Aging well 

The Observer's father developed a dairy allergy toward the end of his high school years, the product of a bona fide milkoholism Yours Truly duly inherited. Our affection for the 2 percent runs as deep as the wellspring of chocolate syrup we've preserved in The Observatory's refrigerator door for so many-odd years. You might then sympathize with our frustration (and our nausea) when, one recent night, we pulled out the gallon jug and encountered a mostly liquid solution. Hard to believe that stomach-turning goop is the stuff delicious cheese is made from.

Motivated equally by curiosity and a desire for closure, The Observer dialed up Kent Walker, a local artisan cheesemaker, to solicit a tour of his operation and to better understand the process by which the nectar of our bones solidifies into cheddar, gouda and brie.

Walker, 29, runs a humble — though profitable — enterprise, tucked inside a Razorback Air Filter warehouse out on Pepper Avenue east of the Clinton Presidential Library. He started cheesing three years ago after watching a few of his buddies launch home-brewing operations. "It's complementary," he said. Business has only expanded in those three years, having blossomed from the kitchen of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral on Center Street into the facility Yours Truly toured last week. Three rooms comprise the establishment — a production kitchen, an office (which doubles as both a bedroom and a carpentry shop) and a cheese cave.

The kitchen includes a 500-gallon vat, which holds the milk that Walker curdles into cheese by adding healthy bacteria and an enzyme called rennet, extracted from calf stomachs. "Cooked" cheeses, like Parmesan and cheddar, are heated at temperatures higher than the body temperature of the animal that supplied the milk, which makes them harder and more acidic. Likewise, "uncooked" cheeses, such as gouda, are heated at temperatures below that of the original animal, leaving them softer and runnier. Similar to red versus white in the wine community, cooked versus uncooked marks a dividing line among queso connoisseurs. Once the curds have hardened and some of the whey — the liquid element of milk — has drained from the vat, the curds are cut, cooked some more, formed into wheels in a plastic mold — excuse the pun — salted and pressed on Walker's handmade double-piston, water-weighted cheese press. Then into the cave they go.

Folks, you cannot appreciate the cool and quiet solemnity of a well-stocked cheese cave until you've wandered in one yourself. We found it nothing less than a veritable treasure trove of mold-encrusted gems. Were it not a functional refrigerator and faintly dank, Yours Truly might have found it a fine place to sit for a while. Beautifully named wheels — Montasio, Ophelia, Blue — line the racks of the cave for years, flipped once daily to ensure that an even coat of rind and (nontoxic) mold develops around their exteriors. Months-old 20-pound hunks of a prototype golden-orange Parmesan fill what Walker calls the "Research-and-Development" rack in the back of the cave. Walker said the pilot Parm wheels will have to age for another couple of years before they're released to public tongues. The taste is in the time, and time can be the trickiest element to manage around a cheese enterprise.

Making a full batch of cheese takes up to eight hours, so Walker keeps a cot behind his desk in case he needs a few minutes of shut-eye during the occasional nighttime cycle. (As an aside, late-night cheese batches have made Walker an occasional 4 a.m. Midtown Billiards burger-goer, the type of late-working folk for whom David Koon and Benji Hardy advocated in their cover story two weeks ago.)

"Recently, we got frozen goat milk in the morning, which had thawed by that evening, and we had cow milk coming in at 6 a.m. the next morning," Walker said. "So we couldn't wait until the day after to do the goat milk since it wouldn't be fresh, so we had to make it that night."

The Observer found it a little funny the way freshness means everything to the man who spoils milk for money. But, as we discovered, it really isn't that simple.

"We let it spoil with style," Walker said. If only we could say the same of our own.


Sign up for the Daily Update email

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

People who saved…

Readers also liked…

  • The sweet hereafter

    This week, the Arkansas Times falls back on that oldest of old chestnuts: a recipe issue. Being who we are, of course, we had to put a twist on that; namely, the fact that most of the recipes you'll find in these pages are courtesy of people who have shuffled off to that great kitchen in the sky, where the Good Lord is always whipping up new things in his toque and apron, running the great mixers of genetics and time, maybe presenting the batter-dipped beaters and bowls to Jesus for a lick down.
    • Dec 8, 2016
  • On Walmart and state money

    No they don't need state help. Any conservative legislator who is true to their tea party principles will crow on about crony capitalism. I look forward to deafening silence.
    • Sep 21, 2017
  • On shitholes

    The Observer is at home today in our kitty cat socks, weathering a combination sick day and snow day. Way down in Stifft Station, we live at the top of a hill that slopes away in all directions. That's good in a flood, but piss poor other than for sledding during snow and ice, especially when you only have access to a two-wheel drive car.
    • Jan 18, 2018

Latest in The Observer

  • Field trip

    After plentiful false starts and failures, "We'll do it next year" years and "Screw it, let's go to the beach" years and years when the financial situation around The Observatory conspired against Yours Truly and our inky wretch's salary, The Observer and Co. are finally going to make it to Washington, D.C.
    • Jul 19, 2018
  • Cathode ode

    There's been an addition to the Observatory lately, one that's so old, it's new again to us — broadcast television.
    • Jul 12, 2018
  • After midnight

    For the past two years, The Observer has lain awake in bed at least one or two nights a week and wondered if I have failed to prepare my son, as my father prepared me, for what could reasonably be coming in this terrible new age.
    • Jul 5, 2018
  • More »

Most Viewed

  • Taking the widow's mite

  • Misleading

    The highway department held a "public hearing" on July 12 at the Wyndham Hotel in North Little Rock about revised plans for Interstate 30 expansion. The options were called "action alternatives."

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Misleading

    • Correction. In the post that referred to tsallernartng the piece of nazi shit, it is…

    • on July 21, 2018
  • Re: Misleading

    • I notice that the post that was in the latest issue by the piece of…

    • on July 21, 2018
  • Re: Taking the widow's mite

    • I've tried to help veterans and surviving spouses since 1975 when I first worked for…

    • on July 21, 2018

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation