Tuesday, May 21, 2024

How to Host a Melty Cheese-Centric Raclette Party with Charcuterie

This post originally appeared in the December 4, 2023 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors and writers to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.

As a D.C. resident, I’ve wound up with several friends who have spent time living in Europe, specifically Switzerland and Germany. That may be part of why raclette parties have been appearing more frequently in the rotation of gatherings I’ve enjoyed with friends. Like a fondue night, raclette is centered around a particular type of cheese, which home cooks broil for themselves and then scrape over boiled potatoes, pickled vegetables, and cured meats (which can also be heated and crisped on a tabletop grill). It’s a festive and cozy way to celebrate together, particularly in the cooler months, whether you’re ringing in the new year, feting a new baby, or just fueling an annual gathering of friends in the same industry (these are all actual excuses for raclette parties I’ve attended in Washington).

Really the only downside to a raclette party is that not everyone wants to find space in their home for the device needed for raclette (whether it be an elaborate machine that lets you scrape cheese directly atop your potatoes or, more likely, the tabletop grill apparatus that has almost become this century’s fondue set). But one trend I’ve noticed recently has made purchasing the required tools less of a necessity: Cheese shops and bakeries often allow customers to rent a raclette machine for an evening so they don’t have to commit to owning the thing. Another point for dairy.

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Let’s say you’ve secured your machine, whether it be rented or purchased. What’s next? Here are a few tips I’ve gathered from the raclette gatherings I’ve attended over the years.

First and foremost, consider the accompaniments. If you’re an unsure shopper looking to cover your bases, here are your must-have components: raclette cheese, cured meat, boiled potatoes, pickled onions and cornichons, and plenty of bread. Some cheese shops are capitalizing on the growing popularity of raclette by offering specifically curated bundles for purchase, taking out some of the guesswork. From there, you can move on to the nice-to-have portion of your shopping list. Opt for blanched or raw vegetables (think mushrooms, bell peppers, asparagus cut into pieces), cubed ham, or a nice side salad with a punchy vinaigrette dressing. Additional cheeses like Emmental or Gruyere, can bring much-needed variations in texture and flavor to keep your spread from feeling too monotonous. In a similar vein, don’t be afraid to outsource! Taking a more potluck-style approach can save money while introducing variety to whatever you already have onhand or plan to buy yourself.

Then, prepare as much as you can in advance: Pickle or blanch any vegetables you are preparing yourself, cube your ham, slice your cheese into individual portions (and cover it to avoid drying out). Whether you’re baking, boiling, frying, or cooking potatoes another way, make them last so they’re hot right before serving, although some raclette sets come with warming bags to keep the spuds at your preferred temperature.

As you’re getting ready to serve guests, consider where and how you’ll arrange the various ingredients and dishes you have accumulated. I prefer laying things out on a dinner table and allowing everyone to use the machine, rather than arranging a serving station on a kitchen countertop, but here’s the crucial part: Make sure you have an extension cord handy — most raclette sets have tiny cords that likely won’t reach from the table to your wall.

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But people can’t celebrate with cheese alone. For alcoholic drinks, start the occasion with sparkling wines, rose, and crisp whites like German rieslings. European beers are another strong pairing option (talk to your cheese shop and get recommendations for specifics based on what they sell). A batch cocktail is a nice way to start the evening, but think of something lower ABV, like a spritz or punch. A light red like a pinot noir wouldn’t be out of place for later in the evening.

In my experience, people tend to drink a little more than they eat at raclette parties, given it takes a while to prepare each component. Kick things off and prepare everyone’s stomachs for heavier pours with some appetizers, like shrimp cocktail, or other party staples that are low-lift to prepare but still provide some substance. A soup course you can make ahead would also be a nice addition.

Purchase a dessert rather than fussing over making one yourself — maybe a tarte tartin or strudel. Fruits and chocolates are another option.

Despite how reading these tips might feel, throwing a raclette party is a surprisingly low-key and low-stress way to host. It isn’t too often you can have your guests do much of the cooking for themselves.

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