When I was a kid, I went to Europe with my high school French class. For one week, we lived with a family in Aix-en-Provence. It is amazing how close you can get to a host family in a week. I was very sad to leave them, as were my classmates with their host families.
(Side note: If you're a normal, awesome American family - please volunteer to host Exchange students. It means the world to kids! I still, 8 billion years later, have fond memories of my one week with a host family.)
Our next leg would be a long train ride that seemed like it took days to get to Geneva, Switzerland. Unfortunately after the train journey, they put us directly on a two hour tour bus. God forbid we stretch our legs! We were only staying overnight in Switzerland and then flying back to the States the next day.
After spending 902 hours on a train, a two hour "trapped in a bus" tour was not what any of us wanted. Our tour guide knew we were leaving the next day, so with every monument she pointed out she said "If you ever get back here, you'll have to check this out." It was six years before I returned to Geneva. No tour buses for me for that trip!
After the long train ride and the tour bus ride, we were next deposited at some chateau-like place with basically every school group in the world. We stood in line for what felt like seven months. At the end of the line we were given one half-melty piece of cheese, 3 small boiled potatoes and a gherkin pickle (actually a cornichon but I was 13 years old and had no idea what a cornichon was!)
After 30,247 hours trapped on mass transit, my schoolmates and I could not believe our dinner was a piece of cheese, 3 tiny potatoes and the tiniest pickle.
This, ladies and gentlemen, was my introduction to the Swiss traditional meal of raclette.
For those not already familiar, raclette is basically melty cheese. Its origins supposedly came from some Swiss guy who left his big wheel of cheese too close to the fire. He cut off the melty bits and ate it with meats, boiled potatoes and bread. Voila - a food tradition was born. Usually raclette is always served with boiled potatoes, cornichons and pickled baby onions.
Raclette differs from fondue in that you have melty slices of cheese versus a big pot of molten cheese.
If you go on YouTube, there are several videos of happy Swiss and French students having raclette parties in their meager apartments. I swear Europeans can make any simple meal look like the best party ever!
My family later lived in Zurich and had their own favorite raclette restaurant. It was very good and each person received their own insulated mini sack of boiled potatoes for their raclette. I personally cannot get enough of Swiss rosti (Swiss Hash Browns). I don't think I ever met a potato I didn't love at first sight!
Because I am addicted to buying kitchen gadgets that I then almost never use (I'm looking at you Hong Kong "Egg Waffle" Maker!), I purchased the Swissmar Swivel 8 Person Raclette Maker. I have wanted a raclette maker for quite sometime now.
Could I put a frying pan on low and achieve the same melty cheese result? Well yeah, probably. But click here to see my beautiful raclette maker! It has a cooking stone, a grill plate and eight raclette cheese trays for melting! AND IT SWIVELS!
Can you tell I am enamored by gadgets? I needed a raclette maker so I could be the Tampa Bay raclette queen! However now I needed some cheese!
Traditional "raclette cheese" is a semi-firm cow's milk cheese, that reminds me of a mild, soft Emmentaler. You can order it online and many of the larger cheese shops carry it. However Trader Joe's has a nifty raclette pack of pre-sliced raclette cheese that fits my raclette cheese melting trays perfectly. No hassle, no fuss, simply easy! I love Trader Joe's!
But for my dinner party, I knew not all of my guests would enjoy the flavor of the raclette cheese so I wanted to have a variety of cheeses they could melt. After all this is Florida, not Switzerland - we're allowed to break some traditional raclette rules. (Don't tell the Swiss that we melted an aged habanero cheddar - AND IT WAS TERRIFIC! We also had boiled purple Peruvian potatoes - we're breaking all the rules here!)
When I went to Trader Joe's to pick up the raclette - I noticed a rectangle of brie in the cheese section. SQUARE BRIE? What the heck? Did I fall into bizarro world? Brie is ROUND not in a rectangular block. But then I realized square brie would fit my raclette melting trays … a-ha! Perhaps there was genius in this odd shape, after all!
My dinner party was a HUGE success. My friends had never heard of raclette and were eager to try "as long as it isn't something like haggis" they warned.
I will be having another raclette dinner party this summer so that I can say "see, I needed this expensive raclette maker - I have used it twice!"
(Confession: To be even more ridiculous, not only did I buy the swivel-tastic raclette maker for 8, I bought the mini raclette maker for two for when I am just making raclette for myself or myself and a friend and I don't want to bust out the big raclette maker. I am considering using the mini raclette maker as a seduction tool. "Hey there, tall dark and handsome - do you want to come back to my place for some melty cheese?" I'll be the talk of the town!)
To sum up - Trader Joe's Slicing Brie Cheese is delicious and in a versatile shape. And I need to keep my credit card away from kitchen gadget stores.
What is your favorite cheese from Trader Joe's? Mine is their Unexpected Cheddar. Tell me your favorite in the comments section below.