This year, one of our Portland Picnic Society resolutions was to picnic faithfully each and every month, foul weather be damned. And so, last week, we all gathered indoors for a raclette picnic worshipping that greatest of winter warmers–melted cheese.
Not only is raclette the ultimate crowd pleaser (unless of course it’s a crowd of vegans or the lactose intolerant), it’s ridiculously easy. You do need a raclette machine, and if you can’t get your hands on one like cheesemonger supreme Steve Jones has, get one like ours. They’re about $100 and totally worth it—you will get millions of dollars worth of cheesy good fun out of them.*
The cornerstone of a raclette picnic is, obviously, the cheese. We had 10 girls, and we bought three pounds of cheese at Cheese Bar. It’s important that the cheese is sliced deli-meat-thin so it melts quickly and evenly on the paddle, so ask them to slice it (I can’t promise they will be super excited about this, it takes forever and is annoying, but they did do it…after we begged). The raclette cheese was nearly $20 a pound, which adds up for a large group, so in your invite, ask everyone to bring $5 or so to the picnic, for the cheese fund.
The general principle is that you melt the cheese in the metal paddles, then drape it on absolutely everything in sight. Everyone brought something—we had boiled fingerlings, roasted Brussels sprouts, steamed purple and pale green cauliflower, briny little cornichons, sliced Olympic Provisions Sweetheart ham, Pearl Bakery baguettes, and little bowls of Maldon salt and caraway seeds.
We scattered everything around the table within easy reach, and passed the baguettes around for everyone to tear hunks off of. Picnickers put their choice of accoutrements on the raclette griddle to get them extra toasty, then the cheese fest began. There was cheese dripping absolutely everywhere. It’s very important to remember, as you’re melting a slab in your paddle, to sprinkle it with caraway seeds—they’re addictive.
When we could eat no more cheese (because it was gone, all three pounds of it, in under an hour, which is just one reason I love these girls so much), Maurice proprietress/pastry chef Kristen Murray brought out dessert—a platter of her divine homemade pistachio pear tarts.
If homemade pistachio pear tarts aren’t in the cards, just gather all the makings of s’mores, then wipe your cheesy paddles out and use them to melt chocolate and toast marshmallows, and spread that all over toasted graham crackers. Or, get fruit in lieu of marshmallows and use the paddles to melt chocolate, then dribble it all over strawberries, pears, oranges, and bananas. Heaven.
As for raclette-friendly wines, I’ll turn that over to our resident PPS wine expert, Andrea Slonecker:
“Since Raclette is an alpine cheese made around the border of Switzerland and France, it makes sense that its perfect pairings come from the surrounding area, perhaps most of all, the Savoie region of France. Light, clean, dry wines made from such grapes as Chasselas and Jacquère are a delightful match to the richness of the cheese.
More aromatic wines of the Chignin-Bergeron cru are made from the Roussanne grape—these are probably the easiest Savoie wines to find in the States. Other appropriate and very tasty options are wines from Alsace and Germany, like Riesling and Kerner.
My picnic pick: Domaine de L’Idylle, Cruet 2013, AOC Savoie-Cruet, Jacquère, which can be found at Liner & Elsen”
And there you have it–melted cheese and the wine that loves it. Excellent for both indoor picnics and laid back Valentine’s Day celebrations, in case you’re racking your brain for a low-key but highly effective way to wow the one you love.