Melted cheese is perhaps the ultimate comfort food, ideally suited to cold weather – it is no wonder that the Alps have provided so many melted cheese dishes. The prototype is Raclette, charmingly and simply described in the novel Heidi where the Alm Uncle melts cheese on a toasting fork held in front of the open fire. In the Swiss canton of Valais, Raclette cheese is made specifically for this purpose.
Most cheese making countries have at least one cheese that is ideal for melting, Gruyère and Emmental in Switzerland, Cheddar and Cheshire in England, Caerphilly in Wales and Dunlop in Scotland. In Italy there is Fontina from the Alps, whilst from the south Mozzarella or Scamorza.
Melted cheese can take on a variety of textures from soft and creamy to elastic and stringy, depending on the cheese used and the method of melting. Some, Vacherin Mont d’Or being the prime example, can simply be baked as a whole cheese, perhaps with an added flavouring of garlic, quince paste, or even slices of truffle. Other examples of classic dishes of the soft and melting variety are the alpine Fondue and Fonduta, or Welsh Rarebit and Cauliflower Cheese in Britain. The elastic and stringy are encountered in French Onion Soup, Croque Monsieur and Mozzarella in Carozza.
Cheese is notorious for being indigestible, keeping one awake at night or suffering bad dreams, and it is a good idea to pair cheese dishes with alcohol to aid the digestion. At all costs avoid drinking cold water with melted cheese as they will combine to form a ball in your stomach that will make you uncomfortable for hours.