Picture yourself in a little French restaurant. There’s a fire crackling away in the corner. Perhaps it’s snowing outside. A waiter approaches your table – he’s carrying a large half-wheel of cheese, grilled on its surface. The knife-wielding waiter scrapes off a layer of the oozing, bubbling fromage and slides it into your bowl over a few boiled potatoes and a couple of cornichons.
This is raclette.
Though France might be the torchbearer, raclette actually originated in Switzerland, arguably sometime in the Middle Ages when people in the alpine region Valais melted their cow’s-milk cheese over the campfire. It wasn’t until the 20th century – and more recently in Melbourne – that raclette turned into the enduring global craze that it is today. The name is from the French verb racler (“to scrape”), and refers to both the dish and the type of cheese that’s traditionally sliced in half and incrementally melted down. Nowadays you normally see this done in a small portable oven, which might sit at your table or, more theatrically, under a freestanding gas or electric radiating grill.
Interested? Here are four Melbourne eateries making a name for raclette in this town.
Harper & Blohm
You may know Harper & Blohm – the friendly Essendon cheesemonger out the front of the Prince Wine Store – but have you met Harper & Blohm the mobile farmers’ market stall dedicated to serving toasties and bowls of raclette?
Owner Olivia Sutton is a raclette traditionalist; she scrapes her gooey gold into biodegradable bowls with nothing but steamed nicola potatoes and cornichons. She says she got the idea for her portable-raclette operation at London’s Borough Market, spending the day with the stall’s owner earlier this year.
Sutton gets her cheese from French-born Victorian cheesemaker Matthieu Megard – aka L’Artisan – who adapted his pungent, semi-hard cow’s-milk raclette from a traditional French recipe. “People just stand there and film it,” when she gets to raclette-ing, she says. “It’s very visually pleasing.”
Head chef Gabriel Alonso serves alpine-style Heidi Tasmanian cheese – either in the traditional table-scrape style with prosciutto, potatoes, cornichons, pickled onions and sourdough bread, or integrated into less orthodox variations, such as jambon and raclette croquettes. Alonso also recently started serving open-sandwich “late-night Reubens” with raclette on top.
Maker & Monger
Head to the back of the Prahran Market’s main hall for Maker & Monger, where you’ll find Anthony Femia standing behind a restored French food cart serving grilled cheese sandwiches and bowls of raclette. Femia is a bit of a local cheese doyen. After winning a Jack Green Churchill fellowship in 2012 and travelling around Europe learning from some of the industry’s best, he landed a plumb job heading up Josh Brisbane and Con Christopoulos’s cheese emporium, Spring Street Grocer, before starting his own operation.
Both his cheese and gas-operated grill are imported from Valais (“the home of raclette,” he says). Femia adds a handful of shiitake mushrooms onto the melting cheese, a few minutes before it’s ready, and scrapes it all off together into a bowl with boiled kipfler potatoes and cornichons. He then finishes it off with a quick dusting of sweet paprika and – occasionally – adds some Robin’s Island Wagyu brisket to the bowl.
It’s likely the first thing you see when you walk into Smithward is a half-wheel of raclette melting away under a glowing red, matt-black electric grill at the end of the bar. Right off you know Graham Hill and Georgina Russell mean business. The couple opened their tiny 17-seat Collingwood diner in 2015 (though you’d think it’s been here for years), with raclette at the centre of it all.
Hill says they were inspired by the bars of Paris and Madrid and wanted to bring a little piece of Europe back to Melbourne. Their raclette is served with boiled potatoes, house-made sourdough and cornichons, with cheese from L’Artisan. Hill says they settled on a local cheese after an extensive search to find something with a “distinct character.” They also wanted something that would pair with their all-Victorian wine list, which includes drier-side drops such as the Little Cathedral Blanc de Noir or Darling Estate's aged Riesling. Pop in on Thursday for their special Rac ‘n’ Mac night.
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