Got cheese? Food truck offers French flavors in melted form

  • The Cheese Please food truck is parked in front of Ola Brew on Thursday. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Proprietors Elyse Cummins and Cody Luman stand their Cheese Please food truck in front of Ola Brew on Thursday. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Cody Luman is ready to prepare one of Cheese Please offerings Thursday in front of Ola Brew. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • The Cheese Please menu offers delectables made with raclette cheese imported from France. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • The top layer of raclette cheese is melted for shaving on a variety of ingredients at the Cheese Please food truck. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Cody Luman shaves raclette cheese over potatoes at the Cheese Please food truck Thursday in front of Ola Brew. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Cody Luman serves “The Original” to Dannan Kellar at the Cheese Please food truck in front of Ola Brew. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Being cheesy isn’t always a bad thing.

Cheese Please Hawaii debuted at the Waimea Town Farmers Market in October 2017. The two-person team subsequently built their own food truck and have been covering the island with thick, gooey layers of melted deliciousness ever since.

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A specialty operation, Elyse Cummins and Cody Luman deal in only one variety of cheese — raclette, which shares its name with the machine used to slow roast it until it’s ready to be spread over potatoes, sausage, eggs, ground beef, bread or just about anything else you want.

“It’s like a grilled fondue,” Cummins said. “The cheese is meant to be (enjoyed) melted or prepared in some way.”

Raclette is a semi-soft, “stinky” cheese boasting a flavor profile associated most closely with brie. By importing its raclette from France and serving it in melted fashion over hearty proteins and starches, Cheese Please has introduced a culinary tradition born of French and Swiss farming communities to Hawaii Island’s collective palate.

“Originally in the Alps, herders would bring their cows to pasture on the mountainside,” Cummins said. “For an evening meal they would sit around the campfire, roast their potatoes, then take out the wheels (of cheese) they were bringing to and from France and Switzerland,” she continued. “They’d cut the wheel in half, lay it flat next to the fire and let it slowly melt that way. Then they’d scrape the melted parts onto their potatoes. Raclette actually comes from the French word (racler), which means to scrape.”

Cheese Please Hawaii offers customers an array of options on how to take their cheese. But perhaps the most popular dishes are “The Italian,” which is simply raclette dripped heavily over potatoes and Portuguese sausage, and “The Raclette Burger,” a grass-fed beef patty doused with cheese and complete with grilled onions and arugula on a toasted bun.

With price points ranging generally from $10-$18 per item, the tandem plans to experiment with new recipes and tweak ingredients on its staple offerings.

“We’re not just plating sausages and potatoes anymore,” Luman said. “We’re trying to expand to different things, but still focused around raclette cheese.”

Cummins first ran across raclette during travels abroad. As it was unique fare in the islands, Luman had never even heard of the cheese before the two decided to make a business out of it, let alone imagined it would become his full-time job.

A mechanic by trade, Luman arrived on Hawaii Island more than 10 years ago to care for his ailing grandfather. He met Cummins, who had a background in the food industry and who shared his desire for professional freedom. They landed on the concept of a food stand and/or truck and began to research.

“We knew we didn’t want to do Thai food or plate lunches. We wanted to do something completely different, so why not cheese and potatoes?” said Luman of his thought process after Cummins showed him a YouTube video featuring raclette. “Then I opened the first wheel of cheese and thought, ‘What the hell did we get ourselves into?’”

Roadblocks along the way have been numerous, starting with the truck itself. Luman built from scratch over nine months what he described as Cheese Please Hawaii’s “60’s food wagon.”

He salvaged the aluminum body and swapped out the chassis for one with updated suspension before delving into the components necessary to transform a truck into a kitchen on wheels.

“The challenges were marrying everything together and making sure we had propane and water. I’ve never built anything like that before,” Luman said. “The most rewarding part is just seeing people honking when I’m driving down the road.”

Since the wagon has been running, Cummins and Luman have frequently encountered a problem ubiquitous to the food truck industry across Hawaii Island — securing venues from which to serve.

“Consistency of where to find a spot to set up, for sure,” Cummins said of the business’s primary difficulty.

Cheese Please Hawaii is available at the Waimea Town Market at Parker School in a pop-up tent every Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The truck can also be found Monday evenings at Kukuau Studio in Hilo, a live jazz venue, from 6-9 p.m.

The truck’s raclette offerings were part of the Kona Town Night Market in 2018, which Cummins said they’re hopeful to participate in again moving forward. She’s also looking to get the truck featured in the Kokua Kailua Downtown Village Stroll, held every third Sunday, and the First Friday Art Walk in Holualoa, convened on the first Friday of every month.

On the east side, Cheese Please Hawaii plans to pursue venues at Uncle Robert’s Awa Bar and Farmers Market, as well as the Makuu Farmers Market if space becomes available.

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Cummins and Luman said they’re also open to owners of private property across the island interested in hosting Cheese Please Hawaii, whether they be private citizens, businesses, or festival/event organizers.

Schedules of times and locations are available on the website at cheesepleasehawaii.com, or via Facebook and Instagram. The company’s Instagram handle is cheese_please_hawaii. Its Facebook page can be accessed by searching “Cheese Please Hawaii” in the search bar at the top of the screen.

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