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Say Cheese: Raclette Born in the USA

A tongue-in-cheek sign at the cheesemaking room at Leelanau Cheese Co., in Suttons Bay, Mich. In the background, milk is being heated to produce raclette. (Domenica Marchetti)

Some news from the cheese world: Rogue Creamery of Oregon won Best of Show for its Rogue River Blue at the American Cheese Society’s annual competition, which was held last week in Austin, Tex. The grand champion is a blue-veined raw cow’s-milk cheese that is wrapped in brandy-soaked grape leaves and aged for up to a year.

Cowgirl Creamery of Point Reyes, Calif. (with an outpost in the District), took second place for its Red Hawk, a triple-cream washed-rind cow’s-milk cheese that is aged for six weeks and washed with a brine that produces a red-orange rind.

John Hoyt (with his wife, Anne, in the background) uses a harp to cut the curds of what will become raclette. (Domenica Marchetti)

Tied for third place were Wisconsin’s Carr Valley Cheese’s Cave Aged Mellage, a mixed-milk cheese, and Vermont’s Consider Bardwell Farm’s Rupert, an aged raw Jersey cow’s-milk cheese made in the Alpine style of Gruyere and Comte. For more of this year’s results, click here.

In the meantime, while vacationing in Northern Michigan last week, I had the opportunity to spend a little time with 2007’s Best of Show winner, John Hoyt, proprietor and cheesemaker at Leelanau Cheese Co., in the beautiful lake town of Suttons Bay. Hoyt and his wife and fellow cheesemaker, Anne, won first place two years ago for their aged raclette.

The Swiss-style cheese has garnered a slew of other awards. It is a seven-time Michigan State Fair grand champion, and most recently, in March it took the silver medal at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest (sponsored by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association).

John Hoyt, right, drains the cut curds before pressing them into plastic molds. (Domenica Marchetti)

Both Hoyts learned their cheesemaking skills in the Valais region of southern Switzerland (John is a native Detroiter; Anne is Swiss). Their small creamery, where they also produce fromage blanc, is housed at Black Star Farms, a winery and inn located on a bucolic hill on the outskirts of Suttons Bay. Visitors to the winery’s tasting room can peer right into the cheesemaking room and watch the Hoyts as they meticulously cut and press the curds.

Like traditional raclette, the Hoyts’ version is a semi-firm, salted cheese made from cow's milk. They produce two versions: mild, which is aged between three and five months, and the award-winning aged, which is kept for eight months or longer (though John Hoyt admits that because of demand there are rarely any wheels that hang around more than eight months). During the aging process, the wheels are turned, washed and brushed with salted water every day.

Anne Hoyt presses the drained curds into molds. Once drained and pressed, the wheels of cheese will be brined and aged for several months. (Domenica Marchetti)

The mild raclette, says John Hoyt, is a melting cheese and ideal for making fondue, potato gratin, quiche and especially for the traditional Swiss dish of the same name. (A half-wheel of cheese is heated over a fire or under a special raclette grill and then portions are scraped onto individual plates, to be savored together with cornichons, pickled onions, cooked new potatoes, sliced vegetables and cured meats.) Leelanau’s aged raclette, which is firm and has a pronounced, nutty flavor, is best enjoyed as part of a cheese plate, he says.

Author Laura Werlin wrote about Leelanau Cheese’s raclette in her 2007 book, "Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials": “The Hoyts’ is unequivocally the best raclette in this country and quite possibly anywhere.”

Leelanau's award-winning aged raclette is scraped, cut and packaged for sale. (Domenica Marchetti)

The good news is that Leelanau Cheese Co. ships its raclette (priced at $12 per pound for mild and $15 per pound for aged). Or you could settle for authentic Swiss raclette, available at many cheese shops and supermarket cheese departments, including Wegmans and Whole Foods Markets.

-- Domenica Marchetti, whose Web site is

By The Food Section  |  August 11, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Say Cheese  | Tags: Domenica Marchetti, raclette  
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I love raclette. I was introduced to it by friends who actually have a raclette grill (not sure what to call it). It's a great party food.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | August 11, 2009 8:15 PM | Report abuse

One of my early stories for the Post was on a great raclette party. Loved it.

Posted by: Joe_Yonan | August 12, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

I have visited the Leelanau Cheese Company at Black Star Farms. It is a lovey place to visit and the Raclette is wonderful. Thanks for the article and pictures.

Posted by: dddowns2002 | August 18, 2009 9:25 AM | Report abuse

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