As I prepared to have friends over for dinner, it occurred to me that I hadn’t planned the meal properly. I looked through my options and found a large bag of cheese in the freezer–French Raclette (pronounced it rack- let’)I vaguely recalled the clerk telling me it was a special cheese served melted.
I pulled the cheese from the freezer and heated the oven to melt it, before calling my friend, Bruce, a gourmet chef, to find out what to do with it. He told a charming story about a time in Switzerland when he first had Raclette. He helped me select a wine to go with it and determine the best way to cook and serve it in the limited time.
Did I mention the smell?
I don’t know if the smell of this cheese is common to Raclette everywhere, or if the specific batch I purchased was peculiar in this regard, but a mildly off-putting aroma when pulled from the freezer (through two freezer bags) grew to mammoth proportions when heated.
By this I mean that the house smelled “like infection.” The most vile foot odor from the sweatiest teenage boy would be dwarfed by this smell. But I had vegetables roasting in the oven, bratwurst to go on the grill, pasta salad, freshly made, with kalamata olives from the olive bar, fancy crackers, and a nice Riesling.
Over these scrumptious delights, the aroma–nay smell, nay stench–threatened to gag my guests. My husband and my daughter were convinced that someone had gotten violently ill. This most certainly did not smell like food.
My confidence in this dish was shaky at best, but I trust Bruce, so despite the general complaints I soldiered on.
As the cheese heated up the smell increased, thickened, and morphed into something truly awful. Bruce, was right, though. Once served with fresh cracked pepper ground atop the pan, to be eaten with whole grain crackers, a pile of roasted vegetables, and Riesling, somehow the same food that overwhelmed the nose, was quite pleasing on the palate.
I have no grand conclusion, just surprise. Apparently, this cheese has meals and even restaurants named for it–meals that have a long tradition and a reputation for much fellowship and gastronomic delight. There are potatoes names for this cheese. And diners will engage in serious debate over the proper way to eat Raclette, just melted and gooey, or browned on top.
I’ve had these discussions over the proper way to cook and serve bacon. (BTW, cooked slowly until crisp but not completely dried out is correct.)
For my part, I am content that the dish tasted good, despite the odor; glad I trusted my friend glad I used the excuse to call him and hear his memories, and glad that friends and family gathered around my table in conviviality.
That smell has entered that meal into historic family lore. I have laughed until I could laugh no more, wiping tears from my eyes and reaching for my inhaler.
And now I have my own Raclette story to tell.