Raclette cheese is a Swiss semi-firm cows-milk cheese which is most famously used to make a Franco-Swiss dish which also goes by the name “raclette.” Although this cheese originated in Switzerland, it is also made in France, and some American dairies produce their own version of raclette cheese as well. Good raclette cheese is mild, creamy, and slightly nutty, and it is ideally suited for melting; if you have trouble tracking down raclette, you can try using Emmentaler or Jarlsberg cheeses, both of which are usually easy to obtain.
This cheese was developed in the Alps, the home of a number of rich, creamy cheeses created from the summer and early fall milk of cows with naturally high butterfat. Like most cheeses, raclette cheese is made by curdling milk, straining the curds, packing them into rounds, and then aging the cheese in controlled conditions; raclette can be sold as young as three months old, although many people prefer cheese which is a bit older.
When raclette cheese has been handled well at the creamery, it will have a dark beige rind, and the interior of the cheese should be creamy, without a granular texture. This cheese is typically sold in large rounds, and your cheese shop should be happy to cut a sample for you to taste before purchasing a wedge. The flavor is very heavy on cream, and the cheese may also be seasoned with herbs, white wine, or pepper, and sometimes smoked.
While one could use raclette cheese in an assortment of ways, the classic use of this cheese involves melting it and serving it with boiled new potatoes, pickled onions, an assortment of sliced meats, and vegetables. While fondue is probably the more famous Swiss dish, raclette is actually more popular than fondue in many parts of Switzerland, and in fact this dish inspired the name of the cheese: “raclette” comes from the French racler, “to scrape,” a reference to the fact that the melted cheese must be scraped from a grill or hearthstone onto the plate of the diner.
Raclette can also be melted in an assortment of dishes, including fondue, and it may be eaten plain. The creamy, mild taste pairs well with an assortment of things, making this cheese good for quick snacks or an after-dinner cheese platter. Many people also enjoy making grilled cheese sandwiches with raclette; paired with a salty preserved meat like prosciutto or salami, a grilled cheese sandwich with raclette can be quite filling.