By Karen Middleton
For the little town of Elkmont and young entrepreneur Tasia Malakasis, it just keeps getting better.
Malakasis, who opened her first retail store in Elkmont for her Belle Chevre brand in April, celebrated a “reinvention” with the moving of her goat cheese creamery from Bethel Road in the Ardmore area to Elkmont this month.
Located in a renovated cotton warehouse behind her store, the creamery has been making cheese for several weeks in the new location. Southern Living and Cooking Light magazines were on hand with cooking demonstrations and free samples for her creamery grand opening as well as some 800 visitors.
Tom and Liz Parnel founded Fromagerie Belle Chevre in 1989 and Malakasis bought the company from the Parnels in 2007. Belle Chevre had already won 52 national awards and had been recognized as one of the finest creameries in the world when she bought it. Since then, Malakasis has been written up in many prestigious publications, including The New York Times, among many others, and she has appeared on the “Today” show. She has also been recognized through numerous awards.
The Elkmont Town Council passed a resolution to spend $500,000 to transform the 7,000-square-foot warehouse into the new cheese factory. Derrick Young, co-owner of U.G. White Mercantile in Athens, is opening its “Outpost No. 1” in Elkmont in spring 2014 because of the notoriety that Belle Chevre has brought to the town.
Visitors can take advantage of a guided or self-guided tour of the facility. When visitors first enter, they will view a film, “Tasia and the Cheese Revolution,” which was produced and directed by Becky Beamer and won the Best Alabama Film at the recent Birmingham Film Festival.
Curved hallway walls with leading back to viewing windows of the cheese production area are hung with photos and storyboards that tell about the journey of Belle Chevre to its prominence in gourmet circles.
At the viewing window, visitors can watch the cheese makers mold by hand the loose cheese into logs for packaging.
“Most goat cheese creameries use molds to extract the excess moisture out of the cheese,” said Malakasis. “But we do it the old way of working the moisture out by hand.”
Outside, a large courtyard is segmented into boxed herb beds, insuring a plentiful supply of fresh herbs to go into the cheese.
“We want to have a place where people can come and hang out,” said Malakasis. “The city is working on an access to the trail (Richard Martin Rails to Trails) and we are also talking with someone to do a bike rental. People can get their cheese and head on down the trail.”
Malakasis said she wants to encourage clubs and civic groups as well as school classes tour her facility.
“Obviously, we’re here to make cheese for all of the distributors we have nationally, but we’re equally weighted on having guests come visit us.”
Self-guided tours are $10; guided tours, $12.