Our flagship storefront is located in downtown Elkmont, Alabama.
The award-winniing artisan creamery Belle Chevre has opened its first-ever retail space in historic downtown Elkmont, Alabama. Belle Chevre’s Cheese Shop and Tasting Room features Alabama’s very own handmade goat cheese, as well as a full café menu, chevre ice cream counter, and a space for cooking demos and cheesemaking classes.
The Cheese Shop opens early Thursday through Saturday and is open daily for lunch and early dinners, making it a perfect spot to stop in and enjoy a homemade baked good, an old-fashioned bologna sandwich (made with artisan veal bologna), or a cheese plate. The shop will be scooping Belle Chevre’s very own goat cheese ice cream, a luscious confection that wins over even the most hesitant chevre consumers. Classes on offer at the Cheese Shop include cooking demos and DIY Cheese tutorials, as well as occasional painting classes and even yoga.
The Goat Cheese Queen of Alabama
By Brian Jones
Alabama Tourism Department
Belle Chevre goat cheese creamery in Elkmont is purposefully small, and its products are handmade by passionate cheese makers. The result is an artisan cheese with a mild and distinct flavor and texture that reflects the care with which it was made.
Belle Chevre cheeses have received numerous national awards from the American Cheese Society and the American Dairy Goat Association and have been featured in many top culinary books and magazines. The chesses are also carried by some of the finest retailers in the country, including The Cheese Shop of Beverly Hills and Dean & Deluca in New York City. It was at Dean & Deluca that Alabamian Tasia Malakasis discovered the exquisite goat cheese 15 years ago. She was surprised to learn that it came from North Alabama.
After nearly a decade working as a marketing executive with a series of Internet start-ups, Malakasis found herself wanting to try something new, and she had been taking classes at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. On a trip to Manhattan in 2001, she stopped in to Dean & Deluca and discovered Belle Chevre cheese. Looking at the address on the packaging, Malakasis noticed that the cheese was made just 15 miles from where she was raised in Huntsville.
“I could not get Belle Chevre out of my head,” Malakasis recalls. “I contacted the owner and found out that it was listed in the World Encyclopedia of Cheeses and had been served at the White House.” A few months later she was offered another Internet marketing job and moved to Philadelphia, but remained intrigued with Belle Chevre.
Malakasis learned that Belle Chevre was founded by Liz Parnell and her husband, Tom, who was a NASA astrophysicist in neighboring Huntsville. She ended up calling Liz several times over the next few years, and the two became very close. In 2006, Malakasis decided it was time to make a change and came home to Alabama. She worked as an unpaid intern with Liz for six months and learned the art of making goat cheese. Liz told her that she was ready to retire, and Malakasis convinced the owner to sell the business to her.
After taking over the creamery, Malakasis used her background in marketing to expand the distribution of the goat cheese into Kroger, Publix, Costco, Whole Foods and other large-volume retail grocers, which has more than tripled the creamery’s year-to-year revenue. Chefs around the country, including Birmingham’s Frank Stitt, have become huge fans. Stitt, the James Beard Award-winning chef/owner of Highlands Bar & grill, Chez Fonfon and Bottega, uses Belle Chevre cheese to top summer salads and stuff roasted red peppers.
The creamery outgrew its original production facility and opened a new creamery in Fall 2013. It is located in an old 8,000-square-foot former warehouse right behind the Belle Chevre Cheese Shop & Tasting Room. The warehouse was previously used to store cotton that would then be loaded onto trains that ran on tracks adjacent to the building. The tracks have since been converted to the Richard Martin Trails, a Rails-to-Trails project that provides walking and riding trails.
Belle Chevre and Malakasis have been featured on “The Today Show” several times and in publications including “Southern Living,” “Better Homes and Gardens,” “O, The Oprah Magazine,” “Taste of the South,” “Cooking Light,” “Garden & Gun,” “Specialty Foods” and “Forbes.” Along with her other projects, Malakasis has written two books. “Tasia’s Table: Cooking with the Artisan Cheesemaker at Belle Chevre,” is a collection of recipes and stories that embraces her cultural influences of being both Southern and Greek. “Southern Made Fresh” is a collection of her recipes featuring homegrown flavor and updated Southern favorites.
“I could not be more excited to highlight a great product that is not only from Alabama but is “OF” Alabama,” says Malakasis. “The uniquely mild but distinctive flavor of our cheeses is directly related to the terrain on which the goats are raised and the cheese is created. Limestone County, Alabama, is a big part of what is special about Belle Chevre. The French use a term terroir to speak mostly about why wine is so special from a certain region – the soil, the climate, the chemical and alchemical sense of place – and it is the same with Belle Chevre’s cheeses.”
The milk for Belle Chevre cheeses comes from a farm just down the road from the creamery where goats feed on grasses enriched by the fertile limestone soil area. In fact, the county where Elkmont is located is named Limestone County after the creek that flows through it and whose bed is made of hard limestone.
Steven Jenkins, one of the world’s foremost authorities on cheeses of the world, says, “Alabama’s FBC cheeses and fromage blanc taste as fine as the best of the Loire Valley, Perigord and Provence, and that’s a mouthful.”
Products from Belle Chevre include classic goat cheese and fromage blanc, along with sweet breakfast cheeses, grape leaf-wrapped chevre, pimiento chevre, olive oil-marinated chevre with herbs and sun-dried tomatoes, cranberry and walnut-topped goat cheese, cookies, amazing cheesecake, ice cream and even body care products. All of this plus the best grilled cheese sandwiches in the South are available at the Belle Chevre Cheese Shop & Tasting Room.
Visitors can take a tour that includes a peek into the cheese-making process, the history of Belle Chevre, a documentary screening, tasting samples and a special goat petting area. Self-guided tours of the creamery are available with no call-ahead notice and are only $10 per person. Tours are available Tuesday–Friday, 9 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m.– 4 p.m. Guided tours are $12 per person and are available Monday–Saturday by calling ahead.
Each year Belle Chevre hosts the Southern Reinvention festival. This Southern lifestyle festival celebrates Southern artists, craftspeople and artisans. This year the festival is scheduled for Oct. 15. Belle Chevre also does an annual “Running with the Goats” 10k, 5k and Fun Run that is a spirited take on Spain’s annual running of the bulls.
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