What is French Raclette? The other melted cheese dish like fondue

If you love the fun social atmosphere of fondue and letting guests do their own cooking at the table, you’ll love French raclette too. Discover all you need to know about this lesser-known melted cheese dish

French raclette meal
French raclette meal

If you love fondue, you’ll love raclette, the other interactive melted cheese dish from the French and Swiss Alps. But what is it, and what’s the difference between French raclette, Swiss Raclette, fondue, and gratin? Read on to find out more!

What is French Raclette?

Small 2 pan raclette grill

Everyone’s heard of fondue, but Raclette is a bit of a mystery outside of Europe. 

So exactly what is French raclette?

People in France and French-speaking parts of Switzerland refer to this cheesy melted dish simply as “Raclette.

But there are differences between how raclette is eaten in France and Switzerland.

So for the purpose of this article, I’ll be using the term French Raclette to differentiate between Raclette in Switzerland and Raclette in France.

Raclette is two things at once.

1) Raclette cheese:

Raclette is a semi-hard Alpine cheese made from cows’ milk.

2) Raclette meal:

Raclette is also the name of a centuries-old Alpine dish traditionally made by melting raclette cheese, (initially over a fire, but now people use electric tabletop raclette grills.)

Once the cheese is heated, you scrape the melty, gooey cheese goodness like a thick sauce over bread or a plate of different accompaniments such as boiled potatoes, pickled onions, gherkins, veggies, or cold meats.

What’s so special about French Raclette?

a bunch of raclette pans loaded up with cheese and various food

If you love the idea of cheese fondue and the fun social atmosphere of letting guests do their own cooking at the table, you’ll love French Raclette, which pairs well with wine or beer.

It’s an easy but delicious meal you can prepare in advance for a cozy family dinner or a large hungry crowd.

grilling eggs, mushrooms vegetables on an electric French raclette machine..

And although sharing food from a single cheese fondue pot is fun, it’s not as fun as raclette, where, guests use their own mini skillet to melt cheese on the fly on a table top raclette grill and then pour the cheese over a plate of potatoes and other accompaniments.

Because everyone grills their creations, raclette grilling turns an ordinary meal into a fun interactive and social culinary gathering around the table.Endless combination with raclette cheese

Plus, you don’t have to make a cheese fondue recipe in advance or keep the fondue warm on the table. Clean-up is also easier than fondue. 

And if you have kids, they’ll love it too. 

My first French raclette experience

French raclette: pouring raclette cheese over a plate

I had French Raclette for the first time in 2011 when a friend suggested we throw a Raclette dinner party together. 

“Huh? What’s Raclette?” 

My friend assumed I knew what she was talking about, as casually as if she were talking about something as familiar as toast.

However, this was in 2011, the same year we moved to France, so there were still many unknowns to me regarding French food and culture back then.

I learned pretty quickly that this cheesy melted raclette meal is extremely popular in France, where it’s just as normal to own a tabletop electric raclette machine as it is to own a toaster or blender.

Long story short, I fell in love with French Raclette.

After living in France for over a decade, I’ve enjoyed countless French raclette dinner parties with friends, family, at fairs and French Christmas markets.  I’ve also had raclette in ski lodge restaurants after a day of skiing.

French Raclette is a little different than Swiss Raclette.

Plate of boiled potatoes, charcuterie and cornichons with melted raclette cheese

Although very similar, Swiss people are often surprised by the differences between how Raclette is eaten in France and vice versa. 

Swiss people generally eat their Raclette much more simply than in France. 

A traditional Swiss raclette meal usually involves 3, maybe 4 ingredients, and some pepper.

  1. Swiss raclette cheese
  2. Boiled potatoes
  3. Something pickled, such as cornichons or pearl onions
  4. A sprinkle of pepper.
  5. Maybe some cherry tomatoes or onions to put on the cheese before melting. 

French Raclette involves much more charcuterie meat and other ingredients:

Almost anything goes in French raclette 

In addition to potatoes, raclette cheese, and pickled cornichons, a French raclette meal always involves a lot of charcuterie meats / cold cuts.

It’s unusual to include mountains of charcuterie meats in a classic Swiss raclette meal. 

In addition to cold cuts, and depending on the person, French Raclette can and usually does include other things to grill on your raclette grill. 

  • Chicken
  • Sausages
  • Seafood:
  • Veggies:
  • Baguettes are also a popular side dish to eat with French Raclette.

A swiss person would find all these additional accompaniments very strange.

And a French person would find it odd that Swiss Raclette consists of only cheese, potatoes, and something pickled

Because French Raclette is more liberal than Swiss Raclette regarding ingredients, everyone can get more creative and make their own creations. 

Although most Swiss people eat their Raclette more simply than they do in France, a select few Swiss people will include a little speck or Grison meat; but nowhere near the quantity of meat you would find on the table of a French person. 

What is Speck and Grison?

SPECK: this is a type of cured meat that originates from the Tyrol region of Italy. It’s similar to prosciutto and looks a lot like bacon, but it’s made from pork leg instead of belly.

GRISON MEAT: Also known as Bündnerfleisch, is a type of lean, air-dried beef from the Grisons region of Switzerland. 

Raclette is popular in many other European countries too

Raclette is popular in many countries, especially Alpine countries, France, Germany, Switzerland Austria to name a few

Raclette is not only popular in Switzerland and France but also in neighbouring countries that have Alpine regions, such as Italy, Germany, Austria, and Liechtenstein, especially during the cold winter months. 

Each country where Raclette is popular puts its own spin on the raclette meal.

For instance, German Raclette will likely include Sausages. 

My Dutch friends like to use aged Gouda cheese.

What is raclette cheese? 

The critical ingredient in a Raclette meal is of course the Raclette cheese, after which the meal is named. 

Raclette cheese is a very meltable semi-hard cow’s milk cheese originating in the mountainous Alpine region of Switzerland and France.

In Switzerland, the cheese used in a Swiss raclette meal is usually, Swiss Raclette cheese.

In France, the cheese used in a French raclette meal is usually French Raclette cheese

People in France are open to using other cheeses in a raclette meal. A big no no in Switzerland.

Raclette cheese is still primarily produced in France and Switzerland, but it’s also made in other parts of the world, such as the United States, Germany, and Austria.

However, Swiss and French Raclette cheese are considered the most authentic and traditional varieties.

In terms of taste, Swiss and French Raclette cheese are delicious, and each has unique characteristics.

Swiss Raclette tends to have more creamy and nutty notes, with a slightly bitter aftertaste. It’s often aged longer than French Raclette, resulting in a firmer texture and a more pronounced flavour.

French Raclette has a smooth and supple or springy texture with a slightly nutty taste. I’ve heard some Swiss people say that they think French Raclette is too rubbery. Because French Raclette usually ages for a shorter period, it results in a milder flavour and a more pliable texture than Swiss Raclette

The best way to determine which type of Raclette you prefer is to try both varieties and compare them for yourself.

A lot of people in France and Switzerland buy their raclette cheese at their local grocery store where it usually comes pre sliced in small packages in different flavours; smoked, nature, and pepper for example. 

pre sliced raclette cheese in French grocery store in France

You can also find artisan quality Swiss and French Raclette cheese in cheese stores. In France, French cheese stores that specialize in selling cheese are called “les fromageries.”

Fromagerie selling sliced French raclette cheese

What does Raclette mean, or why is it called Raclette?

The French word “raclette” refers to how the Raclette is served by scraping heated cheese as it melts with a special raclette scraper or a knife. 

Raclette is from the French verb “to scrape” (racler), which is borrowed from “rasclar” in  Occitan, another Romance language spoken in parts of Spain, Italy and rural parts of southern  France, 

French raclette vocabulary:

Parts of a raclette grill 

  1. Le Raclette = Raclette cheese: it’s always masculine and uses the article “LE.” 
  2. La Raclette = Raclette meal: It’s always feminine and uses the article “LA.” 
  3. Appareils à raclette: This is what you call the raclette grill in French. The raclette heating appliance is used to heat and melt the cheese during the raclette meal. 
  4. Pelle à Raclette aka Poêlon: Raclette shovel, aka mini skillet, where you place cheese, which you then slide under the grill of the Raclette
  5. Spatule à Raclette = Raclette spatula for scraping the cheese off the mini raclette skillet pan. Usually made of wood, but some are made of plastic. 
  6. Racleur: Usually, in a restaurant, the person who scrapes the melted cheese off the half wheel of raclette cheese for you.

A squeegee is also called une raclette à vitre (window scraper)

How do you eat, prepare and serve Raclette?

Best raclette grills: which one is best for your needs?

Most importantly, to eat French Raclette, you need to heat the cheese to the point that it melts and is soft enough to ooze onto your plate.

Most people use a tabletop electric raclette grill for home use to do this.

Raclette grills come in all shapes and sizes, from round ones and square ones, to multi level raclette grills that come equipped with 2 to 8 nonstick mini skillets used for melting cheese and other toppings.

The best raclette machines, and the most poplar type of French raclette grills in France are multifunctional in that they melt cheese but also have a griddle surface to grill meat, veggies and seafood.

These multi functional recette grills sometimes have a reversible griddle, with one side for grilling meat and veggies and the other for making crepes or eggs.

There are even tea-light-powered raclette grills that are very portable. These usually serve two people.

I wrote a whole article about the different types of raclette machines and how to choose the best one for your needs. Best raclette grills: +Tips on picking the perfect tabletop party grill

Traditional raclette grills: Usually used in restaurants

A traditional raclette grill usually for restaurants but there are also home versions

When you eat Raclette at restaurants, fairs, or Christmas markets in France, Switzerland and other countries where Raclette is popular, the raclette cheese is usually melted by big electric raclette machine where a huge half-wheel or quarter-wheel of raclette cheese is placed under a heating element.

Then, once the side of the raclette cheese wheel facing the heating element is soft and melty, a person called a “racleur” scrapes the melted cheese onto your plate of potatoes for you. 

In French, this raclette cheese heating device is usually referred to as a “traditional raclette grill” (appareil à raclette traditionnel).

You can buy these for home use, but that would involve getting a huge wheel of raclette cheese which can get expensive.

They are also hard to store due to their awkward configuration and larger clunky size.

Most people who enjoy Raclette at home, at least in France, use a standard electric tabletop raclette grill with individual raclette pans so that everyone can melt their cheese and create their individual creations. 

How to setup and serve a raclette meal: The basics

  • Place the raclette machine where everyone can access it, like in the centre of the table or on a countertop.
  • Plug in the electric raclette machine and let it warm up for about 10 or 15 minutes before you’re ready to eat.       
  • Each person will need their own mini raclette skillet. This is where you place the cheese, which you put under the griddle to let the cheese melt.

How to setup a raclette grill to eat French raclette

How to setup a raclette grill to eat French raclette

  • Prepare all the accompaniments and pre-cut if necessary, such as sliced mushrooms and pre-boiling potatoes with the skin on. Then place everything on the table. 
  • Don’t forget to put out slices of cheese for guests to melt. 

French Raclette grill with a accompaniments set out on a table for guests to grill on a raclette machine.

When it’s time to eat, everyone grabs a slice of cheese and puts it on their mini skillet under the griddle. Once the cheese has melted, pour it over the cooked food and enjoy.

You’ll know the cheese is ready when it starts to bubble. Then, scrape the cheese off the mini raclette skillet onto your plate using the raclette spatula. 

One of the most gratifying aspects of using a tabletop raclette grill is this process of melting cheese and watching it slide and ooze off the grill pan into a bubbling pool on your plate. 

While the cheese is melting, you can also place other things to grill on the griddle, like mushrooms, zucchini, thin slices of chicken fish or whatever you want. 

French raclette meal: melted cheese being scraped off a mini raclette pan onto a plate of potato's, salad and cold meat.

You might  be interested in reading: 17 Famous French stinky cheeses adored in France, feared by others

The pros and cons of serving French Raclette for a family meal or dinner party

RACLETTE PROS: As far as I’m concerned, there are more pros than cons to doing a raclette meal over a regular cooked meal.

  1. Raclette is an interactive, fun, hands-on social experience. Everyone gathers around the table, grabbing ingredients to cook on the raclette machine and scraping melted cheese onto their plates. 
  2. It’s an easy meal to prepare since you only have to precook the potatoes and prep other bite-sized ingredients which you place on the table. The guests do the rest. 
  3. You don’t need a recipe. All you need is cheese, pre-boiled potatoes, bread, and a raclette machine, and you’re good to go.
  4. Everything can be prepared and laid out on the table in advance.
  5. You can get creative with ingredients and even use leftovers or ingredients on hand, like that half a zucchini lingering in the fridge.
  6. You can feed a large group of people without spending hours in the kitchen. 
  7. You can invite your vegetarian friends and even your vegan friends over. Just serve sliced veggies on the table so vegans can cook themselves on the raclette grill with their bread and potatoes. Also, an array of meltable vegan cheeses is available that taste pretty good. I should know. My son’s French girlfriend is a vegan. 
  8. Depending on the model, you can also cook crepes on some raclette grills because some have a reversible griddle specifically for making crepes or pancakes. But you could cook eggs too. 

RACLETTE CONS: Serving a raclette meal also has some drawbacks.

  1. You need a raclette machine. If you don’t have one, they can get pricey, but there are inexpensive ones too. 
  2. Unless you use a tea-light-powered raclette grill, you need to plug in the electric raclette machine somewhere. 
  3. Since the raclette machine is usually placed in the middle of the table, the chord of electric grills can get in the way, and you may need an extension cord. 
  4. A raclette meal may be too rich and heavy for some people’s taste. 
  5. Cleaning up the raclette machine is sometimes a hassle because of the melted cheese left behind on the mini raclette pans. But it’s still easier than cleaning a fondue pot.
  6. Raclette machines are sometimes hard to store if you’re short on space. 

French Raclette vs Fondue:

While both raclette and fondue involve melting cheese, there are distinct differences in the types of cheese used, how they are prepared and served, and the accompaniments typically served with them.

Here’s a table outlining some key differences between Raclette vs Fondue:

Fondue V.S. Raclettette
Category French Raclette Fondue
Need a raclette grill Need a fondue pot
Style Swiss/French Swiss 
Cheese used Raclette cheese:  but can use mother sermon hard cheeses.  Typically a combination of Gruyère, Emmental, and Appenzeller
Preparation Everyone melts their own cheese on a Raclette grill, then scrapes the melted cheese onto their plates served with accompaniments. Cheese is melted and kept warm in a pot on a stove or portable burner, then served with bread or other dippers.
Ingredients Typically served with boiled potatoes, charcuterie, pickled cornichons, onion, and sometimes vegetables and bread. Typically served with bread or vegetables for dipping into the melted cheese.
Serving style Guests assemble their plates by adding melted cheese and accompaniments as they, please. Guests typically dip food into a communal pot of melted cheese

Raclette vs Gratin

The Raclette meal is made from melted cheese poured over slices of toasted bread and potatoes. The Potato gratin is made from melted cheese poured over potatoes and baked in a casserole dish.

French Raclette Meal vs Potato Au Gratin
Category Raclette Potato Gratin
Cooking Method Everyone melts their own cheese on a Raclette grill, then scrape the melted cheese onto their plates served with accompaniments. They are baked in the casserole dish in the oven.
It is topped with a browned crust, often using breadcrumbs, grated cheese, egg or butter.
Style Swiss/French French
Cheese Raclette cheese: Semi-hard cheese that has a mild and nutty flavour. But you can use any semi-hard meltable cheese. Gruyere cheese: Hard cheese with a slightly nutty and sweet taste.
Ingredients It was typically served with boiled potatoes, charcuterie, pickled cornichons & onion, and sometimes roasted vegetables and bread. Potatoes, cream, milk, butter, and sometimes garlic or onion.

What are the origins of Raclette? Is it from Switzerland or France?

is raclette Swiss or French

If you ask a Swiss person where Raclette is from, they’ll answer very matter of factly that it’s from Switzerland in the canton (province) of Valais in the Swiss Alps. Raclette is also one of the national foods of Switzerland.

But Raclette is so popular in France; a French person might say it’s from the Savoy region of the French alps, which borders Valais in Switzerland. 

So which is it? Is Raclette from France or Switzerland? 

Like French fries (that’s chips to you Brits), which both France and Belgium claim they invented, the origins of Raclette are somewhat debated, especially if you consider how old the raclette tradition is and that country borders have changed over time.

Raclette cheese was produced and consumed in present-day French Alps at around the same time it was in Switzerland. So it’s likely that the dish, as we know it today, developed over time and was influenced by both Swiss and French cultures.

Then there is the issue of boundaries that have changed over time. 

The history of Raclette dates back to 1291, over 700 years ago, to an area we now call the French Alps and Swiss Alps.

This was before Switzerland and France were called by their current country names.

So it’s difficult to pinpoint 100% the exact origin of the raclette dish and raclette cheese, which are both a subject of debate

Let me explain: 

Switzerland in 1291 was still part of the Frankish (German) empire. 

Frankish Empire

The eastern part of current-day Switzerland belonged to the Duchy of Swabia, which was part of the German (Frankish) kingdom that existed through 1313 under the holy Roman empire.

The western part of current-day Switzerland, which includes the Alps and where Raclette is supposedly from, was part of the Kingdom of Burgundy (Arelat), which included present-day Savoy in France and the canton of Valais in Switzerland, but it stretched as far as Lyon and Nice in France and to parts of Italy too.

Although many people associate Burgundy with France, the name is based on the Burgundians, a Germanic tribe that originated in mainland Scandinavia.

So technically and geographically speaking, Raclette, the meal, and the cheese are an Alpine tradition from present-day Switzerland. When it first came about, there were no clear boundaries of what we now call Switzerland and France because they were both part of the Frankish empire. 

Nevertheless, it is generally believed to have originated in Switzerland. But whatever!

Raclette was eaten very differently in the 1200s

half wheels of raclette used to be heated next to an open fire like a wood fire or a fireplace.

We know that heating raclette-style cheese next to open fires and scraping the melted part of the cheese onto bread is an old Alpine tradition because of Swiss-German medieval texts that date back to 1291 that were found at a convent located in the old Swiss canton of Unterwald.

Historians believe peasants, shepherds and cattlemen in the mountainous Alpine regions carried cheese with them as they moved their cattle through the mountain pastures, a practice called transhumance. Moving cattle could take days or weeks, so bringing food that was nutritious, filling, relatively cheap, and that wouldn’t spoil was crucial. 

In the evening, after the sunset, the herders would set up a campfire and place their cheese on a rock or piece of wood near the fire, scraping the heated part of the cheese facing the fire onto a piece of bread with a knife as it melted.

Potatoes didn’t arrive in Europe until the 1600s, so potatoes as part of the raclette meal came later. Thank you, Spanish colonialism, who brought potatoes back from South America. 

And electricity and electric raclette machines didn’t exist either. 

Raclette used to be called “roasted cheese” in Swiss German

The name for Raclette has evolved over time.


Originally, this peasant alpine cheese and meal was known as Bratchäs, which means “roasted cheese” in Swiss German. For several hundred years, Bratchäs remained isolated in the alps and was not widely known outside of the Alpine region until the early 1900s.


It was during the 1900s that people began roasting cheese at home in front of the fireplace and referred to the meal as “râcla” in the French Swiss dialect.


Eventually, the French term “raclette” gained popularity in the early 1900s, thanks to a poet named Oscar Perollaz and his wife, who wrote a song called “La râclette” and performed it at the inauguration of the Valas exposition in 1909. The term probably existed prior to his poem, it’s just that his poem made it more mainstream. 

The song was a direct reference to the way the cheese is eaten, by scraping melted cheese. Here’s the poem. 

La râclette (poem)

Blonde râclette ( Blond raclette)
En gouttelettes (Droplets)
Sur nos assiettes (On our plates)
Solide atour ; (Solid around)
Mets vénérable, (Tasty dish)
Au nom aimable, (what a lovely name)
Toute la table (The whole table)
Attend son tour (Waits it’s turn)

“La Râclette ” song by Marguerite and Oscar Perrollaz

Wrapping up French Raclette

So, that’s it for French Raclette!

While it may be similar to Swiss Raclette, the French have given it their own unique twist.

This isn’t the first time the French have made something their own, either. They’ve done it with other foods, like the crescent moon-shaped Kipfel or Kipferl, which is a beloved breakfast staple in Austria.

The French took the crescent moon-shaped Kipfel and transformed it into the flaky, buttery croissant we all know and love today. 

It just goes to show that even traditional dishes can be transformed and improved upon, resulting in unique culinary delights that are enjoyed by people all over the world.

You should read this: 44 Fascinating French Croissant Facts For Curious Foodies & Francophiles.

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Annie André

Annie André

About the author

I'm Annie André, a bilingual North American with Thai and French Canadian roots. I've lived in France since 2011. When I'm not eating cheese, drinking wine or hanging out with my husband and children, I write articles on my personal blog annieandre.com for intellectually curious people interested in all things France: Life in France, travel to France, French culture, French language, travel and more.

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