Hot Cheese, Cold Nights

If you're a fan of fondue, you'll want to try raclette.

A raclette grill: vegetables and meat on top, cheese broiling on the bottom. Photograph by flickr user kre8tiv.

It’s tempting to do fondue for cold-weather dinners, but for something more adventurous, try Swiss raclette. Like fondue, it offers molten cheese and casual, communal eating. But instead of bread, it’s eaten with boiled potatoes, cured meats, and cornichons.

In Switzerland, the traditional preparation involves setting a wheel of nutty raclette cheese next to a roaring fire and scraping the melted portion onto plates. Two-tiered tabletop grills are the modern norm. While slices of cheese soften in individual trays on the lower griddle, guests can grill accompaniments such as sausages or marinated mushrooms on top.

Cheesetique in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood leases a medium-size tabletop grill, with eight melting trays, for $50 a day. Included in the price is 1½ pounds of raclette cheese and a 10-percent discount on such dippers as grilled cipollini onions and garlicky Rosette de Lyon cured sausage.

For groups of 20 or more, the Swiss Bakery (Burke and Springfield) rents grills that slowly melt half wheels of cheese instead of slices; the $40-a-day fee doesn’t include cheese. It also offers eight-person tabletop grills for $15 a day. In addition, you’ll find such accents as pickled vegetables, smoked prosciutto, and hard-to-find white Merlot from Ticino, the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland.

This article appears in the March 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.

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Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.