I stumbled through the damp portico of an industrial shared-use building Thursday with a five-year-old and two pre-teens, looking for funky cheese.
At the end of the portico, we were met by one Kent Walker, known in these parts as the cheesemaker guy of Kent Walker Artisan Cheese. I had called him that following morning to get an expert opinion on which cheese making supplies at thecheesemaker.com I should buy, and also because I was in search of something blue.
I’m gearing up for next week’s Southern Summer Nights Virtual Dinner Party. My course, appearing on August 15, will be a cheese soufflé, fancified, of course. After a bit of online research, I decided some funky blue would be in order. Turns out that Kent doesn’t regularly produce a blue, but he did have something for me that he thought would work nicely.
Back in the portico, Kent and fellow cheesemaker Randy Copeland grinned widely. A new stainless steel vat big enough to bathe a hippo had just arrived. They’re just moving into these new digs in the nuts-and-bolts part of town, behind Heifer Village and surrounded by purveyors of HVAC and car parts.
Their operation had long been at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, which availed its commercial kitchen for rent to several small food-based businesses who weren’t quite big enough for their own sites. Apparently, Arkansas is local-cheese crazy enough to now put Kent Walker Artisan Cheese in the “big enough” category.
Kent, proud of his growing business and new digs, took me and the kids for a quick tour. Although much of the operation was still in boxes and piles, the two “caves” were set up and running. Soon, he will have commercial builders in to build him a state of the art commercial fridge, complete with an excellent cold storage door. Plus, he will have numerous pieces of culinary technology installed too, helping his operations run more smoothly and efficiently.
Basically white tents with heavy zippered walls, these caves held wheel upon wheel of aging, moldy cheese. Each held a different level of humidity based on what the cheese types inside need. Kent let the kids feel a newer cheese wheel, still soft when pressed, and an older one, about a year old, with no give at all. He thunked the latter wheel like a drum, resonant with its own magical transformation.
Back in the not-quite-put-together office, I apologized for interrupting their move-in (which he graciously pshawed) and paid for my cheese. He had recommended the Ophelia, a funky washed-rind relative of feta, for my soufflés. I added on some habañero cheddar, since – just being honest here – I know I like that one. That Ophelia was some funky smelling stuff.
The car ride home was pretty entertaining. My daughter’s friend held the cheese, which almost immediately had the car smelling pretty ripe. “It smells like baby poooooo,” she screamed. But, knowing that the smelly cheeses are usually the best ones, she admitted that she’d try it.
Tune in on August 15 to hear how it turned out.