Baked Cheese Haus is not the name of your older brother’s stoner-metal side project. But it may be the only outdoor-market sandwich slinger worth its own stoner-metal soundtrack. It’s definitely the most theatrical.
It is, however, a side project, an increasingly heroic one from the folks behind Brunkow Cheese of Darlington, Wisconsin, a perennial presence at Chicago farmers’ markets and the brains behind another brilliant market act: free samples of its molten Finnish-style Brun-uusto “bread cheese.”
Baked Cheese Haus exists primarily to push Brunkow’s 12-pound, three- to five-month-old raclette wheel. But the epically metal sandwich has proven so popular that the cheesemaker is out of raclette and Brunkow is now importing it from Switzerland to accommodate the savage demand. Picture it: You’re wading through the lunchtime throngs at Daley Plaza. An intoxicating fungal aroma in the warm summer air alerts your olfactory system: It’s alive! The crowd ahead parts and a booth appears where a maestro—his T-shirt relays a ninth beatitude, “Blessed are the cheesemakers”—plays a half reel of raclette like he’s Tony Iommi.
Raclette, to review, is the Swiss (or sometimes French) Alpine cheese most famously eaten melted over boiled potatoes, with pickled onions and cornichons to the side. If that strikes you as something you’d rather eat during the winter, you should try it smeared onto a toasted half baguette, layered with prosciutto. That’s the sandwich that comes together via a mesmerizing display of repetitive grace: the raclette, a half moon literally made of cheese, is mounted horizontally on a stand underneath a heat lamp radiating downward over the wheel’s cut side. Your hero drops the stand to an angle, then scrapes off the bubbling top layer, a voluptuous cascade of cheesy magma, spreads it onto the bread, and adds squirts of Dijon mustard. A crowd, mostly still and silent, has gathered. It stands transfixed until every few minutes a name is called. A sandwich, wrapped in red-and-white-checkered paper, is hoisted above the crowd, and one more slack-jawed spectator shakes off her stupor, lurching forward to claim her lunch.
Cheesemaker Joe Burns debuted this stunning sandwich a few years ago at the Christkindlmarket. But due to challenges with Daley Plaza’s electrical supply, it could only make occasional appearances at Brunkow’s summertime stands there and at Green City Market on Saturdays. That changed this year when the crepe stand Brunkow shared electricity with moved to the center of the plaza, giving more power to Brunkow’s spot in the southeastern corner. You can get your sandwich with or without ham (supplied by various makers such as La Quercia and Olympia) or occasionally saucisson sec (a thick French dry-cured sausage), garnished with the appropriate cornichons and chopped spring onions from that day’s market.
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Amid the wanton, lustful moans of desire aroused when I shared a short Instagram video of the sandwich construction, a few greedy little monsters cried out for more cheese. My only quibble with the sandwich isn’t that there isn’t enough cheese. It’s that there’s almost too much bread. I’d still happily hand over $12 for the same amount of raclette, swiped over a shorter length of bread, which is from Bennison’s, in Evanston, and is excellent.
In any event, there just isn’t that much cheese to go around. Baked Cheese Haus also maintains a weekly presence at markets in Brooklyn and Manhattan, where it sells a smothered double-Swiss dog, for crying out loud, and where it goes through 50 to 60 12-pound wheels of raclette a week. It doesn’t sell quite that much in Chicago, but that demand helps explain why you can’t buy Brunkow’s raclette in a store, and why, for now at least, the cheese in the sandwiches is coming from Europe. “Our booth success has way outpaced our cheesemaking,” Burns says. “We can’t make enough of it, let alone sell it.”