Along with watches and chocolate, cheese is one of Switzerland’s great treasures, and raclette—both a semifirm cheese and a stick-to-your-ribs dish—is an Alpine gem that remains little known outside this country’s borders.
Raclette comes from cows that munch on short blades of high-altitude grass. This imparts the unique, earthy flavor to the unpasteurized cheese similar to the impact of terroir on wine.
Centuries ago, the mountain herders from the Valais region of southern Switzerland would gather around a fire and place a wedge of raclette nearby until the exposed edge began to melt. When it did, they would scrape it onto potatoes and cornichons for a hearty meal.
Today, the dish is made by placing the cheese on an electric melter that resembles a small grill, but the social aspect of the meal persists. “Sharing raclette is a time for friends to gather together, drink wine, and have fun,” says Zermatt native Amadé Perrig.
For an authentic experience, come to Zermatt, which sits in the shadow of the Matterhorn and serves as a top destination for skiers and climbers. You’ll swoosh or trudge into a lunch spot like Chez Vrony, one of the mountain huts tucked in between the trails, and warm yourself with raclette.
Or head to the rustic Whymper-Stube, where locals linger over plates of charcuterie, raclette, and enough wine that you may be inspired to yodel.
This article, written by Kelly Dinardo, appeared in the February/March 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.