Do you know what Raclette is? If not, don’t google it because we didn’t know either and I want to take you with us on a journey through one of more perplexing and stressful meals we’ve had.
In another dose of wisdom from my French co-worker, I was instructed to try Raclette when in France. I don’t even recall when or where she said to get it, but I made a mental note. When we headed out for lunch in Annecy, we saw “Raclette pour deux” on the menu. I immediately remembered this recommendation, so we ordered it along with a bottle of white wine, and felt pretty good knowing we would be ticking off yet another item on our France must-do list. But what happened after was nothing we were prepared for.
A few minutes after taking our order, the waiter comes back to the table sans wine, and instead, sets up a large, metal T-shaped contraption on our table. It’s 1-1.5ft high and each arm of the “T” has a heating element in it. And before we realize what is happening, he is under the table searching for an outlet to plug it in.
A bit confused, we silently stare at each other: Do you know what’s going on? Do you know what we ordered?
The wine is finally poured. Ok. Everything will be just fine.
Mid-way through our first glass, the waiter proudly sets a large plate in front of each of us. Each plate contains 3 items: 4 plain, whole, boiled potatoes; a small dish of cornichons; and several slices of charcuterie. And he sets down a basket of bread for the table. It looked like a meal fit for peasants – poor peasants.
I’m wondering where my 27 euros(each!) went. Keeping up that cool, calm exterior we’re known for, we lean in and whisper surreptitiously, “Is this it? Is there more coming?”
By now, the T-shaped contraption is getting pretty hot, but isn’t heating anything except for me – and I’m getting uncomfortably hot…
A few minutes later, the waiter brings the pièce de résistance — a 2 lb wedge of cheese. He adeptly sticks it pointy-side up on a prong jutting out from the device and then pushes the 2 bars of the T down on either side of the wedge. He puts a small plate underneath the cheese.
Once finished with his work, he turns to us and asks in French “Do you know how this works?”
“Non” + vigorous head-shaking.
In French and with very effective gesturing, the waiter explains that the cheese will start melting. We need to pull the heating element up, scrape the melty bits of cheese off, transfer it to our plate, and eat it with our previously provided peasant food.
We have another glass of wine as we stare at this contraption and try to get our bearings. The sheer size of it is overwhelming. “Do we really have to eat all of that?” I mean, I love cheese as much as the next gal, but this is cheese as a main course – a large, dense main course. At first it melts slowly, but quickly starts to melt at a fairly rapid rate and is accumulating as a bubbly soup on the plate. We need to get it off of there before it spills over (no instructions were provided for that event, should it occur). We fumble with a spoon and fork (also not part of the instructions – this is all improvisation here) to attempt to scoop the cheese onto our plates without getting burned by the device.
I am actually genuinely stressed out at this point – I’m very hot, because this evil cheese machine puts off a lot of heat, I can’t keep up with it, and I’m overwhelmed staring at this wedge of cheese that we have to eat. By the the time I scoop and assemble a cheese-potato-cornichon bite, my side of the plate is full.
About a 1/3 of the way through this wedge of cheese (because that is how one measures time in such a situation), we finally manage to hone in on a scrape, scoop, transfer, eat rhythm. But it’s not the kind of food you can just stop mid-meal and say, I’m full. You commit to that block of cheese. So, our rhythm involves very little talking. We are focused, only speaking to exchange tips on how to improve our method and for wine refill requests.
Somehow the cheese slowly disappears and we are finally staring at a charred rind. In the aftermath, we take stock of what has transpired while feeling very full, relieved, and a little cheese-drunk.
Check out the video to see Raclette in action: