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  • Writer's pictureCulinary Cam

Let's Talk Swiss Cheese: Raclette + Älpermakkaronen #EattheWorld

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

After a month hiatus the Eat the World crew is back with a virtual trip to Switzerland. About the Eat the World project, being spearheaded by Evelyne of CulturEatz, here's her challenge.


Here's the line-up of the #EattheWorld offerings from Switzerland...


  • Bündner Gerstensuppe (Swiss Barley Soup) by Amy's Cooking Adventures

  • Let's Talk Swiss Cheese: Raclette + Älpermakkaronen by Culinary Cam (you're here)

  • Potato Rosti by Sneha's Recipe


Let's Talk Swiss Cheese

Also, when I shared this memory earlier, a fellow food blogger took umbrage. If you feel I am insulting an entire swath of the country, my advice: scroll on by. I have many friends who are Mid-Westerners both by birth and by choice. I have nothing against the Mid-West... I was just not cut out to live there long-term.


I have a funny story... I was in the early stages of labor with our younger son and I was determined to watch The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the theatre. I was scheduled for a c-section twelve hours later, but Jake drove us to the movie theatre and stood in line for tickets while I went in search of dinner. I ended up at a sandwich shop. And, yes, this was definitely one of those moments when I realized I am not a Mid-Westerner.


Her: Do you want cheese on that?

Me: Yes, please. Do you have Swiss cheese?

Her: We have American cheese...it's exactly the same as Swiss, but without the holes.


Oh, boy!


Evidence shows that people have been dairy farming in Switzerland since 2500 BC. It has evolved from fresh cheeses through the introduction of rennet in the 15th century to the hard alpine cheese for which the region is renowned. Three of the most well-known are photographed above...


EMMENTALER AOP (bottom left) Made from raw cow's milk since the 12th century, this cheese was named for the Emme Valley in the German-speaking canton of Bern (tal means 'valley' in Swiss German). Recognized for its large holes that develop aging, this is what most people refer to as 'Swiss cheese.' It earned its AOP (appellation d'origine protégée) in 2000 and is sold in different stages of aging - from four months to fourteen months or more. The longer it ages, the more intense the flavor.


LE GRUYÈRE AOP (bottom right) Also made from raw cow's milk, this cheese is named for the walled city in the Fribourg canton. Authentic Gruyère is made from evening milk that is skimmed and left overnight to settle. In the morning it is mixed with full-fat milk. Over 100 gallons are used to make a single wheel of Gruyère. Once the wheels of cheese are formed, they are soaked in saltwater for twenty-four hours. Then they age in cellars or caves from between five to twenty-four months.


RACLETTE (top right) The names comes from the French verb racler, meaning 'to scrape' and referring to the practice of melting half-wheels of cheese over fire, then scraping the hot cheese over boiled potatoes, charcuterie, and bread. You'll see my homemade version below. Raclette du Valais AOP is a more specific Raclette that has an AOP designation. The milk comes exclusively from the Eringer cows, native to the Valais in Switzerland.


APPENZELLER


Made in the northeast region of Appenzellerland for more than 700 years, the secret to this cheese's appeal is the herbal brine rubbed on the exterior of the wheel as maturation begins. They are kept in caves and washed with the secret brine during the seven to twelve month maturation process. Because the cheesemakers refuse to reveal their combination of wine, herbs, and spices for the rub, Appenzeller can't qualify for AOP status. This cheese is assertive, spicy with a minerally tang and a milky sweetness. It's one of my favorites.


The other three Swiss cheeses of note haven't made it to my table yet, but I will be tracking down Sbrinz, Tête de Moine, and Vacherin Mont-d'Or. All three of those cheese have their own stories. I can't wait to try them. But, for now, I am moving the discussion to two of my favorite dishes made with Swiss cheese: Raclette + Älpermakkaronen.


Raclette

Perhaps, one of my favorite ways to eat cheese: Raclette. Gooey, gorgeous raclette. Don't fuss - you don't need any fancy raclette equipment to have this delicious, cheesy dish at your house. Here's how...


  • small organic potatoes, quartered

  • salt

  • assortment of pickles

  • Raclette cheese, sliced to ¼-inch thickness



Bring potatoes to a boil in salted water and simmer until fork tender. Drain the potatoes and set aside.


Put the cheese slices in a single later in the skillet. Place the skillet over a flame or under a broiler. Cook until it is melted and bubbling and just starting to brown at the edges.


While the cheese is cooking, serve some potatoes and pickles on individual plates. When the cheese is ready, use a spatula to slide the melted Raclette over the potatoes.



Älpermakkaronen

Älpermakkaronen, Herdsman Macaroni, is described in Alpine Cooking: Recipes and Stories from Europe's Grand Mountaintops by Meredith Erickson as "pure mountain food for shepherds and herdsmen: cream, cheese, potatoes, bacon, and shelf-stable dried pasta, complemented by applesauce. It’s basically mac and cheese on steroids—without the sideeffects." Erickson notes that if you can't find Berner Hobelkäse, a hard raw-milk Swiss cheese without holes, you can substitute any aged cow’s-milk cheese, such as réserve Gruyère or Emmental Switzerland Premier Cru. My family loves this dish, calling it "carb on carb goodness...with cheese!"



  • 1 pound organic potatoes, cubed (I used russets)

  • 8 ounces dried macaroni or other short pasta

  • 2 Tablespoons butter

  • 2 yellow onions, peeled and diced

  • 1/4 pound bacon (which is traditional, I used some ventrèche which is like a French pancetta), diced

  • 1⁄4 cup white wine

  • 2 cup broth (I used chicken broth)

  • 1 cup heavy cream

  • freshly ground salt

  • freshly ground pepper

  • 1 Tablespoon fresh herbs (parsley is traditional, I used some sage from our garden)

  • 1 cup grated cheese + more for serving

  • applesauce for serving



Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and boil for 3 to 4 minutes before adding the pasta. Stir in the pasta and cook the two together until the potatoes are fork tender and the pasta is al dente, approximately 7 or 8 minutes. Drain and set aside.


In a large sauté pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the bacon and onions. Cook until the onions become softened and translucent and the bacon has rendered its fat, approximately 7 to 8 minutes.


Deglaze the pan with the white wine. Raise the heat to high and simmer the wine until slightly reduced, approximately 1 to 2 minutes.


Pour in the broth and cream and fold in your herbs. Add in the potatoes and pasta. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until almost all of the liquid has been absorbed, approximately 10 to 12 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. During this last step on the stovetop, preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.


Sprinkle the grated cheese over the top and place in the preheated oven. Let the cheese melt and start to brown, approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Serve hot with applesauce on the side.


That's a wrap for offerings from Switzerland. Stay tuned for our event next month!

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