Try Raclette - Fondue's Lazy Cousin

An easier, cheesier entertaining idea

If you want family gathered around you this season, lure them over with hot plates of gooey cheese.

Raclette (multipurpose even in its name) refers to both a densely creamy cow's-milk cheese and the thick, melting dish that's essentially fondue's lazy, simple cousin.

Get into the spirit temporarily with Cheesetique's new "Rent-a-Clette" program. For $50, the shop will set you up with a special Raclette grill and 1½ pounds of a pungent French Raclette (enough to feed eight people), which the staff prefers over the widely available, more mild Swiss version. Throw some boiled potatoes on the grill, slide a tray of cheese underneath until it bubbles, douse the potatoes with the molten cheese, and repeat.

The rental also entitles you to 10 percent off everything in the shop, so you can round out the meal with mustards, charcuterie and a loaf of Lyon Bakery's rustic bread ($3). Add pears, peppers and mushrooms, and a full dinner party is ready to go with no advance cooking.

The machine is yours for 24 hours, so we recommend a breakfast of fried eggs topped with melted cheese the next day.

Cheesetique, 2411 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria; 703-706-5300 or