Although I grew up in an entrepreneurial family in southern Arkansas, as a kid I resoundingly rejected the idea that I would ever want to be a small business owner – the responsibility, liability, and risk seemed overwhelming. I thought: ‘Who in their right mind would take on such a daunting task?’ Interested in science, I studied civil engineering at the University of Arkansas and spent over a decade employed at a consulting firm working on environmental public works projects.
However, in 2012 I took my first cheesemaking class from Vermont cheesemakers, Dr. Larry and Linda Faillace and fell head over heels in love with the craft. Looking back, it’s easy to see how my background in microbiology and enthusiasm for food and fermentation naturally led me to the fascinating and tasty world of cheese, but I had no idea that it would spark my entrepreneurial spirit! Today, I want nothing more than to teach others about the art and science of cheesemaking and to share tasty cheeses produced by my company, Sweet Freedom Creamery.
In 2012, driven by my fascination with fromage, I envisioned bringing the artisanal cheese movement to my home state of Arkansas. A year later, the company framework was put in place and Sweet Freedom Creamery was founded. I continued to study with cheesemakers in the US and around the globe while working with legislators and regulators to carve out a place for artisan cheesemakers to operate in Arkansas. After 3 years of planning, training, and forging a new path for small dairy producers, the dream has begun to coagulate and is now a reality: Sweet Freedom Creamery is licensed for cheese production in Arkansas, making it one of only 4 licensed small cheesemakers in the entire state.
In Arkansas, dairy farms have reduced in number from 1,200 in 1994 to less than 70 farms today. Poor weather conditions, increased feed prices, and low commodity milk prices in past years have driven many small dairy farms out of business. Those few remaining farms are faced with limited alternatives and are able to supply only 30% of the state’s demand for dairy products, making Arkansas a dairy deficit state.
It is our goal at Sweet Freedom Creamery to change the trend of dwindling dairies and revitalize the art of hand-crafted cheesemaking by producing high-quality, small batch cheeses made from locally-sourced milk purchased at a fair price. By sourcing local farmers, we are able to use the freshest milk and ingredients possible, while supporting and developing relationships with area dairies. We aim to help further increase the food security of our community, in addition to raising awareness about the impact of choosing locally-produced foods, with particular regards to cheese. In turn we will be able to expand the selection and availability of cheese in Northwest Arkansas and the state as a whole.
Sweet Freedom Creamery is in process of developing and testing our cheeses at the University of Arkansas Food Innovation Center, a shared-use food hub and incubator for small businesses in food production. We look forward to introducing our first cheeses in the upcoming months ahead to area chefs, grocers, turophiles, cheeseheads, and everyone who has a love for the lactic. We plan to focus primarily on supplying cheese to the Northwest Arkansas region in order to satisfy a growing and unfulfilled market for handcrafted, locally-made foods. As our business grows, we envision moving into a dedicated space that will allow us to expand our production of new cheese varieties and be able to conduct cheesemaking class
Arkansas’ state health code requires specific sanitation and cooling equipment in order to gain approval for retail sales of refrigerated foods, like cheese. We are in process of custom-fabricating a portable stainless steel unit that includes a washing station and integral refrigerator to satisfy the interpretation of these requirements. However, the bulky size of the unit cannot be transported in a standard vehicle. Our plan is to purchase a small used but reliable Cheesemobile (cargo van) to transport this equipment. The purchase of the Cheesemobile using the Kiva Zip loan will allow us to transport and sell our cheeses at Arkansas’ lovely farmers markets and other special events.