Inside a former cotton warehouse in rural north-central Alabama, Tasia Malakasis is dreaming again.
The space might hold a café in one corner, she says, or a demo kitchen for cooking classes or a small specialty foods market—maybe even all three. Outside, the torn-up parking lot could become a crushed-stone courtyard with outdoor seating and a regular open-air market, all of it ringed with orchards. And right in the middle of the warehouse, she says, tracing a square into the air of the 16,000-square-foot space, “I want to put a giant glass box. That way, everyone can walk around it and see how the goat cheese is made.”
The goat cheese in question is made by Belle Chevre, the creamery that Malakasis owns and that she envisions relocating from its current cramped quarters in Elkmont, Alabama, to this moldering relic of the old South. It’s all part of her plan to take her small-batch, hand-crafted cheeses from foodie splurge to everyday luxury. To do for goat cheese, in other words, what Ben & Jerry’s did for upscale ice cream: Make it a fun, accessible treat that also, despite widespread success, continues to embody the principles of its founders.
“The thing about artisan cheese is that outside of hard-core foodies, not a lot of people know the names of any specialty brands,” she says. “But I’m focused on taking this high-end item mainstream.”
Focus is not something that Malakasis lacks. A former software marketing executive who wanted to marry her professional skills with her passion for good food, Malakasis bought Belle Chevre in 2007. After an extended cheese-making apprenticeship with then-owner Liz Parnell, Malakasis immediately set to work reimagining the 20-year-old brand, which was esteemed within cheese circles for its creamy, fresh, French-style goat cheeses but largely unknown to anyone else.
“I keep asking myself two questions: ‘What can I do with goat cheese that no one else is doing?’ and ‘What would be fun?’” she says. “If it’s fun and if I think people will buy it, then I’ll try it.”