Melt for Raclette: Throw a Raclette Dinner Party

Raclette is a hearty dish, meant to be enjoyed after a day on the Alps slopes. Even without the skiing, it’s a fun meal to share with friends and requires very little actual cooking. That makes it ideal for the busy hostess, so I love hosting raclette dinner parties in the winter.

raclette, raclette cheese, cheese,

If you don’t already know raclette, let me introduce you to one of Switzerland’s signature dish.

Raclette is four things really:

  • A pungent washed rind cows milk cheese.
  • The dish you make with that cheese.
  • The grill you use to melt the raclette (cheese) for the raclette (dish).
  • The dinner party where people get together to eat the raclette (dish) made by melting raclette (cheese) on the raclette (grill).

Are you still following me? lol

It’s actually a very simple dish with humble origins. Like its melted cheese cousin fondue, raclette came about as a way to finish dried old cheese and already opened wine. In fondue, the cheese is melted in a pot (fondue comes from the French word fondre which means to melt) and eaten with bread. In Raclette, slices of cheese are melted in a little pan under a table side grill then scraped (raclette gets its name from the French word for scrape: racler) over warm potatoes and cold cut meats. In the United States, raclette isn’t so popular. It’s a lot easier to find the cheese and pot for fondue than the grill for raclette. I got my raclette grill off our Williams and Sonoma wedding registry though you can find more affordable options on Amazon (this 4 person grill is pretty convenient for your every day raclette needs). As for the cheese, you can occasionally find some at Righteous Cheese, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.

Raclette is traditionally served with a simple tossed salad, boiled potatoes, cornichons, cured meats and dry white wine. For starch adverse guests, you can substitute the potatoes with artichoke hearts. Raclette is a communal dish and all the host or hostess really needs to do ahead of time is boil the potatoes and prepare the salad. The cold cuts (getting a variety gives your guests more options) and slices of cheese should be arranged on serving plates too. After that, each dinner party guest just melts his or her own slices of cheese using the small coupelles of the raclette grill then scrapes the runny raclette over a boiled potato topped with prosciutto (my fave!) or turkey meat.

Scrape the melted cheese from the grilled and brown surface of the cheese that’s been exposed to heat and eat this melting bit of cheese with a bite of the potatoes.

For pairing, dry white wine is typically what you would serve with Raclette, like an Alsatian pinot gris or a Sauvignon Blanc. At the recommendation of the folks at Modern Liquor, I recently tried a light Austrian red with my Raclette and it worked out really well. Dry sparkling wine works really well too.

A version of this post appeared in Borderstan back in February 2013.

Meet Mimo, the Cheesy Jack O’Lantern

Last year, mimolette gave me quite a scare when it looked like its sale was going to be banned in the US because of some microscopic mite on its rind. Well, mimolette is back without mite this time and it wants to be part of your HalloweenMimolette celebrations.

Afterall, mimolette is round and orange, so it’s definitely a great alternative to a pumpkin for a Jack o’lantern and the French Cheese Board, the home of all things French cheese in New York city, is showcasing mimolette from October 23 to November 7 at their HQ at 26 West 39th Street. Conveniently enough, I will be in New York to cheer for a French friend running the New York marathon… looks like I’ll be meeting you soon mimo!

 

The White House Says Cheese (Virtual Cheese)

Have a question about cheese? You’re in luck: tomorrow, the White House is hosting its first (Virtual) Big Block of Cheese Day, inspired by Andrew Jackson … and the West Wing. And while one could think this would just be a way for the White House to get in the mood to host the (newly single) French president who’s coming to town in a few weeks, the Virtual Big Block of Cheese Day actually has very little to do with cheese. Womp, womp.

White House Virtual Big Block of Cheese Day

According to the White House statement, the original “Big Block of Cheese Day opened the doors of the White House to thousands of citizens to interact with cabinet members and White House staff – and carve off a slice of the four foot by two foot thick slab of cheddar.” This time around, there won’t be any *real* cheddar, though if you ask me, cheddar isn’t real cheese either… I do hear there’ll be some space cheese though…intriguing… I guess.

Instead, on Wednesday, the day after President Obama delivers his State of the Union speech, officials will be answering social media (Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Google+) throughout the day. Again, womp womp. Though trust me, I’ll be asking some hard (cheese) questions using the hashtag  #AsktheWH. Like, about what kind of cheese they’re going to serve during the State dinner honouring the republic of 246 cheese. Or about why I can’t buy mimolette in the US anymore 😉

Joyeuse journée du sandwich au fromage fondu!

I don’t know if there really is a word in French for grilled cheese sandwich… but in honour of National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day here in the U.S. (yes, there is such a thing…) I thought I would pay homage to my favourite grilled cheese sandwich of all: the croque monsieur.
croc monsieur, french grilled cheese, croque monsieur
Croque Monsieurs are classic items on the menus of French bistros and cafés. Croque means to crunch or bite and monsieur means sir so the “crunchy mister” is basically our version of the grilled cheese, typically made with ham and emmental, though the best one in my opinions also have béchamel. A more elaborate version, the croque madame, adds a fried egg on top. I’ve used this recipe to make it at home, but most of the time, I just enjoy having someone else make it for me, so I can enjoy it with a glass of rosé on the side, outside at a terrace. My two favourite here in D.C. are Brasserie Beck’s (you have the option of adding the egg on top for an additional $2 and it comes with the restaurant’s wonderful frites and colourful mayonnaises) and Poste’s Mister Crunchy and Miss Crunchy. Actual names on the menu 😉
Have a wonderful (and hopefully very cheesy) national grilled cheese sandwich day!

Fromage Friday – Cheese Plate at The Hamilton

Cheese may not be the first item you would think about ordering from The Hamilton‘s menu. The Clyde’s group new venue may attract dinner to its 12-seats sushi bar where former Zentan chef Jason Zheng is serving original rolls like the salmon lover roll (with roasted tomatoes and kiwi). Or they might gravitate towards one of the huge restaurant’s 5 bars where the staff whips out some tasty artisanal cocktails – my favourite so far was the Aaron Burr with Leopold Gin, but I haven’t make my way through the whole list quite yet 😉 The late-night bites, like the burgers or the flat iron steak poutine, I’m sure, will also be hugely popular since the new 14th & F space is planning on staying open 24 hours a day (yes, 24!!). But on my last visit to The Hamilton on December 21st for their inaugural live performance in the huge concert space downstairs I decided to give the cheese plate a try and ordered the 5th Beatle cheese plate ($23).

Nancy’s Hudson Valley Camembert ~ this creamy, soft-ripened cheese was probably my favourite on the plate. It’s melt in your mouth smooth with the just the right buttery texture from the triple cream. It’s made with both goats (East Fresian ewes if you must know) and hormone free cows’ milk.  
Point Reyes Original Blue ~ I love this company’s advertisement that their blue cheese is now green! Their herd of Holstein cows graze certified organic, green pastured hills overlooking Tomales Bay, in Point Reyes, California, which sounds absolutely lovely. They breeze a salty Pacific breeze which may, or may not, account for the full flavour of their blue cheese. I also really liked this cheese, which is milder than most blue cheese, but perfect for me, because I don’t actually love blue cheese.
SeaHive, Barely Buzzed ~ I love creamy cheeses, so it was highly unlikely that this full bodied award winning Utah hand-make block of cheese would schave me buzzing, but I did like it. Its flavours are pretty complex, maybe because it’s apparently hand rubbed with Turkish grind of Colorado Legacy Coffee Company’s “Beehive blend” mixed in with French superior lavender buds.
Cave Aged Marisa, Carr Valley ~ again, I like the creamy cheeses better, but I did appreciate the complex sweet earthuness of this Wisconsin sheep milk cheese. Aged for six months in an open air cave, it’s got a salty taste balanced by a high butterfat content 9which might be why I enjoyed it!)
Grayson, Meadow Creek ~ this local (yeah Virginia!) wash-rind cheese is very flavourful, with solid earthy undertone. I personally really liked it, but if you like a milder cheese, it’s probably not your best choice.
There’s a couple of other cheeses on the menu that weren’t available on this platter. If I had to order cheese at The Hamilton again, I would order the ones I haven’t tried (obviously) but also the Three Dog Night ($13) platter which had just my favourites on it: the camembert, the blue cheese and the SeaHive. The Mohogany bars at The Hamilton would make the perfect setting for a glass of wine and a little cheese at the end of a long day at work! Or at any time of day… even 3 am 😉

Fromage Friday: Brookville Supermarket

Brookville is a great neighbourhood supermarket serving the Cleveland Park community. It’s small, but carries all the essentials that you might need and prices aren’t too inflated. It even has a great meat section, with duck confit and duck bacon from D’Artagnan or marrow bones, kosher food and a great little cheese selection.  I actually had a hard time limiting myself to 4 cheeses, but here is what I selected there:



Champignon German Brie with Mushrooms ($5.98) is a double cream, soft-ripened cheese enhanced by the addition of handpicked mushrooms. There’s a reason Germany isn’t known for its cheeses. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a perfectly fine piece of cheese and it’s not too expensive so I can see adding it to a large cheese tray for a wine and cheese party. Its “mushroomy” flavour is supposed to develop as it ripens so maybe I just need to wait a little longer because right now, it’s kind of just bland…

Cypress Grove Chevre Humboldt Fog $7.20 – This California aged goat cheese isn’t cheap, but it is worth it!! It’s a beautiful lusciously creamy cheese, with a distinctive ribbon of organic vegetable ash running through the center. Humbolt Fog is a rather complex cheese, with flavours ranging from a mild center to a more distinctively goaty rind. Like many goat cheeses, it pairs well with white wines like Sauvignon Bland. I would recommend taking it out of the fridge at least a few hours before serving.  

Chaumes Soft Riped Cheese $5.67 – In my Trader Joes Fromage Friday, I tried the Port Salut, a semi-soft cheese made from cow’s milk with a distinctive orange crust and a mild flavour. Chaumes is a similar cheese, also characterized by a mild flavour and a distinctive orange crust. This orange crust creates a noticeable aroma, which makes Chaumes the perfect introduction to France’s smelly cheeses. It stronger (and more pungent) than Port Salut but smells like roses compared to Munster 😉 I personally don’t love its rubbery texture but it’s a very popular cheese in France and it adds a little colour on a cheese plate.

Bucheron Soignon  ($3.24) is a semi-aged goat cheese from the Loire Vallee. It is produced in short logs (hence the name: une bûche is a log, un bûcheron is a lumberjack) that are sliced and sold in smaller rounds. With bucherons, you almost get two cheeses within one: the center is creamy and mild while the edge near the rind is harder tangier and more complex that your average goat cheese. The rind is definitely on the salty side and melts very well in an omelette, while the center is perfect crumbled in a salad. All around, a great (and affordable) cheese!

Fromage Friday – Trader Joe’s

This week’s fromage Friday is brought to you by Trader Joe’s in the West End. Trader Joe’s actually has a good selection of cheeses at affordable prices (the boursin there also retails for $3.49, one of the cheapest price in the city), including their own store brand. Here’s the cheese tray I came up with after my trip to TJ:



Saint André $4.20 – If you’re calorie conscious this triple cream cheese with 75% butterfat is probably not for you! Saint André is a soft-ripened cheese in the tradition of brie and camembert made from cow’s milk and enriched with pure cream. It’s 50% richer than the average camembert but has a similar mild taste, with a whipped yet buttery texture. The rind is edible but may be a little too tangy for some. It also gets tangier as the cheese ages.

Trader Joe’s Cambozola $4.20 – I’m not a big blue cheese eater so Cambozola, a triple cream cross between Camembert and Gorgonzola is the perfect compromise for me. This soft ripened blue cheese, often marketed as the “blue brie,” is a cow’s milk combining a french soft-ripened triple cream cheese and Italian Gorgonzola. It has the best of both cheese: the sharpness of blue cheese and the moist, rich creaminess of Camembert. I’m a big fan!


French Abbaye Ste. Mère $4.03 – This Trappist cheese, made by the sisters of the Abbaye de Belval, is not the faint of heart. Aged for at least 60 days, this soft pressed, uncooked cheese made from Normandy milk, has a zingy, pungent and aromatic taste, a yellow-ish color and a solid, semi-soft texture. It has a distinctive aroma and a salty taste that’s not for everyone.


Port Salut $4.37 – Another Trappist cheese, this one from Mayenne, in the Loire region. Port Salut is a semi-soft cheese made from cow’s milk with a distinctive orange crust and a mild flavour. It’s supposed to have a strong smell, though the one I bought from Trader Joe’s just made me think of creamier Babybel, with an almost plastic texture and very little smell. I would recommend Port Salut for those looking for a mild cheese. 


Trader Joe’s Goat Milk Brie $2.49 – You can’t beat the price of this cheese, but you could probably find a similar cheese with more flavour and creaminess. I found this cheese worked perfectly melted in an omelette but didn’t really bring much to my cheese plate. When I think of brie, goat or regular, I expect a certain run-iness that this cheese completely lacked. Still, it’s very affordable, and I could see it be quite pleasing for american palates when mixed on a cheese plate. 


Stay tuned for Cowgirl Creamery next week!

French Fridays with Dorie: Gougères

I love reading stories written by Americans living in Paris. I miss my hometown so I devour blogs like David Lebovitz or Lost in Cheeseland. Their expatriate experience in the City of Light just seems a lot more exciting than mine here in DC. I mean, Washington is great and all, but it’s no Paris.

One of the expat I am most envious of is Dorie Greenspan. Not only does she get to live a fabulous life in the 6th arrondissement, but she also gets to co-author books with some of my culinary idols like Daniel Boulud or Pierre Herme. So I got to go to the West Wing once and saw the Oval Office… big deal!! She authored not just one but two books with the king of pastry himself. I’m officially envious! So when I heard that she was starting an online cook-along book club for her latest cookbook Around My French Table, I thought i’d try it out. The concept for French Fridays with Dorie is simple: she picks a recipe from her book, we cook it then blog post about it.

To start us off, Dorie selected the first recipe from the nibbles and hors d’oeuvres section of the book: cougères. Gougères are basically tasty bite-sized cheese puffs that a French hostess might serve to her guests during l’aperetif. They’re actually a lot easier to make than to pronounce and Dorie’s recipe is pretty straighforward. Nonetheless, I was very excited that this was the first dish that I would get to make for French Friday because I actually took a cooking class at Adour 2 years ago where I learned to perfect my gougères-making skills.

Chef Bendano of Adour pipes his gougeres onto parchment paper, but you can just spoon them out.
I made a few minor changes from Dorie’s original recipe, mainly reserving some of the gruyère to sprinkle on the dough right before putting it into the oven to add a little crunchy cheesiness to the puffs.  I also sprinkled the choux with coarse salt while they are still warm. Finally, Dorie recommends serving the gougeres, still warm, with a glass of champagne. That’s actually a great pairing but since gougères are originally from Burgundy, I always like to serve them with another regional specialty: chablis.
My cougeres, with a little extra cheese and some sea salt, came out beautifully!

 

With chablis or champagne, extra cheese, salt or just plain, I hope you will enjoy the gougères!

Bon vendredi et surtout bon appétit!