Specialty Food Magazine

MAY-JUN 2013

Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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Q&A The Career-Changing Cheesemaker BY DENISE SHOUKAS A fter a ten-year career in product management and marketing in New York, Tasia Malakasis enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America, but it was a trip to Dean & Deluca that changed her life. There she discovered Belle Chevre goat cheese, made in her hometown of Elkmont, Ala. She contacted the owner, became an apprentice and in 2007 bought the business. Today, she carries 26 award-winning cheeses across the country and has her own cookbook, Tasia's Table. Q What's your best-selling product today? We have two that are neck and neck—the honey and the fig cheese [both sofi Award winners]. They're a hip, healthy alternative to cream cheese and have a broader appeal. Also, our DIY cheese kits have gone wild. How do you approach expanding your line? I do what my mother told me not to do—I play with my food at the creamery. I love having fun and experimenting with flavors. My goal is for our cheese to be fun and approachable. From our breakfast cheese line with coffee or cinnamon flavors to Southern Belle, based on mint juleps and flavored with bourbon pecans, mint and sugar, we always use a playful approach. What was the key to a smooth transition between you and [founder] Liz Parnell? I courted her and bugged her for years, from the time I found the cheese to the time I quit my job. At first, she was like, "Who is this woman and why is she calling me?" Then we got to know each other and took it slow. The timing was just right. We explored my interest and she explored her timing for stepping out. The economy is a lot better than 2007 on, but when people say, "How would you do it differently," I would encourage someone to go raise some capital and get someone behind you. Does your previous career as a global marketer fit into running an artisanal cheesemaking business? On the marketing side, certainly. The last company I was with did fun, kitschy marketing. Because I feel the same way about my products and want artisan cheese to be approachable, I used the same approach. If you knew you were having your last meal, what would you choose to eat? My two favorite foods are the elemental and sublime: fried chicken and pate.|SFM| Denise Shoukas is a contributing editor to Specialty Food Magazine. What has been the biggest challenge in your business? To grow and meet the needs of a new customer, I need capital. 100 ❘ SPECIALTY FOOD MAGAZINE ❘ specialtyfood.com BELLE CH EV PHOTO: I was naive. I thought business is business and branding is branding. But there are intricacies in this industry that I couldn't have accounted for. I made a lot of mistakes. In some ways, it was OK because I did things that other people might not have done because they knew the rules and I didn't. I would just call a big buyer who normally you'd need a distributor to reach. You've got to be willing to make fun of yourself and expose yourself, show your weaknesses. If you do it in an authentic way, people are willing to help you. RE What do you wish you had known when taking over?

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