RUSSELLVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Nestled in a wooded pocket of Russellville, the owners of the Lost River Creamery are producing cave-aged, handmade Gouda cheese.
Originally from Hopkinsville, Scott and Angie Harris had much work to do in their start-up creamery. Toward the end of last year, just as they thought they were ready to start selling their cheese, they ran into a brick wall - almost literally.
“At first, digging in to build the cave, we hit a boulder, not just a boulder but the whole 30-foot wide area we were digging (was blocked),” Scott Harris said.
After getting a jackhammer to drill holes and using dynamite to blast out the rock, they would have to come back and drill holes again.
“And every time it rained, it would pull the dirt down on you,” Scott recalled while laughing.
It is within the cave that Lost River’s wheels of Gouda dry and age, an environment the Harrises say is perfect for natural air-cured cheese. And just like a fine wine, the cheese only gets better with time.
Most Gouda is a semi-hard to hard cheese, but Angie Harris said the creamy texture of Lost River’s Gouda sets it apart.
As one of the area’s only sources for locally made cheese, the Harrises are at an obvious advantage, and their creamery is already getting orders from Louisville to Nashville.
The business gets its name from the Lost River Cave of legend, where the famed outlaw Jesse James and his gang were said to have taken refuge after robbing a Russellville bank in March 1868.
Working with a partner, Tony Bills, who has studied cheese making, Scott and Angie Harris weren’t cheese experts coming into the business.
“We didn’t know much about it,” Angie said. “We had a lot of books.”
To get up to speed, they toured different cheese facilities in Kentucky and took some classes. Shortly after that, they were ready to try it themselves.
“We wanted to make something people could smile about, something that people would be happy eating,” Scott Harris said.
Costing nearly a quarter of a million dollars to get it started, the creamery “was a big leap of faith,” Scott Harris added, calling it “the biggest gamble (he’s) ever witnessed.”
“We banked everything on this.”
Making cheese takes patience, and Scott Harris said there were times the couple wondered if their creamery would ever get off the ground.
Then they made their first batch. Not knowing how it would turn out - because of the 60-day aging process - they began to make more while unsure of what the results would be.
“But we couldn’t stop making, couldn’t sit there and wait for 60 days,” Angie Harris said.
Luckily, it turned out pretty good.
On a typical day, the creamery begins with cleaning, and there’s a three-hour trip to get the milk they need from Orlinda, Tennessee. They then bring it back and get started. The cheese making generally happens on Mondays and Tuesdays, and cleanup is an ongoing process. Making on average about two batches a week, that equals roughly 180 pounds of cheese.
The couple also takes some special requests, such as making a merlot-soaked Gouda for customers who order one ahead of time.
When asked how or why they decided to open up their creamery, Scott Harris said that when he makes up his mind and believes in something, he goes after it.
“My wife Angie supports me even if the idea seems silly or too much work, and we’ve had financial struggles to get this going,” he said. “But I’m proud to say the Lord gave us the ability to have this business debt-free so far.”
Information from: Kentucky New Era, https://www.kentuckynewera.com
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