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Gooey melted semi-hard cheese scraped on top of potatoes, charcuterie, cornichons and pickled onions… What’s not to love?
From only a handful of restaurants a few years ago, raclette has taken over Australia in the last few years. Romain Guillaume started Frencheese, a mobile raclette stand, at the perfect time, just before the boom: “In 2014, you could pretty much only find raclette in Melbourne at the Swiss Club and at Bistro Gitan on Monday night. Now, we’re four doing raclette as street food in Victoria only, and there must be at least 15 restaurants in Melbourne offering it.”
“It’s the same in other states. In 2014, there was a Swiss restaurant in Katoomba and one stand at markets in New South Wales. Today, you can’t even count the restaurants with raclette on their menu in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. There’s even a stand in Darwin.”
Among the recent additions is Loluk Bistro in Surry Hills, with its all-you-can-eat raclette on Tuesday nights.
An Australian and New Zealand take on raclette
These restaurants don’t have to go very far to buy their cheese as Australian cheesemakers like Heidi Farm, in Tasmania, and L’Artisan Cheese, in Victoria, have jumped on the bandwagon, making their own raclette cheese.
Graham Hill and Georgina Russell source their raclette from Geelong for their Collingwood wine bar, Smithward. They have the traditional dish on their menu, but are also going one step further with the Rac’n’Mac, a mac’n’cheese with raclette. “I was listening to a Jay Rayner BBC podcast discussing the many styles of macaroni and cheese while closing up one night. I guess I looked over at our raclette grill and bam! Rac’n’Mac has been a huge hit with our customers ever since,” says Graham Hill.
In Auckland, New Zealand, the Melt Cheese Truck smothers chips, hot dogs and Philly cheesesteaks in raclette cheese.
What is it about raclette?
The rise of street food at markets and events in Australia seemed to have helped popularised raclette. But more than anything, at a table or in the street, raclette attracts the crowds because it’s convivial.
“The irresistible smell brings people in from the street, the bubbling wheel under the grill is really theatrical, eating it is social, and of course it tastes absolutely amazing. It's the ultimate comfort food,” says Graham Hill.
And unlike France and Switzerland, where raclette is eaten during the cold months, Australians love it all year-round.
The Swiss and the French ways
The name raclette, which designates both the type of cheese and the dish, comes from the French “racler”, which means scraping, as in scraping the cheese. While the cheese is traditionally melted in front of a fire, electric grills are now more common. The raclette addicts can even buy a table-top grill to use at home.
The Swiss and the French eat it differently. “The Swiss don’t use charcuterie, but like to add paprika and sweet onions. They also use very hard raclette,” explains Frencheese’s Romain Guillaume. “We use a French raclette, softer and creamy, which is not oily when it melts.”
In Switzerland, raclette is most often eaten accompanied by a hot drink like tea, while in France it’s enjoyed with a glass of wine.