The CEO of Belle Chevre goat cheese creamery, Alabama-born Tasia Malakasis, is an internationally awarded cheesemaker. She is also a chef, entrepreneur, event planner, cookbook author, mother and more, relishing the excitement of wearing so many hats. Under her leadership, Belle Chevre has been recognized by Oprah, “The Today Show” and Forbes and was included in a White House correspondents’ dinner. Belle Chevre continues to produce fabulous cheeses, recipes, books, classes and events. Welcome today’s FACE of Birmingham, Tasia Malakasis!
Where did you grow up and, if not an Alabama native, what brought you here?
I grew up in Huntsville, AL, and all I wanted to do was leave when I was old enough. I eventually did leave, and I worked in the tech startup world in New York City, California and Philadelphia, only to return to Alabama to become a cheesemaker! The irony!
Tell us how your Southern and Greek heritages have influenced you.
My Southern and Greek heritages have both profoundly influenced me, especially concerning food. Both cultures are steeped in the tradition of “loving” others with food. Food is about celebration, healing and, well, all occasions.
How did you get your start in making goat cheese?
I was trained at the Culinary Institute of America and knew that I wanted to pursue food but not be a chef. I found Belle Chevre cheeses in NYC, and when I realized they were made in Alabama, I started calling on the owner until I eventually wore her down with my tiresome questions and curiosity. She then agreed to teach me the art and trade of cheesemaking. It was then that I moved home and began apprenticing at Belle Chevre, acquiring the company in 2007.
How did the creamery come to be in Elkmont, AL?
Belle Chevre cheeses have been made in Elkmont for 27 years. When I took over, I did not want to move the creamery anywhere else. Elkmont has some kind of power to it, I believe.
You’re the CEO of Belle Chevre, entrepreneur, chef, cookbook author, event planner, mother and more! Describe your typical day.
There is really nothing typical about my days, I am afraid. I am on the production floor some, meeting with dairies and vendors, planning events, writing recipes, creating new products, hosting visitors, talking to customers and dreaming up promotions — I love the diversity of it all! If I only had to make cheese or just to do “business” stuff, I would wilt.
Tell us about Saturday Suppers, weddings and other special events hosted by Belle Chevre.
Every other Saturday evening through August, we host five-course prix-fixe meals at our cheese shop through our Saturday Supper Dinner Series. It’s our way of hosting people in an intimate environment that emulates the Southern family dinners that they grew up being a part of. We welcome people to our dinners, but also to the cheese shop and tasting room for lunch. We have a range of yummy sandwiches and adorable goats for your kids to see — it’s a truly family-friendly place.
Belle Chevre offers classes in cheesemaking, as well as DIY cheese kits. What advice would you give the aspiring home cheesemaker?
My cooking advice is always have fun and don’t stress. Your energy when cooking is so important. I think we have all become a little intimidated in the kitchen with performance anxiety, and that is unfortunate. Relax and have fun in the kitchen – with cheese or otherwise – and it will always turn out well.
Why goat cheese?
I love the versatility and flexibility of goat cheese. You can take it from breakfast to dessert, which is exactly what we have done at Belle Chevre. We have a line of breakfast cheeses — fig, cinnamon, coffee and honey flavors — that are fantastic substitutions for unhealthy ingredients like cream and cream cheese, and we have the most fantastic goat cheese cheesecake. We want people to realize that goat cheese can really be used in any recipe as a healthy, more flavorful alternative.
What is most challenging about your job?
Letting consumers know how passionate we are about making their cheese. Some things are hard to convey on a package to a busy shopper who may not know our story and why we do what we do at Belle Chevre. We genuinely make all of our cheeses by hand with love.
What is most rewarding?
Seeing people’s smiles when they try our products! Especially those who thought they didn’t like goat cheese. We convert the skeptics.
Do you have a mentor or role model?
I have a universe of them, from the greatest thinkers, poets and businesspeople — especially women. I am so inspired by other people’s lives and the stories of how they overcome obstacles and accomplish grand things. Those stories give me energy to pursue my passion.
How do you find balance between all of your business endeavors and your personal life?
My work is my life, and I involve all that I love in it. My son knows that he is a part of a larger family of people at Belle Chevre, and we make it all work together.
What do you consider to be the greatest accomplishment of your life?
If by cooking for someone or feeding them with the products we produce at Belle Chevre makes an impact on someone’s life, then that is my greatest accomplishment. Food is life (literally) and energy (literally) and love (figuratively). And the act of feeding someone is a sacred thing to me. I know that may sound sappy and ridiculous, but it is 100 percent how I feel.
What is something people might be surprised to know about you?
My two favorite foods are fried chicken and pate.
Any guilty pleasures?
Spending a day in my PJs with a good book
Name your three must-have style staples.
Pressed linens for the table, bare feet with a perfect pedicure and a perfect mix of rustic thrown in unexpectedly with the elegant.
What is your best piece of advice?
Never use the word “can’t.”
With the exception of faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Dinner parties, fresh flowers in my house and a perfect summer tomato from my own backyard.
Thank you, Tasia! Learn more about Belle Chevre at bellechevre.com or call (256) 732-4801 to book a tour.
And thank you to Whitney and Bethany Dean, the husband and wife duo behind Glass Jar Photography, for the gorgeous photos of Tasia at Belle Chevre in Elkmont, AL.