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Just when it seemed possible for me to stop buying any more kitchen gadgets, I sat down to dinner while on vacation in the French Alps and discovered the bliss that is a personal cheese melting tray at a communal dinner. Reader, I give you: the 8-person raclette maker.
If you’re familiar with fondue, think of raclette as its kissing cousin. Still melty cheese, but a little different. Let’s take a step back. The word “raclette” comes from the French word “to scrape.” Raclette comes from a simple meal that shepherds would enjoy in the fields: They’d boil up some potatoes, heat a stone, and melt a bit of the raclette cheese on the hot stone. The melted cheese would then be scraped off and served on top of the potatoes. There are a few different ways to make it, but in this vacation instance, each diner got their own cute little tray that could be loaded with cheese and placed under a heating element until the cheese was melty-perfect and ready to slide off onto our cheese vehicle of choice.
I’d heard of this marvel before, but it wasn’t super high on my radar. That is, until the first night of a culinary tour of the Haute Savoie (that’s the area around Evian, just outside Geneva on the French side of the Alps) this fall. Our leader, Aaron, had lived in this area, and among the delicacies he promised our hungry band of travelers was raclette. (Yes, the term is both the type of cheese, and the gadget that you melt it with.) We ate at the home of one of his friends, and while it was a simple meal in terms of what was on the menu — cheese, charcuterie, boiled potatoes, tomatoes, and salad — it was divine in terms of, well, pouring hot, oozing cheese all over your plate.
The raclette cheese came in a big wheel, which Aaron cut into pieces for us, and we just popped our personal trays into the raclette machine. It delivers a blast of heat that pretty quickly transforms a cold rectangle of cheese into the stuff dreams are made of. Once I was back home, I continued dreaming about that melty, delicious cheese. Once I found out my local cheese shop carried Raclette (both a milder Swiss version and funkier French version, which seems about right, ha!) I had to do it — I had to add just one more gadget to my kitchen lineup.
Raclette is definitely a meal best enjoyed with friends, so we had a few folks over to break in the machine. It made for an easy and interactive dinner party; we provided cheese, boiled potatoes, bread, and cute little colorful cherry tomatoes (Trader Joe’s for the win on those!), while our friends brought a charcuterie plate, French wine, and, veering outside of the traditional accouterments, cookie dough (more on that in a minute!).
I borrowed a cheese wire for slicing from my local cheese shop (I’m very much a regular so the proprietor was more than happy to lend it), but honestly it was just as easy to slice with a knife. Because the raclette machine also has a griddle top, we cooked some veggies in the oven, then kept them warm on top of the griddle. (There are tons of recipes for actually cooking on the griddle, but we were trying to keep things easy.)
And then we went to town melting our cheese. The more wine we drank, the more creative we got, making little open face sandwiches with bread, cheese, and tomatoes. And then it occurred to one of us to PUT COOKIE DOUGH IN THE MACHINE.
I want you to know … it worked! And if baking cookies from your seat at the dining room table is not the greatest dinner party trick ever, well, then I don’t know what is.
It was already worth the storage space that it takes just for the sheer delight of on-demand melting cheese, but the whole cookies-at-the-table part pushed it into must-keep territory. I don’t know why it took me so long to come over to the way of raclette, but now that I’m there, I want everyone to join me.
Have you ever thrown a raclette party at home? Tell us in the comments below!