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Cheeses face the heat at Raclette World Championships

Cheeses face the heat at Raclette World Championships

Monday, October 30, 2023, 10:56 GMT+7
Cheeses face the heat at Raclette World Championships
The Swiss native dish dates back centuries to a time when Alpine herdsmen would melt their cheese on an open fire. Photo: AFP

Up in the Swiss Alps, the air hangs thick with the funk of hot cheese as the planet's best melt away the competition at the inaugural Raclette World Championships.

The Swiss native dish dates back centuries to a time when mountain herdsmen would heat their cheese on an open fire and scrape off the melted part to keep them going.

But never before have cheesemakers, experts and restauranteurs come together under one roof to determine which cheeses make the world's finest raclette.

Nearly 90 cheeses were put to the test in Morgins, a village in Wallis -- the southwestern region considered the home of raclette.

"All these guys are small-scale producers who go up into the mountain pastures with their cows at the start of summer," said the event's founder Henri-Pierre Galletti.

"It's a way of validating their work, which is a hard job but a truly beautiful one," he told AFP.

Morgins -- more than 1,300 meters up in a wooded valley before the Alpine pass reaches France -- welcomed more than 10,000 raclette enthusiasts who joined in the festivities and sampled the wares.

The three-day event culminated on Sunday with the winners crowned champion.

Smooth and creamy

In the village hall's kitchen, cheese half-wheels are grilled under electric raclette heaters. The grilling can take from 30 seconds upwards, depending on the cheese.

The cooking is done by eye, with a feel for how each cheese melts. Once it bubbles up -- but just before it starts to brown -- the melted cheese is scraped onto the plate, then whisked out to jurors.

"The taste is in the fat," said racleur Jean-Michel Dubosson as he scraped off another serving with the back of his knife.

"It's important not to heat it too quickly."

While the kitchen is bustling, the tasting hall is a place of reverent silence.

Judges, many wearing traditional black with a red neckerchief, twirl the cheese around the fork before tasting. The atmosphere is slow, relaxed.

"We are looking for a raclette that is creamy, smooth, has a nice appearance, a nice colour," said Eddy Baillifard, known as the "pope of raclette" and one of the supreme jury final round judges.

"And in terms of taste: a nice texture, no thread, no strings, no gum."

Judges sample a maximum of 15 cheeses in a sitting, after which the sense of taste will have peaked -- plus, in a 40-gram serving, there's only so much cheese one can handle.

Between raclettes, hot black tea or sliced red apples neutralise the palate.

The judges rank each cheese from one to five on appearance, texture, taste and aroma, and overall impression.

Good company

Most of the cheeses were from Wallis, and if not then from the neighbouring French Alps. However, cheeses from the rest of Switzerland, plus Belgium, Canada, Italy and Romania were also in contention.

Producers from Britain, Japan, Norway, Sweden and Kyrgyzstan are interested in coming next time.

"To be here representing Romania, it's a big thing for us," said Narcis Pintea, 34, who learned his craft in Switzerland before taking his skills back home.

The championships had three categories.

Alpage de Tanay, from Wallis, won the most hotly-contested crown for raclette with raw Alpine milk, a category only open to cheeses made in Alpine pastures between June 15 and July 15.

Fromagerie Le Pont, also from Wallis, won the title for best raw milk raclette.

Fromagerie Seiler Selection by Wyssmuller Maître Fromager, from the Obwalden region in central Switzerland, took the final crown for other raclette cheeses.

A giant Saint Bernard dog kept watch at the door, and in the festival tents outside, raclette lovers sampled numerous freshly-melted cheeses to the sound of a cowbell ringing team.

More than 30,000 raclettes were served to the public, accompanied by four tonnes of boiled potatoes and six pallets of gherkins and onions.

"A day without raclette is a day wasted," said Baillifard.

"There are several ingredients that make raclette so enjoyable, but the main thing is the people you share it with. When you're in good company, the raclette is already 80 percent a success," he added.

AFP

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