One of the presents I gave myself for my birthday was a Cheese Class given by our favorite French chef, David Chamyol, from the restaurant Bistrot de Paris in San Juan. My friends, Laura and Annie Mariel accompanied me for a whole night of dishes made primarily with French cheeses.
It was very fun. First, we learned how to make raclette. Raclette is the cheese as well as the grill/broiler used to melt the cheese. It’s basically a melted cheese under a very special grill, also known as raclette, and then you pour the melted cheese on top of boiled potatoes, bread or vegetables. We tasted the cheese before melting and after… I was super surprised how different the cheese tastes after its melted. The taste is very pungent and sharp when you cut it fresh, but after its melted the taste turns very mellow. I loved it on top of the boiled potatoes… a great nibbling dish for a night with friends.
Actually, my friend Laura loved so much the raclette concept, she went online the next day and immediately bought herself a raclette grill. Apparently, at our Fete des Francophones in January, the raclette will be making a special appearance.
Then, we learned how to make Tartiflette… this is a baked dish made also with potatoes and onions sautéed in butter and olive oil. Then, you transfer these potatoes to a baking dish and cover with pieces of Reblochon cheese. Then you bake the tartiflette in the oven for 20 minutes and voila, you’ve got a very hearty dish that you can enjoy with a nice side green salad. The cheese is very smelly and pungent. This was my least favorite dish to be truly honest – maybe because I was getting full with the boiled potatoes and raclette… it is very rich and dense.
To finish, we learned how to make a proper French cheese fondue. You shred equal parts of gruyère, comté and beaufort cheeses and add ½ part of vacherin cheese. You add those to a base of white wine, Dijon mustard, nutmeg, salt and pepper. If you truly want to make this karma-free, I would make it at home with a bit of apple cider, apple juice or white grape juice or even apple cider vinegar. You melt the cheeses in that base and add a bit of kirsch. I was told that a proper fondue was not a fondue without the kirsch. I’ll have to find a reasonable facsimile to emulate the cherry flavor without the alcohol. But it was lovely… I loved dunking the pieces of bread, cornishons, pear and apple in the smooth cheese blend. To be honest, this was my first time eating a cheese fondue. I’ve seen it made plenty of times at the Food Network, but never tried it myself. We all fell in love with the concept and decided we needed to repeat it for one of our Les Francophones get-togethers.
I should also mention that in addition to the cheeses used in the dishes I have described above, we also tasted goat cheeses, cheeses made from brebis mountain sheep, blue cheeses, among others. These cheeses were specially provided by Marco Dettling from The Cheese Market, a Swiss guy now living in Puerto Rico and imports many fresh European cheeses. His appreciation and knowledge of European cheeses was evident. He actually turned out to be an “almost neighbor” of mine. We live in the same street… what a small world this is, no?
What I loved about this cheesy experience was that there’s so much versatility when cooking with cheese… pastas or risottos is just a small fraction of what you can do. French cuisine is filled with creamy and cheesy concoctions that will give you the opportunity to savor new and interesting kinds of cheeses you might not be usually accustomed to taste. It’s a window into another culture and exposes you to new tastes and experiences.