When I left home, I moved onto slices of processed cheese, neatly separated by paper or plastic. Then at my first New York cocktail party, I spotted something white and furry looking, which turned out to be a French cheese called Brie. It was the beginning of my adult relationship to this new food group.
Watching MontyPython’s Cheese Shop Skit truly introduced me to the world of cheese. I’d never heard of Camembert, Pont L’Veque, Red Leicester, Stilton or dozens of others until they came trippingly off John Cleese’s tongue.
It took a trip to Paris to make me realize cheese could be an entire course served at the end of a meal, often as a substitute for dessert. Every French restaurant we visited offered a Cheese Board, from which diners could select several portions.
This leads me to Raclette, a semi-hard cheese that’s a comfort food in Switzerland after a hand day’s skiing. Because I do not have an expensive Raclette grill, I had to improvise how to melt the cheese. But if you’re flexible in your cooking, you too can enjoy this unusual meal.
Raclette – serves 4 as a light dinner, accompanied by a salad
1 1/2 pounds baby potatoesSaltBlack pepper1 pound Raclette, Gruyre or Fontina cheese, sliced into 1/4-inch slices and rind removed1 jar gherkins (baby pickles) or olives1 jar pickled onions (optional)1/2 pound sliced prosciuttoSliced French bread
Cook the potatoes in a medium pot of boiling water for about 8 minutes, or until they can be easily pierced by a sharp knife. Remove from the heat, drain and season with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside to keep warm.
While the potatoes are cooking, set out the gherkins or olives, pickled onions (if using), prosciutto and French bread on 4 dinner plates and put on the table.
Place the slices of cheese in a large cast iron frying pan and heat the pan over medium-high heat. The cheese will begin to soften almost immediately. When all the cheese is soft, remove the pan from the heat. Place it on a trivet or heat protector in the middle of the table and provide several large spoons.
Transfer the potatoes to a bowl and set on the table. Let diners top their potatoes with several dollops of runny cheese directly from the pan. If the cheese solidifies in the pan before it is all eaten, reheat the pan for a few seconds.