Tasia Malakasis was living in New York City when she found Belle Chevre goat cheese, from her hometown in North Alabama, on display in a gourmet retail shop.
Tasia returned to Elkmont, Alabama, in the northern portion of the state, to learn the art of cheesemaking.
She apprenticed at Belle Chevre, a 20-year-old company well-known among cheese aficionados for its creamy freshness.
In 2007, she persuaded Liz Parnell, the owner, to let her be the next generation of the company. Tasia planned to take high-end chevre and make it mainstream. She wanted the goat cheese experience to be creative and upbeat, for herself and her customers.
“For a long time, goat cheese got a bad rap,” Tasia said. “Some people are reluctant to try it.”
Tasia is overcoming that hesitancy to try goat cheese by marketing, educating, and making the whole process fun.
She transformed a former cotton warehouse into an all-round goat cheese experience with a Cheese Shop and Tasting Room.
Chevre is made from goat’s milk. Plain and simple. Feta cheese, on the other hand, even though originally made with sheep’s milk, can also be found with varying combinations of sheep, goat, and cow’s milk.
At Belle Chevre, everything possible is done to simplify a visitor’s understanding of cheese making. “There is a whole idea that the process of making cheese is mystified or scientific, but it is easy,” Tasia explained. “Milk plus heat in the form of warm water and citric acid and you get curds and whey. Strain, rinse, and squeeze out the liquid.”
According to Tasia, the milk and the ingredients are basically the same for every cheesemaker. It’s what goes into the cheese at the time of making that creates the difference.
“At Belle Chevre we are a family of cheesemakers. We stand apart because of what we think, what we feel, and our love for what we do. We laugh. We sing. Our problems are left at the door.”
Visitors are encouraged to watch Belle Chevre cheesemakers at work.
Tasia’s cheesemakers really are family. Mothers, brothers, daughters, and grandsons all work together. Hands, not machinery, are an important part of every stage of the process, right down to shaping the cheese before it is packaged.
Tasia re-worked the company’s brand and introduced new award-winning products. She created new flavors for breakfast spreads. Honey, coffee, fig, pimento, and cinnamon, in addition to the original chevre. www.bellechevre.com
She introduced the Greek Kiss, chevre wrapped in brined grape leaves, and Southern Belle Goat Cheese, a disc of cheese coated in bourbon-soaked pecans, mint, and sugar, inspired by the southern drink – mint julep. With Tuscan Chevre she combined goat cheese with extra-virgin olive oil, herbs, and sun-dried tomatoes.
Tasia proved that cheese making is simple by creating a Do-It-Youself goat cheese kit. “In just a few hours and with only about 10 minutes of kitchen time you can produce your own.”
Education at Belle Chevre doesn’t stop at the cheesemaking.
We sampled all of the breakfast spreads. Valerie recommended the original fromage blanc chevre on potatoes, or with baking. The Honey as a dessert cheese, or in a parfait. Pimento on garlic bread or a burger or in egg salad. The fig was perfect on a cracker. And cinnamon conjured up images of morning toast and coffee.
A four-cheese grilled cheese with prosciutto and caramelized onion inspired new recipe ideas. The Goat Cheesecake, with its hints of sweet vanilla and lemon zest, was light and airy. We wanted more.
Tasia has not only taken goat cheese mainstream, from breakfast all the way to dessert, she has introduced value-added products like soap, body lotion, and lip balm.
And, the fun doesn’t stop there.
Tasia Malakasis is the story behind Belle Chevre. Not only is she being creative and having fun, she has put Alabama, a cotton producing state, on the map once again. This time with artisanal goat cheese.