Ottawa Citizen

Cheese please

Ra­clette is the so­phis­ti­cated an­swer to fon­due,

- MICHELE KAYAL

When Cow­girl Cream­ery breaks out the ra­clette on week­ends in San Fran­cisco’s Ferry Build­ing Mar­ket­place, peo­ple float into the store al­most trance­like.

“They smell that aroma coming down the hall in the ferry build­ing and they’re drawn to it like a car­toon,” Sue Con­ley, co-founder of the San Fran­cisco-based cheese com­pany, says of ra­clette — the name of a cheese as well as a dish and the ma­chine used to make it.

Which is sur­pris­ingly un­help­ful. What is ra­clette? Con­sider it a more so­phis­ti­cated an­swer to fon­due.

Ra­clette — which de­rives from the French word mean­ing “to scrape” — in­volves melt­ing the sur­face of a wheel of semi-soft ra­clette cheese, then scrap­ing the gooey part onto boiled pota­toes and other ac­com­pa­ni­ments. A tra­di­tion of the Swiss Alps, ra­clette is still lit­tle known in the United States. But that may be chang­ing.

The pun­gent, washed rind cheese has been made in Switzer­land for cen­turies in the can­ton of Valais. Its most dis­tinc­tive fea­ture is that it be­comes creamy and smooth when melted. The Swiss eat it as a meal, ac­com­pa­nied by boiled pota­toes, cor­ni­chons and pearl onions, with lib­eral drafts of white wine or tea.

Ra­clette also makes great street food, served on a slab of bread.

In the United States, it’s hard to find out­side high-end cheese shops, su­per­mar­kets such as Whole Foods Mar­ket and the oc­ca­sional very, very cool party. Shops like Cow­girl Cream­ery sell and serve ra­clette. Mur­ray’s Cheese in New York also is ex­per­i­ment­ing with it.

Ra­clette should nat­u­rally ap­peal to palates weaned on grilled cheese. But a num­ber of ob­sta­cles have slowed its rise.

Ra­clette tra­di­tion­ally has been im­ported, which can make it both ex­pen­sive and hard to find. While most ra­clette still is im­ported, a num­ber of Amer­i­can cheese mak­ers have be­gun pro­duc­ing it.

Emmi Roth USA, the Amer­i­can arm of a large Swiss cheese maker, has been mak­ing small amounts of ra­clette for about 20 years.

Lee­lanau Cheese Com­pany, in Michi­gan, be­gan craft­ing hand­made ra­clette in 1995. And last win­ter, Spring Brook Farm, in Ver­mont, also be­gan of­fer­ing ra­clette. While that means there is more of it avail­able, get­ting the word out is an­other story.

“Even the im­ported Swiss and French ra­clette aren’t really mar­keted and there are only a few pro­duc­ers in the U.S. mak­ing it,” says Nora Weiser, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can Cheese So­ci­ety, based in Den­ver. “It’s a mat­ter of aware­ness in many cases. If aware­ness is raised and more peo­ple try it, I think peo­ple will get into it.”

Which may al­ready be hap­pen­ing. It’s no longer hard to find a ra­clette ma­chine. A trip to the mall and re­tail­ers like Wil­liams-Sonoma will bring re­sults. They are read­ily avail­able on­line, too. Boska, a Dutch com­pany that sells ra­clette machines, says U.S. sales of pro­fes­sional set­ups have dou­bled since last year. Home models have grown as much as 30 per cent.

But ra­clette afi­ciona­dos say that equip­ment shouldn’t stand in your way.

“You don’t need a fancy oven,” says Rene We­ber, master cheese maker and vi­cepres­i­dent of op­er­a­tions for Emmi Roth USA. “You can just cut a quar­ter-inch slice, put it in a Te­flon pan, and heat it up and when it melts you put it on a plate. That’s how the Swiss eat it at home.”

Lee­lanau still makes just 30,000 pounds of their hand­made ra­clette cheese a year, but that’s four times higher than when they started 17 years ago. We­ber says ra­clette makes up less than 10 per cent of sales for his com­pany, but that the fig­ure is grow­ing.

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 ?? MATTHEW MEAD/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS ?? Ra­clette is a cel­e­bra­tory dish de­signed to be an ideal ac­com­pa­ni­ment to large or in­ti­mate gath­er­ings.
MATTHEW MEAD/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS Ra­clette is a cel­e­bra­tory dish de­signed to be an ideal ac­com­pa­ni­ment to large or in­ti­mate gath­er­ings.

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