The first time I encountered raclette was in the hallway at the Ferry Building in San Francisco about a year ago. It was just in front of the Cowgirl Creamery Sidekick walk-up cafe.
A half-wheel of cheese perched on a stand under a heat lamp. As the cheese melted, a woman scraped gooey strands over bread, potatoes and pickles.
The line was long.
I wandered off to the shucked-to-order oyster stand, then the teenager selling the Italian pastries, then the macaron lady. Our ferry was arriving and the line continued building. I ran out of time for raclette and I’ve regretted it since — until I found it in downtown Puyallup.
My Cheese Shoppe began serving raclette in October. It’s a Saturday-only special served from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. It’s a bargain at only $5 for a paper tray full of cheese, potatoes, pickles and bread.
Raclette isn’t just the name of the cheese, it’s the name of the dish. There are a few ways to prepare the Swiss dish, said Laurie Sanders-Polen, owner of the downtown Puyallup cheese store and sandwich cafe.
“We make ours in the raclette pans,” she said.
Behind the cheese cafe’s counter is a two-tier grill plate with room for small pans that hold the cheese as it slowly melts, plus a grilling area to heat the steamed potatoes. (She sells the Boska brand raclette grill plate in her store for $59.99 for anyone wanting to make the dish at home.)
If her version of raclette picks up in popularity, she’ll invest in the equipment I saw at the Ferry Building. She’ll keep a quarter-wheel of the cheese under a heat lamp and scrape the cheese (to order) over crunchy baguette slices, steamed potatoes and cornichon.
The combination of cheese, potatoes, pickles and crusty bread is precisely how that dish is served in Switzerland, where it’s a popular winter dish.
Sanders-Polen said to think of the dish as something like fondue, but rather than dip bread and potatoes into the cheese, the cheese is poured over the potatoes and pickles. It’s often served with cured meats, which Sanders-Polen offers at her cheese counter. A slice of prosciutto, salami or French ham can be added to the raclette for a small surcharge.
Raclette’s flavor and texture combination appeals to Sanders-Polen. “With the salty cornichons and the crunchiness of the bread, then the creamy cheese, you get a lot of different flavors and textures,” she said. “It’s cold-weather food, satisfying.”
I dug into a dish recently at her cafe on a cold Saturday (we’ve been having a lot of those lately). The gooey cheese draped over the steamed new potatoes, tiny cornichons and thick slices of a grilled baguette. The cheese had the nuttiness of gruyere, but with a more luscious texture. I noted an herbal flavor. That’s because Sanders-Polen blends her raclette with Green Fairy, a cheese from Switzerland made with fresh alpine herbs.
For now, the raclette dish is on the cafe menu every Saturday through March 18.
For those who have never visited, the cafe in downtown Puyallup has an impressive cheese and meat counter, and serves eight kinds of grilled sandwiches, cheese-and-meat snack platters and frequently changing soups. The cafe seats about a half dozen.
My Cheese Shoppe
Raclette hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays only through March 18.
Store hours: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays.
Also find: Stink Cheese and Meat does not yet serve the prepared dish raclette, but it does sell raclette cheese by the pound at 628 St. Helens Ave., Tacoma; 253-426-1347.