One of the first things Greg Tatis did after taking over Charleston Artisan Cheesehouse in 2013 was to enter the company’s products in national competition. Sealing up his shipment to the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest, he knew he didn’t stand a chance of winning.
“We just wanted to know someone’s opinion other than what we were getting at the market,” Tatis says. “I wanted someone to taste it. And they told us what they thought the cheese needed, and it helped.”
Charleston Artisan Cheesehouse has been a popular farmers market vendor for the past five years, but Tatis believes its bloomy-rind cheeses, hand-whipped cream cheeses and other creations have improved dramatically since he’s begun delving into the science of salinity, pH levels and aging.
“Like the camembert, if it’s not properly rotated or if there’s too much moisture, it can develop an ammonia aroma,” he says. “It’s not a desirable kind of aroma. And for what we were doing, that had to stop.”
Under the mentorship of an Ontario cheesemaker who started out supplying Charleston Artisan Cheesehouse with cultures, the only nonlocal ingredient that ends up in the company’s cheese, Tatis has made a slew of needed adjustments. “It was a good product,” he says of earlier iterations. “Now it’s a really good product.”
Tatis first became involved in Charleston Artisan Cheesehouse at the behest of his boss at Southend Brewery. Five years ago, owner Keith Jones’ son was toying with the idea of cheesemaking, so Jones asked Tatis to lend his expertise to the enterprise. Although Tatis was then the restaurant’s general manager, he was previously the chef, having worked his way up from line cook.
“He hit the ground running,” Tatis says of Jared Jones. But within a few years, he lost interest in the race. “They were going to close the company, and I thought that was kind of crazy,” continues Tatis, who arranged to purchase the company. Last summer, he left Southend Brewery to make cheese full-time.
Very few of Tatis’ kitchen instincts were applicable to cheese, the production of which requires mathematical precision. Tatis’ wife, baker Monica Jaramillo-Tatis, was far more accustomed to dealing with chemistry in the deliciousness sphere. Still, Tatis mastered enough cheese knowledge to tackle tough subjects, such as rind development.
“We’ve been trying to perfect that nice thin rind,” he says.
Because Tatis and his partners, Pete and Heather Holmes, sell their products at farmers markets from Beaufort to Columbia, they were able to quickly gather feedback on Tatis’ efforts. “People actually noticed changes in the cheese,” he says.
The cheese lineup hasn’t changed much, but Tatis is now working on blue brie and cheddar. And if his mentor signs off on her sample, he’s hoping this year to debut an aged brie. He’s also exploring the possibility of opening a retail location.
Not in the cards for 2015 is a U.S. Championship Cheese Contest prize. This time around, Tatis didn’t prepare a submission.
“We’re just trying to get everything perfected,” he says.
For more information, visit charlestoncheesehouse.com.