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The national dish of Valais, my Swiss canton, raclette is the most gorgeous melted cheese you will ever have. Here at its best at the Manoir de Villa in Sierre.
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He continues with the next plates and then flies across the restaurant

You may notice two different gentlemen working the racleur shift. I shot these pictures on two separate occasions. Nothing else has changed. Good raclette, like the river Rhone, always remains the same.

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...to deliver them personally to each guest, announcing which cheese he just served. 'This one is from Les Haudères in the Vald d'Hérens'.

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360° immersive panorama (Flash, 2 MB) - see the racleur 'scraper' at work.

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Raclette etiquette is very important if you eat with Valaisians. If you salt your cheese, people will look at you like if you put ice cubes in a glass of Château Cheval Blanc in Bordeaux or ask for well done Kobe beef in Tokyo. Christ, they might even throw you down a glacier for all I know. Then there is the pepper. I'd have pepper in my coffee if I drank coffee, but if you start adding pepper to your raclette before having tried the first bite, people will think less of you. As the country tale goes, 'One day a man was interviewing for a new job, and his future boss invited him for raclette. The man peppered his raclette without first tasting it. Upon seeing this, the boss decided not to hire him. It turned out he was right, as this man was prone to make rash and premature judgements and was a bad employee.' I've been told this story countless times and now it's so ingrained that I would never dream of adding a picogram of pepper to my raclette before tasting it. Of course you might point out that the story might not make much managerial sense, but the point is not this. Raclette is identity food, it is as much about history, tradition, eating-this-makes-us-who-we-are than anything else.

Another tip, which the casual visitor of Valais might easily mistake what follows with another identity-defining tradition. He would soon find out this is no tradition. With raclette you can drink only alcohol or warm tea. Go try to wash down the raclette with a coca cola or some mineral water if you want, but please sit in the back so the smell of your vomit will not distract the other diners. Valaisian parents tell their children that 'If you drink something cold with raclette, it will turn the cheese into a hard ball in your stomach and you'll be sick'. The children might point out that the white wine is cold and that nobody gets sick 'Alcohol prevents the formation of the ball in your stomach'. Those children who argue too well or who disregard their parent's advice soon find out the value of experience as they rush out of the room.

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The man comes back after a couple minutes, grabs your plates and returns with more cheese. 'This is from l'Alpage du Marais in Grimentz'. Each cheese gives you a slice of the Alps, the unique combination of topography, soil, micrometeorology, the breed of the cows who pastured there, how the cheese was made and seasoned. Each cheese is very different from the others while still being a raclette cheese, much like people in the same family may all look alike to a stranger but are worlds aparts when you get to know them.

The plates keep coming until you drop. Unless you have a lilliputian appetite, go for the all-you-can-eat formula and have at least one full cycle, 5 plates in total.

Another time I'll show you raclette in a different setting.

Château de Villa
http://www.chateaudevilla.ch
Rue de Sainte-Catherine 4
Tel. +41 (0)27 455 18 96
Sierre
Valais (the Matterhorn state!)
Switzerland

The castle is owned by a foundation, and is run by Dominique Fornage, a leading Swiss oenologist. If upon hearing the words 'Swiss foundation' you expect soviet-style service, you are in for a good surprise. The restaurant is always full, even on a Monday lunch. Advance booking is absolutely necessary. At 44 CHF for a first course and unlimited raclette, the most popular option, it is not a cheap meal either. People come here not for the price but for the quality and the fast service. Indeed, you can tell that if Mr Fornage is as apt at getting his waiters to work the room so efficiently, he must not be the kind of vintner who forgets a couple drops in the grapes. But he is not resting in his wine cellar or behind his director's desk either and you can catch a glimpse of him helping out delivering fondue or raclette. A very well-run operation, even so more for a non profit organization.

Published 17/06/2008
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42 Comments

  • #1
  • Comment by Magda
  • on: 17/06/2008
Am almost drooling over here :)

Last April, I was in Budapest for a congress and a Swiss company that was attending had a party on a boat to celebrate its 35th birthay. Besides a Swiss folk group, lovely wine, and a big wooden log with nails (some Swiss tradition I'm told- albeit possibly not the best idea on a boat full people on their way to drinking themselves into oblivion) there was raclette. They had a similar setup as to what you show on your pictures- much less sophisticated though. I do have to say that it was delicious!

Once again, compliments on your site- I always look forward to seeing new posts!

Magda
I've only had raclette once (at a dinner with a Swiss family outside of Fribourg), but I absolutely love it. The minute I can think of a good-enough excuse, I'm buying one of those big electrical cheese melter thingies. :)
When I first arrived in Munich, I was surprised to see the plethora of raclonette devices in the stores, but I've yet to try it the scraped way. My girlfriend worked in Switzerland for a while, and developed quite the love for Raclette there, but space limitations makes it impossible for us to invest in the proper equipment.

This restaurant looks absolutely wonderful, I especially like the idea of being able to try out five variants of a cheese in the same meal, a chance to get to know this cultural dish not only as a stereotypical Swiss thing bought in a supermarket, but as a living tradition with local variations and proud craftsmen behind it. If I get a chance to go to Valais, I shall certainly not miss the opportunity.

/Daniel
  • #4
  • Comment by Andrew
  • on: 17/06/2008
A pedant I may be, but Chateau Petrus is from Bordeaux not Burgund. Otherwise great, great site - keep it up!
  • #5
  • Comment by Elise
  • on: 17/06/2008
Oh my goodness, I am drooling at my desk. Last time I had raclette was in Paris four years ago, and before that I hadn't had it since I was a kid, on one of our visits to Chamonix. It is so good, and so hard to describe to people who don't know anything about it. You did a beautiful job describing it. After reading your post, I am thinking we must plan a trip to Valais as soon as possible!! Thank you for a wonderful post.
Such an interesting yet simple looking dish. But what do I know, I've never had such a thing. Now I will make sure I don't miss this whenever I am near Valais.  Thanks!
  • #7
  • Comment by AlexFalk
  • on: 17/06/2008
One of my first culinary creations was fried cheese.
Using cheddar and a non-stick pan, I would fry the cheese till it became crispy, and the oil was rendered.

This reminds me so much of that childhood experiment, that it is now on my list of things to do before I die.
  • #8
  • Comment by Caroline
  • on: 18/06/2008
I have lived in Switzerland most of my life. I skied in Nax (Valais) every winter and I can personally say that nothing beats a good raclette. If you do go to nax for some skiing, go to Victor's barn on one of the pistes, good company, good raclette, good wine.

Now I live in the UK and moving to Australia soon I will really miss raclette and all other swiss dishes.
  • #9
  • Comment by Christine
  • on: 18/06/2008
How does one convey the cheese from plate to mouth? The potato pancake must be one part of the equation. Since you were so kind as to aquaint us with some elements or raclette etiquette, perhaps you would save raclette neophytes from the pitfalls of improper technique.
  • #10
  • Comment by Annie
  • on: 18/06/2008
Looks divine, but what's not to love about melted cheese...reminds me of the melted cheese that I use to make as a child using the microwave and brie.

I have the same question as Christine: how does one tranfer the raclette to the mouth?  I don't see any thing obvious like bread.
  • #11
  • Comment by Luci
  • on: 20/06/2008
As if you didn't have enough ways of introducing melted cheese to my diet!  And re:  tea and wine with melted cheese - I totally concur with you and general convention - I had fondue a few months ago in Montreal and drank a glass of water with it.  Felt very ill - until I had a cup of tea with dessert.  Everything was fine afterwards!
  • #12
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 21/06/2008
Magda, thanks for visiting and I'm glad this brought back such a pleasant memory! Raclette really is a most convivial dish, with every guest sharing a friendly wait for the next instalment, commenting his slice or passing his turn. And it really is easy to cook once you have the setup!
  • #13
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 21/06/2008
Angelica, make sure you get the marchine that melts the whole cheese half rather than the lowly raclonette, that's no good. And buy as much proper raclette d'alpage cheese as you can carry!
  • #14
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 21/06/2008
Daniel, you must rejoice that there is such a fine thing for you in the future as tasting real raclette rather than the boiled-down 'raclonette' version! You are missing the delicious burnt cheese on the sides without any of the oil that oozes out of the cheese in the raclonette. If you get a half cheese head, you could do this in a fireplace instead, that would even be better. No need for any further equipment!
  • #15
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 21/06/2008
Elise, when you come to Sierre and visit the Manoir de Villa, you won't be disappointed! Really worth the trip in my opinion!
  • #16
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 21/06/2008
Alex definitely please don't die before you try the mighty raclette!
  • #17
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 21/06/2008
Christine, there are no potato pancakes, just boiled potatoes with their skins. In between deliveries you peel a potato, then cut a piece, wrap some melted cheese around it, and up it goes in your mouth and down your belly.
  • #18
  • Comment by Luke
  • on: 22/06/2008
Thaks for the warning, FX. I just wish I listened. Being the inquisitive moron I am, and having had both fondue and New England style extra-cheese pizza with a cold soft drink on numerous occasions, I decided to melt comté and gruyère and eat the result with only a small piece of bread, then wash it down with some ice-cold tea. I was in Hell.

That said, I'd still love to try the real thing someday. If I'm ever in Valais, I'll definitely go for some. Only this time, I'll bear the beverage rule in mind.
  • #19
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 28/06/2008
Luke, if only inquisitive morons and staunch-headed curmudgeons were lured into trying raclette with a cold drink, we'd have ourselves a nice test to decide who should be member of a club. Most people do try it once in their life, few try a second time!
  • #20
  • Comment by Brozzi
  • on: 30/06/2008
I once saw a picture of a raclette melting pan that was on the end of a long stick for use ove a campfire.  I've tried for hours and cannot find that website again.  Does anybody know of such a device and where I might acquire one? Looks like a great cmap meal.
Thanks
  • #21
  • Comment by Laura C
  • on: 16/08/2008
Brings back memories of a lunch in the back of a cheese shop in Paris. My husband had the Raclette, not sure if it was as good as one in Valais, but it was definitely a most memorable meal.
  • #22
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 19/08/2008
Laura, was this at Androuet?
  • #23
  • Comment by Helena
  • on: 19/08/2008
Wow. I just tried Swiss raclette last week. It really is the most amazing cheese. I don't think I had it at the right temp and I wasn't expecting the strong smell. But it was amazing. I think I'm hooked. Got to hunt down the French version as well soon.
  • #24
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 20/08/2008
Helena, you could try with a wood fire and a wooden board, you need a really hot temperature. And please don't mention any French raclette to a Swiss or you'll end up marooned on mountain top!
  • #25
  • Comment by chef4cook
  • on: 15/09/2008
In a hotel where I was the chef I did a wonderful onion soup with raclette gratine'd! it was delicious.
  • #26
  • Comment by Judith Basham
  • on: 13/10/2008
I could not agree more with the coca cola statement.  If I were a Restaurateur it would, along with its other soft drink cousins, never be stocked.  If customers didn't like it, then too bad and directions handed out to them where the nearest fast food chain operates.  Standards!
  • #27
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 13/10/2008
Judith, they don't have any coca cola at Philippe Rochat, Switzerland's finest and my favorite restaurant!
  • #28
  • Comment by felicia
  • on: 25/12/2008
Raclette is the greatest,whether you have a scraped raclette or a pan. splurge and enjoy.
  • FX's answer→ Felicia, you are very right, but might I say that there is a world of difference between scraped raclette (on a wood fire if possible) made from Alpage cheese and raclonette made with industrial raclette cheese? Anyway, I hope you'll get to enjoy the former soon!

  • #30
  • Comment by Andrea
  • on: 30/12/2008
A Christmas tradition in my German household when a large number of people are present is the raclette grilling: a fantastic option in the absence of a brick oven, raclette stove and racletour.  There is something warm and wonderful about giving the guests the option to grill their own veggies, potatoes and meats while chatting at the table.  It is also a slow meal, and thus makes the dinner a social occasion.  Oh, it is also fantastically delicious with Gruyere (i prefer the cave-aged).
  • FX's answer→ Andrea I agree that Raclette is a really hearty convivial dish to share with friends. Can you really get old Gruyere to melt properly without oozing out loads of oil?

Salût,  Excellent writing and images ... mes félicitations.  I was (and fundamentally will ever be) un fromager d'alpage en Valais:  Hérémance, Ovronnaz, Entremont (La Lettaz & Champlong) for 10 seasons.  Now my kid Ari has taken over.  Meanwhile, I'm organising a Symposium le 17 Mai 09, in Ferney-Voltaire, titled "Cheese, Sex Death & Madness".  This will be the second edition for us.  I'd be pleased if you might be interested in joining in, as participant or as collaborator.  The website is just getting off the ground ... I'm a pure neophyte, but it will help you identify my orientation.  Hope to hear from you.  Jim
  • FX's answer→ Salut Jim, thanks for dropping by! What is the symposium about, there was no information at all on the website about it apart from the date and place. Sounds interesting though!

  • #34
  • Comment by mary petrie
  • on: 21/09/2009
So love your sight....I am a student of wine in NY. What wine would you have with Raclette? thanks mary
  • FX's answer→ Mary, you absolutely need a dry white wine, ideally a Fendant (made with Chardonnay). Please don't ever drink anything cold other than wine with raclette as it will invariably lead to stomach ache.

  • #36
  • Comment by Fereshteh
  • on: 30/10/2009
It was everything I wanted to know about the cheese. I am new in Switzerland and your website is grate for me and I got lots of information I needed.
  • FX's answer→ Glad I could help and I wish you can visit the Chateau de Vila to sample some proper raclette!

  • #38
  • Comment by Vic
  • on: 10/11/2009
Great article! If I want to have an extra spicy, reasonably 'dry' raclette cheese, which one would you recommend? I have bought a nice one last year, but now our cheese supplier doesn't remember the make... It had a brown crust and a silverpaper-like label on the side.
  • #39
  • Comment by Kahing
  • on: 05/12/2009
Reading this story of yours makes me hungry all over for this raclette! Can't wait to go and try it out.

Still though, ANYONE who seasons it's meal before tasting it has no respect for the meal nor it's chef... This has been common sense in my family for centuries.

Thank you for posting so many interesting stories.

Kahing
  • FX's answer→ Yes, this is some serious raclette! Even better: a wood fire.

  • #41
  • Comment by Theb
  • on: 08/05/2010
I went there last December with a person who is crazy about raclette (kind of a pilgrimage for him :-)).
It is one of the good tables of Sierre. The good idea of the "Château de Villa" is to propose the tasting five different cheeses... The flavour is very different from one to another. You can really feel the "terroirs". When you are done with the five different tastings, you can continue to have raclettes with the cheeses you preferred. We spent an excellent evening. Definitely a place and an experience to recommend.  Theb. PS : Your pictures are great.
  • #42
  • Comment by dayer
  • on: 15/06/2010
¡Estupenda comida!

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