By Karen Middleton
For The News Courier
ELKMONT — A tiny goat cheese creamery’s products are gracing the tables of some of the most influential people in the U.S. and abroad. Saturday, it is having its grand opening in downtown Elkmont.
City fathers so believe in this enterprise that the Elkmont Town Council is working with Fromagerie Belle Chèvre owner Tasia Malakasis on an economic development project to help spur business in the sleepy hamlet about 10 miles north of Athens.
Huntsville native Malakasis is bubbling over with ideas that will make her business unique not only to Elkmont but to North Alabama and beyond. With its trendy black-and-white inside and outside décor, the business is already making its mark in a downtown area that hasn’t seen much action since CSX Railroad took up the tracks through the once bustling communi- ty in the late 1980s.
“I began planning to bring my creamery over into Elkmont about a year-and-a-half ago,” said Malakasis. “Then I got the idea to open my first store and I thought, ‘How cool would that be?’”
While Fromagerie Belle Chèvre — which was founded under the ownership of Tom and Liz Parnel in 1989 — has always had an Elk- mont address, its location has been in a few hundred square feet off Bethel Road near Ard- more.
While its beginnings are humble, the Fromagerie Belle Chèvre products made there are sold in exclusive stores, such as Dean & Deluca in Manhattan and the Cheese Store in Beverly Hills. It has been served at state dinners and been featured in such publications as “The New Yorker,” “Southern Living,” “Vogue,” “Small Business/Business Week,” “Gourmet” and dozens of others, including The News Courier.
The new location for the creamery will be in an old cotton warehouse a few yards behind the store.
“We will be going to a 7,000-square-foot warehouse from 500 square feet in our old facility,” said Malakasis.
A former marketing specialist for software companies, Malakasis said she has a “real pas- sion for food” and enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America. While studying to be a chef she happened upon Fromagerie Belle Chèvre cheese in a Manhattan gourmet foods store and researched the company, which at that time in 2006, had already garnered 52 national awards and was recognized as one of the finest cream- eries in the world.
Malakasis contacted the Parnels and asked if she could come to work for them to learn how they made their cheeses. In 2007, she bought the company from the Parnels.
“Of all the awards we’ve gotten, I don’t think any has been better than having our cheesecake written up in the New York Times a few weeks ago,” she said. “It doesn’t get much better.”
Malakasis said her new shop is being billed as a “tasting room” also where shoppers can
taste the products before buying. “We’ll sell other products from Southern ar-
tisans, such as honey, crackers, jams, jellies, pepper jelly, local goat’s milk soap, art from lo- cal artists, and we will also carry local baked goods,” she said.
Malakasis is also planning a cafe menu. She had a “soft opening” at the shop three weeks ago and has since been testing recipes, such as goat cheese pizza and fondue.
Cheese making is an art for Malakasis, who respects all kinds of art. That becomes evident from the interior of her shop, which features paintings by Huntsville artist Leslie Lockhart and black-and-white and sepia toned photos by Stephanie Schamban, who also did the art for Malakasis’s cookbook.
Because the shop and creamery lies adjacent to the Richard Martin Walking Trail in the old CSX rail corridor, Malakasis is planning to rent out picnic baskets filled with goodies for hikers to take on the trail.
“I want to do a hitching post so people who ride the trail can come in off the trail and get a root beer, and water for their horses,” she said.
Martin, a longtime Elkmont resident who organized the effort to develop the 11-mile, said he is “excited” about the new business.
“It will be an asset to Elkmont,” he said. “It will build up the tax revenue and all the good things that could bring to this community.”
Malakasis said she is finding that many share Martin’s enthusiasm.
“Everyone has been so supportive,” she said. “It is humbling, flattering and so welcoming. It is nice to be where people open their arms to you. It makes a body feel good.”
Malakasis invites people out for Saturday’s grand opening festivities, which will coincide with Elkmont Bean Day. There will be baby goats for children to pet and the first 50 people will get a free gift.