The beginning of November? The official start of winter? Whoever you speak to in France will have their own firmly-held beliefs about when it’s acceptable to tuck into your first raclette of the season.
The dish, which is technically Swiss but very popular in France, involves pouring melted cheese over boiled potatoes, cold meats and cornichons, making it the perfect, hearty meal to warm you up during the winter. And the table-top machines which allow guests to melt the cheese themselves mean it’s a great way of enjoying the company of friends and family when you don’t feel like going out in the cold.
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But people in France are bringing the machine down from the attic earlier and earlier, and raclette season this year has already begun, according to an article in French daily Le Parisien.
“Since last weekend, we’ve had to double our staff, from two to four people in the kitchen,” the Savoyard restaurant in Paris, Le Brasier, told the newspaper.
The report added that Richesmonts, the second largest producer of raclette cheese in France, now makes 13 percent of its annual sales between April and August, compared to 9 percent four years ago.
“We now have to be ready in the aisles from September, whereas it was October a few years ago,” Amel Ben Meriem, marketing director at Richesmonts told Le Parisien.
According to a YouGov poll conducted in January 2020, 87 percent of French people eat a raclette at least occasionally in the winter, which for 25 percent of people means at least once a month. 41 percent of people said they would never eat a raclette outside of winter, while only 6 percent have it every month during the rest of the year.
Ombeline Périer, who lives in Lille, was invited to a family gathering on September 25th where she had her first raclette of the season. “I was a bit surprised,” she told The Local, adding, “It wasn’t too early. It was delicious.”
While the tradition may be creeping further into the autumn, it remains closely associated with the weather.
“It’s still something you eat when it’s cold and I’d feel weird eating it in July or August,” Périer said. “Part of having a raclette is that the machine heats the room a bit so you’re nice and cosy, so when you’re already warm it makes the experience a bit worse.”
— NielsenIQ France (@NielsenIQFrance) December 2, 2020
Raclette machine sales exploded in November 2020 during the second Covid-19 lockdown, rising by around 300 percent. According to consumer specialists NielsenIQ, 53 percent of French households purchase raclette cheese for an average of three “raclette parties” every year. That’s not counting those who indulge in a raclette in a restaurant, particularly in mountain resorts, where it’s a popular après ski dish.