gather a variety of ingredients onto which the cheese is meant to be scraped. This includes bread, boiled potatoes, different types of ham, and bündnerfleisch, Swiss air-dried beef, which is a local favourite. Cornichon pickles and white onions act as palate cleansers.
Is it important to note that raclette is not fondue. It is even older. References to raclette emerged as early as 1291, while the first mention of a recipe for fondue was found in 1699.
In traditional raclette restaurants in Switzerland, the cheese is prepared with a special heating apparatus, which is designed to hold a half-wheel of cheese. However, it can be made in smaller portions using small frying pans. It’s easy to find raclette sets in stores or online in the US. The back of a knife can be used for scraping the melted cheese, but a special spatula called a ‘raclettemesser’ is preferred.
Original raclette cheese is protected by Appellation d'Origine Protégée, a geographical indication much like PGI, which translates to ‘protected designation of origin’ (AOP is also used for champagne). Only raclette that is made with the raw milk of cows that have grazed in the mountains of Switzerland can be classified as AOP. However, raclette is made all over the world today.
The melted cheese has gone on to become a prominent food trend, especially in Europe, and even in Australia, Canada, and the US. It can be found in Christmas markets and smaller restaurants. Raclette is currently an Instagram sensation and was one of the most Instagrammed foods in Europe in 2018. It’s popularity might be an ode to the idea that it can transport anyone from anywhere in the world to snowy Swiss mountains.