Second only to fondue parties, raclette dinners are another popular innovation from the Alps. Raclette refers not only to the cheese variety and the tabletop grill used at the dinner parties, but also to the tradition behind the word, which mean "to scrape." The custom once involved scraping the fire-melted tops of cheese wheels onto roasted potatoes at communal gatherings. If you can't find Raclette when a mild meltable cheese is needed, a few others can be substituted.
It's helpful to know why Raclette is prized when you're hunting for substitutions. This semi-firm cow's milk cheese from the Alps region melts to a creamy consistency that's just right for dipping as it is neither clumpy nor runny. The semi-firm, pale yellow cheese's delicate sweet-salty flavor is often paired with new potatoes, bread rounds and sausages -- especially those cooked on top of tabletop raclette grills that feature cheese-melting trays underneath. Raclette cheese is also useful in root vegetable gratins, or to fill baked, stuffed chicken breasts.
Not surprisingly, other semi-firm Swiss cheeses can be used in place of Raclette. Emmental, also known as Bavarian Swiss, is mild, melts well and lends a similar nutty undertone to fondue pots or raclette trays. American Swiss is the domestic version of Emmental, but its flavor is more bland. Likewise, Jarlsberg is the Norwegian model. When intended for use as a dipping cheese, blending any of these Swiss types with a sharper cheese might be preferable to a single-cheese melt.
Alternatives with Attitude
Gruyere, a Raclette alternative also in the semi-firm class, delivers some sharpness as well as meltability. Gouda cheeses are semi-soft types sometimes mentioned as Raclette substitutes. Young Gouda, like Raclette, possesses a delicate nutty taste and meltability. Aged Gouda is more pungent, while smoked Gouda has a definite bite. If you're using Gouda or Gruyere for a raclette dinner or fondue party, a blend of one part Gruyere or Gouda to three parts American Swiss, Jarlsberg or Emmental delivers an optimal balance of taste and meltability.
At first glance, Morbier, a semi-soft cheese, looks like a pungent blue cheese variety because it has a marbled streak at the center resembling blue cheese mold. Instead, it's a streak of ash still included in a nod to its traditional composition. The cheese itself has a mild taste and meltability that makes it a worthy alternative to Raclette. Reblochon, a soft cheese variety, is somewhat like brie, but with less of a musty quality. It can form part of a Raclette substitution blend, but by itself may be too runny for dipping.
- Cook's Thesaurus: Semi-Firm Cheeses
- Cook's Thesaurus: Soft Cheeses
- Cook's Thesaurus: Semi-Soft Cheeses
- Saveur: Potato Rounds Gratinéed with Raclette and Bacon
- Saveur: Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Raclette, Herbs, and Prosciutto
- Fine Cooking: Raclette Party Grill
- Bon Appetite: Four Fondue Recipes
- The Nibble: Cheese Glossary
- Cheese.com: Fromage a Raclette
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