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When the weather turns chilly, savvy cheesemongers know that Raclette season has arrived. This year, the trend for melting cheese seems to be bigger than ever. If your melting cheese options are languishing on your shelves, don’t fear – Speciality Food has spoken to the experts to find out how to boost sales this winter and beyond.
Raclette originated in the French and Swiss Alps, where it was traditionally melted and scraped onto bread to enjoy as a warming dish during the long, cold winters.
“We sell an awful lot of the British raclette Ogleshield this time of year, specifically for Raclette; over the last 10 years it has become increasingly popular,” says Andy Swinscoe of The Courtyard Dairy.
But it wasn’t always this way. “Initially it was quite niche – some people knew about it from skiing holidays, but 10 years ago we did a lot of outside events selling Raclette, and it was a slow start, so we stopped at the time,” Andy says. “Then, when we opened our cafe five years ago, we did [Raclette] up there as a dish and it was a real hit – scraping the cheese in front of the customer at the table.
“We bought a few machines to get us started, and that made us start distributing the commercial half-wheel machines direct from Switzerland. As the only seller of these commercial grade machines (rather than the home ones) we found that there was a big demand for these proper machines that can be used in cafe, restaurants and food trucks that look good and add theatre,” he continues.
“Now, there are specific Raclette stands and trucks all over the UK doing very well; from York to Bristol. We even have a friend who has a mobile one on a trailer in a converted cable car, which is really cool!”
Mark Kacary of The Norfolk Deli agrees that Raclette’s popularity is driven by Brits who visit France and who have been, plan to go or just love skiing. “It does have a fan base, and especially at this time of year when the nights are longer and people want to sit in a cosy, warm room there’s nothing better than melted cheese.”
For Stefano Frigerio, co-founder and director of Champagne + Fromage, it’s a hugely popular dish. “Raclette is very popular in all our shops, and it’s one of the bestselling items both at the restaurant and as a takeaway.” He attributes much of this success to social media platforms, especially Instagram. “The visual allure of gooey melted cheese being scraped onto an assortment of accompaniments creates an engaging and shareable experience,” Stefano says. “Influencers and food bloggers, driven by the pursuit of captivating content, have showcased their Raclette encounters, leading to a viral spread of interest.”
But it goes beyond the likes and shares. “Raclette aligns with the contemporary emphasis on experiential dining,” Stefano says. “The communal aspect of gathering around a heated wheel of cheese, melting it tableside, and customising each bite with different toppings resonates with those seeking more than just a meal – they seek an engaging and memorable event. The interactive nature of Raclette transforms it from a dish into an experience, appealing to a consumer base increasingly valuing the social aspect of dining.”
Melting cheeses are products that benefit extraordinarily from the theatre possible in independent retail. They are, Andys says, “one of those things that when people see it being cooked, they want it, but if it is just sitting there it doesn’t sell.” He suggests investing in a machine so you can demonstrate cooking melting cheeses in front of customers.
“People love the theatre,” he says. “On a busy Saturday, cook one every half an hour (in a really visible place at the front of the shop) for staff food, and that keeps the machine operating. Then customers see it and away you go.”
When sampling, “Introduce customers to the irresistible charm of Raclette by emphasising its creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture,” Stefano says. “Highlight the versatility of pairing with potatoes, veggies, and meats, making it a delicious choice.”
If you have a café, try adding it to your winter menu. “We use it in dishes we produce in our café –we are partial to making a Tartiflette from time to time, so there is the opportunity to introduce it as an active ingredient,” says Mark. “It is possible to offer the theatrical and serve it hot with some potatoes for a lunchtime treat.”
“Showcase Raclette as an interactive, social dining experience, where melting the cheese becomes a shared joy,” Stefano adds. Demonstrations can also show customers how easy it is to prepare.
On winter Saturdays, The Courtyard Dairy also has a pop-up stand outside the shop to serve and give away tasters. “It’s a real eye catcher and draws people to the shop and makes us stand out,” Andy says.
And, if in doubt, “[make] sure that there are easy-to-read suggestion sheets available explaining what it is and how it can be used,” Mark adds.
Bill Oglethorpe, owner of Kappacasein, a Raclette shop in London’s Borough Market, says, “Ogleshield roasts particularly well under our Raclette grill because of the richness of the Jersey milk that it is made of. I say roast because a lot of Raclette cheeses tend to start burning before a nice crust is formed, I think it’s the Maillard reactions that gives those roasty flavours.
“The washed-rind pungency adds a very interesting dimension,” he adds. “Apparently, it’s a mixture of sea bacteria that occurs naturally when the cheese is washed with salty water from a young age. The creaminess of the cheese as it melts is very appealing, and that’s achieved by washing the curds during the make.”
Champagne + Fromage, in addition to different types of Raclette cheese, proposes alternatives such as Gruyère, Emmental, Morbier or Fourme d’Ambert. “They melt well and offer a similar rich flavour,” Stefano says.
Andy also uses Young Buck and Killeen Goat for blue and goats’ cheese variations, and Mark says cheesemongers can’t go wrong with Mont D’or Vacherin, which is great for melting, or Reblochon, which is famously used in Tartiflette but makes a great alternative. However, Mark adds that Ogleshield makes “the best cheese toasties”.
As for accompaniments, Stefano recommends complementary products like pickles and cured meats to enhance customers’ Raclette adventure.
Bill swears by the simple combination of new potatoes, cheese, pickles and pepper. “Maybe there is a yearning for simpler combinations,” he says of Raclette’s rising popularity.
“Get a raclette machine so everyone can participate in the cooking,” Bill suggests. “One with individual plates is convenient, and one can experiment with cooking different types of vegetables and cheese.
“Or go for a machine that takes half a wheel and everyone gets to scrape the cheese when they are ready for more,” he adds.
One of Raclette’s great strengths is its versatility. “Its adaptability for both restaurant menus and home cooking has allowed it to permeate various culinary settings, Stefano says. “Restaurants incorporating Raclette into their offerings, and the availability of DIY Raclette kits for home use have made it accessible to a broad audience, further fuelling its current vogue.”
And while it may come to mind as a wintry treat, don’t confine your sales of melting cheeses to the colder months. “A lot of our customers use it in the summer too, but to melt on top of burgers (using the same double holder raclette machine we supply) for a real bit of theatre at outside events,” Andy says.
According to Bill, there is only one thing left to do: “Give it a go and experiment!”