Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How I Learned About Raclette in Cambodia

I never knew what Raclette cheese was until I lived in Cambodia.  I never even heard of it before.  (Wait... isn't Raclette a French cheese?  I didn't know they had cheese in Cambodia-- huh??)

Not as famous as his cousin, Emmental, Raclette cheese is from the French Alps region of Switzerland. Raclette is also the name of a wonderful Swiss traditional dish where the decadent cheese is melted over potatoes, cured meats and sausages and pickles.

Surprisingly, some of Europe's best cheeses make it to Cambodia where the well-travelled, affluent Khmer socialites have no qualms spending lavishly on many specialty food items they've tried in their travels.  There's also a significant expatriate population from western Europe in Cambodia. Since the 19th century, the French especially have had a love affair with Cambodia, even though they can no longer claim her as one of their colonies.

In Phnom Penh, there are several small grocery markets that specialize in all that foreigners and Khmer elite are hankering for whether it's Pop Tarts from the US, Marmite from New Zealand, miso soup paste from Japan or Raclette cheese from Switzerland they have it.  Not all the time, mind you... but often enough to keep the clamoring pubic happy.

They have markets with walk-in refrigerators, where you can point to whatever round of cheese they currently have chilling and get a wedge of it.  They also sell the smaller individually wrapped rounds of all varieties of cheese mostly from France.

The market where I purchased my first wedge of Raclette was more of a traditional grocery store.  I studied the pre-cut, pre-packed, pre-weighed, nameless wedge of cheese trying to determine if that small piece was worth $6. I guess I was in an adventurous mood that day, so I brought it home and to the delight of my tastebuds (and nostrils), I discovered what the Swiss and the French have known for centuries.  OH MY!!!  Raclette cheese is a little piece of gustatory heaven.

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