Charlotte’s ‘cheese speakeasy’

Cuisine

March 31, 2021



Raclette Night at Orrman’s Cheese Shop endures through the pandemic.

by Ben Jarrell  •  photographs by Justin Driscoll

On a Thursday evening in March, it’s 6:45 and getting dark. Maybe you have the wrong place, you wonder, approaching the locked door.

“Is there a password? How do I get in?”

Glass doors swing open, and a smiling face puts your worries to rest. Welcome to the “cheese speakeasy” at Orrman’s Cheese Shop inside uptown’s 7th Street Public Market. Orrman’s owner Rachel Klebaur coined the phrase. 

“I remember going to clubs in New York — that’s what it reminds me of. Your name needed to be on the list,” Klebaur says.

Selling cheese during the pandemic has been difficult. Rolling with the shutdown of the market in mid-March last year, the kitchen closed up shop for three months, and Klebaur turned exclusively to retail sales. 

“I had a large cheese sale before everything went into lockdown to get rid of inventory,” Klebaur says, continuing with a sentiment familiar to us all. “I didn’t know what was going to happen next.”

But normalcy is returning. Retail is open, and the kitchen is back up and running. And Orrman’s famous Raclette Night is still the place to be on Thursdays. After making your reservation online or over the phone, groups up to eight people can relax at their own table, enjoying wine pairings from Assorted Table Wine Shoppe and (lots) of melted raclette cheese. 

“It’s safe because of the amount of space we have [at the market],” Klebaur says. “Racletters” can socially distance while enjoying melted cheese scraped over plates of potatoes, along with slices of baguettes from Tribeca Oven, a bakery south of Manhattan in Carlstadt, N.J. Tickets are $19, with an option to add charcuterie — typically salami or smoked cured meat like speck, similar to prosciutto — for an additional three bucks (do it). A small side salad, cornichons and Lusty Monk mustard out of Asheville accompany the plate. A chocolate pot de crème caps the meal, made in-house by Klebaur’s husband, Chef Jose. 

Traditionally from the Alps region that straddles the border between France and Switzerland, raclette is a pungent-smelling yet mild tasting cheese that melts exceptionally well. It’s believed that shepherds, huddled around a campfire, would enjoy the melted raclette over potatoes for a calorie-dense meal before another day tending their flocks. 

Raclette is a complex cheese that doesn’t match its aroma. Each week the selection is different. Some boast nutty or grassy notes, while others remind the senses of sweet spring onions. But, stepping inside the market, you’ll know it’s raclette night. 

To cut through the richness, Klebaur recommends a “bright, lively wine” from the same region. Josh Villapando of Assorted Table Wine Shoppe concurs.

“Dry, good acid encourages salivation and cuts through lingering fat of raclette. I dig Savoie Cuvée Gastronomie ($15.99). Celine, our GM and wine fairy, prefers Apremont ($17.99),” Villapando adds.

“If it grows together, it goes together,” Klebaur says, echoing the old adage.  

Raclette-style cheeses are being produced in the U.S. as well. Klebaur points to one of her favorites, Reading cheese out of Spring Brook Farm in Vermont, which is made in the same style as the Alpine varieties.

Klebaur has tasted mountains of cheese since her days in culinary school in New York. It was during her stints at cheese shops from the now defunct Lucy’s Whey inside New York City’s Chelsea Market and Murray’s Cheese, with locations in the West Village and Grand Central Station, when Klebaur developed her lasting love of cheese. 

“Working at these places, I was able to taste hundreds of different cheeses.” She and Jose moved their family to Charlotte in 2012 after hearing about a new food hall looking for vendors.

Now fully open for business, it seems Orrman’s has weathered the storm. Working with Assorted Table, virtual wine and cheese pairings run every other Wednesday at 6 p.m. Klebaur also works with the wine shop with deliveries to uptown and surrounding neighborhoods. Customers unable to visit the cheese case in person can schedule a Zoom call, where Rachel or one of her cheesemongers will assist with selections.

“Rachel is a longtime vendor and found some magic in Raclette Night,” says Chris Clouden, executive director at 7th Street Public Market. “While capacity restrictions make it impossible to host this and operate normally during regular business hours, we didn’t want her to shut them down all together.” So, leaders worked with Klebaur, allowing her to host the events after-hours in a Covid-safe environment.

“We are North Carolina’s first food hall, but the thing that really makes us special are businesses like Orrman’s,” Clouden adds. “Our goal is to celebrate and support the small businesses in any way possible.”  SP

Orrman’s Cheese Shop is open for in-store shopping and curbside pickup Tuesday-Sunday (hours vary). Raclette Night is reservation-only, with seatings at 6, 6:45 and 7:30 p.m. orrmanscheeseshop.com

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