A Visit with the Founders of Raclette Machine
by Ted Scheffler
I vividly remember my first encounter with raclette. It was in Brussels at a restaurant that specializes in the marvelous cheesy culinary experience. And yes, raclette is an experience. I’ll let Abby Pfunder and Zara Ahmed, owners of the Raclette Machine food truck and catering service explain. They say, “We offer a specialty European dish known as Raclette, a dish that literally translates to “scraped” in French, and is known for the presentation of melting cheese right off the wheel, and scraping it onto a plate of bread, potatoes, pickles, and cured meats. We also serve locally sourced variations on raclette, featuring Wasatch Mountain, a Gruyere-style cheese made by Cache Valley’s Rockhill Creamery.”
Wondering how these two women got into the raclette biz, they say, “We both met and got our start in the cheese world in 2011 while working at a cheese shop in San Francisco called Cowgirl Creamery. Prior to that experience, Zara lived in France for a while where she was exposed to new flavors and artisan cheese, while Abby was working as an apprentice at Rockhill Creamery, learning about their operation, milking the cows, and making the cheese with their cheesemaker, Jen Hines.” I would add that anyone who knows of Cowgirl Creamery and Rockhill Creamery knows that this was an elite form on-the-job training!
When asked about how and why the Raclette Machine got started, Zara says, “Our first experience serving raclette was actually in our backyard wedding in San Francisco in 2014. Our friends helped us prepare the food and scrape the cheese for our guests and we loved the way this dish brought our families together. We then started this business in 2016 shortly after relocating to Salt Lake City, initially by observing the similarities between Utah and regions around the Alps. We thought this was a perfect place to launch Raclette Machine, while also making it an intention to educate the public about artisan cheese, and making sure our offerings are affordable - ensuring that quality cheese is accessible to all.”
She continues, “The idea came to us on the drive up to Richmond to visit Pete & Jen of Rockhill Creamery. What if we started a farmer’s market booth doing raclette, but also used Rockhill’s cheese? We immediately looked at each other and knew this could work. We were thrilled to share our idea with our friends upon arriving, and they gave us their full support. It took us a few months to save up enough to purchase our first raclette melter and wheel of cheese, and the rest is history.”
My own experiences with raclette is that it’s both a food and an activity. It’s fun as well as delicious. Zara explains her and Abby’s perspective on raclette saying, “We strive to not only provide a high quality product, but also experience. We encourage our customers to enjoy that cheese scrape and get excited for their food! Like Julia Child said, ‘People who love to eat are always the best people.’ So why not take some time from your day to enjoy this moment and treat yourself? We also love to educate our customers on raclette, and quality cheese. Artisan cheese has brought a tremendous amount of joy and happy memories in our lives, and we believe that this type of food should be accessible and available to all.”
While raclette originated in the Swiss Alps and much raclette cheese comes from Europe, Abby and Zara are proud of the local artisan products utilized in their business. “While we first discovered our love for cheese through Euopean classics, like Gruyere, Comte, and aged Goudas, we both got to taste all of the incredible artisan cheeses that the United States has to offer during our time at Cowgirl Creamery. We understand the importance of supporting local business and agriculture, and the effect that has on our economy, land, and well-being of those in our community. So we make it a priority to cook with and purchase local as often as we can.”
“With that perspective, we knew we wanted to use this incredible cheese melting technique to promote local businesses, and many of our sandwiches are 100% locally sourced. A great example is our sandwich, The Wasatch - featuring bread from either Crumb Brothers or Streusel SLC, red pepper sauce from Salsa Del Diablo, greens from SLC Top Crops, and the option of adding Creminelli salami.”
Zara and Abby give props to mentors like those at Rockhill Creamery for advice and guidance in creating the Raclette Machine. For others having thoughts of pursuing a similar venture they advise: “We highly recommend working for a food vendor doing a similar set up as your venture! Being a small business owner requires a crazy amount of work in all kinds of areas, and it’s important to understand what you’re getting yourself into. We also recommend starting by offering 2-3 menu items and really perfecting them before expanding your menu to be too large. The Liberty Park Farmers Market and Downtown SLC Farmers Markets were incredible launching points for us, as we kept our costs low and were able to save up for our food truck with the income we were earning.”
During the summer farmers market season (June - October), you can find the Raclette Machine at the Liberty Park Farmers Market every Friday from 4-7:30pm, and at the Downtown SLC Farmers Market every Saturday from 8-2pm. They also appear at additional events and festivals such as the Made in Utah Festival. For more information and schedules, visit their website at www.raclette-machine.com, Instagram: @raclettemachine, or on Facebook: facebook.com/raclettemachine.