Raclette al Fresco
We came to this little hamlet in the mountains of Switzerland to celebrate my mother-in-law's birthday. Last Sunday, a bunch of her friends arrived to surprise her (she thought it'd be an intimate affair) and to eat a delicious, local raclette. What's a raclette, you ask? Cheese melted over an open fire covering tiny new potatoes (in the above photo, ready after their preliminary boil) accompanied by assorted cold cuts: pancetta, viande sechee, and jambon fumee and mini cornichon pickles. Not what you'd call a light lunch, but hey, it's Switzerland, and there were mountains to climb so we needed our strength.
The raclette cheese (yes, the finished dish as well as the cheese itself, are both called "raclette") is melts in front of the fire, each half on a piece of slate (this area is a source of slate for rooftops all over Switzerland) with the front part propped on a block of wood, so only the cut part melts and not the whole bottom. While this is happening, the guests enjoy some cornichon pickles, viande sechee and white wine.
Then the magic begins. Our hosts, the Berger family who run the Auberge de Pont-de-Nant, pass around a large bowl of steaming, whole new potatoes and we each take a few as a base for our cheese. The hosts scrape the melted layer off of one cheese half and serve the birthday girl first. Then they proceed with the other half and serve us all in turn. We get a small boel of cheese-topped potatoes, sprinkle on some coarsely-ground black pepper and dig in while it's still hot. The nice thing about this lunch was that the large number of people meant that each of us had time to sit, relax and digest a bit before getting another helping of such substantial stuff. In a party of two (the only other time I've eaten raclette), this meal can be a killer, too much too fast.
If anybody had gotten away without stuffing themselves with the raclette, they were caught by dessert. What could be better than having a cousin-in-law who's a chef in a luxury Geneva hotel? What, indeed? Jerome provided us with this Swiss chocolate bomb of a cake to finish things off.
What to do after such a formidable meal? Sit for an hour and sip black coffee and then start on a mountain walk. Start slowly at first, then later you'll find you have a lot of strength and energy to walk for miles.