We’d seen the billboards along I-65. We saw some of the products in the cheese case of several grocery stores. But, even though it was a short drive away, we had never gone to Elkmont, AL to really check it out. Then a Groupon popped up. Who can resist a good Groupon? Finally, we had a free weekend to use it, and we’re so glad we did.
Belle Chevre Cheese Shop and Tasting Room is located at 18849 Upper East Hampton Road in Elkmont. It is open Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 to 3:00 and on Saturday from 10:00 to 5:00. The sandwich board boasts some mouthwatering choices for lunch, plus there are several flavors of ice cream and Belle Chevre’s scrumptious lemon cheesecake. You can buy goat-themed merchandise, in addition to the breakfast and artisan cheeses. Breakfast offerings are: honey, cinnamon, coffee and fig. And, artisan choices include: Greek kiss, pimento, Southern belle and original.
Behind the back parking lot, you’ll find a much larger quonset-hut style building which is the actual cheese making plant. Tours are only given two days a week — at 10:00 and 1:00 on Friday and at 11:00, 1:00 and 3:00 on Saturday.
Tours have 4 main components. First, you get to meet some of the well-tended, milk-producing goats. In reality, the curds to produce about 2000 pounds of cheese each week come from a farm in North Carolina with 900 goats that are milked twice a day. Consider the logistics and the commitment of such a farm!!
Second, visitors are escorted back inside to watch a short film called “Tasia and The Cheese Revolution.” This is where you get an overview of the history of Belle Chevre (which means “beautiful goat” or “beautiful goat cheese”). Tasia (pronounced “tuh-shee-uh”) Malakasis is the present owner and president. She is a native of Huntsville, AL with blood ties to Greece. After she finished school, she headed off to New York to seek her fortune in a high-tech career but was always drawn to food and cooking. One day she walked into a Dean & Deluca store in Manhattan and noticed a cheese made in Elkmont, AL. That intrigued her, because she was surprised a product in that store came from such a small town near Huntsville. She tasted the cheese, fell in love with it and started trying to find out how she could be involved in the company. After quitting her New York job, moving back to Alabama and working for free for six months, she bought Belle Chevre. At that time, Belle Chevre goat cheese was well-known OUTSIDE of Alabama. Ms. Malakasis began a marketing strategy to make it better known in North Alabama and surrounding areas. Judging from the demand for so much cheese each week, it is obvious that she has become a huge success.
In the third part of the tour, you will look through glass partitions into the production room and see some of the processes that take place.
And, finally, you will get to the delicious climax. Everyone on the tour will taste at least 8 different cheese varieties, plus the cheesecake. Then, each person gets to choose a cheese container to take home. Warning: it will be very hard to stick to only one!
The Belle Chevre website has quite a few recipes for using the various goat cheeses. If you enjoy cookbooks as much as I do, you might want to order the cookbook written by Ms. Malakasis called Tasia’s Table.
It is available through the website or on Amazon.
You will need to call and make a reservation if you want to take the tour — 256-732-4801. Steve and I enjoyed it a lot. It was informative and SO tasty. 🙂
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