The road to success didn’t come cheesey for Joaquin Avellan.
Avellan specializes in making hand-crafted artisan cheese sold at Central Market and Austin-area restaurants. His latest venture is making cheese sticks for all of UT’s on-campus marktets — and he’s milking the opportunity to connect to a new consumer base as much as he can.
The dairy tale started in 2009, when Avellan travelled to Venezuela to help his father recover from open-heart surgery. He spent his time working at the family’s cheese-making business — and after returning to Austin, it occurred to Avellan that cheese should be his next career move. He decided to open his own artisanal cheese company, Dos Lunas Artisan Cheese. Avellan makes blocks of hand crafted cheese from grass-feed cows milk in flavors such as chipotle cheddar.
Dos Lunas now sells cheese sticks at every campus market, in addition to Central Market, Wheatsville Co-op and SFC Farmers’ Market. Avellan said he is excited about selling his cheese to students.
“We’re feeding people high quality food,” Avellan said. “It’s healthy and it’s bringing awareness with all the love and care that we make this cheese with.”
Darla Stewart, associate director of projects and procurement for the Division of Housing and Food services, said providing locally sourced food promotes sustainability and helps students better understand the food production process. Stewart said buying food from artisans around Austin lowers greenhouse gas emissions because of reduced travel time. Stewart said the division values locally-sourced food, but said complete local sourcing is not feasible.
“Currently 23 percent of food is either local, certified sustainable, or organic,” Stewart said. “We’d like to increase the percentage by two to three percent each year.”
Avellan said he is proud of the extreme care that goes into each of the his hand-crafted cheese sticks.
“The flavor slows you down,” Avellan said. “It has so much flavor; it’s very rich. You feel like you’ve had a real snack that can hold you as a meal.”
Originally, Avellan struggled to find raw milk from grass-fed cows comparable to the milk his father used. Ultimately, he chose to contract with Stryk Jersey Farms in Schulenberg, Texas, where he goes to get his milk and works alongside graduate students to actually produce the cheese.
Avellan works with biochemistry grad student Juan Barraza to make the cheese, then sends the cheese to Austin to be aged for 60 days.
Barraza works as a pro-bono science consultant for Dos Lunas and incorporates his passion for cheesemaking into his graduate work. Barraza’s thesis focuses on how bacteria cultures develop in cheese. He said bacteria, milk quality and environmental conditions all determine the flavor and texture of the cheese.
“A model ecosystem for bacteria is cheese because you can make the cheese and then observe the bacteria,” Barazza said. “I’m studying how the generations change inside the cheese in order to be able to predict what bacteria will follow and what are the indicators on what bacteria will take over.”
When Barraza isn’t developing Dos Lunas’ business model, he sells the cheese at farmers’ markets in Austin. He said he enjoys the break from his university work.
“For me, the farmers market was an escape to go and talk to other people,” Barraza said. “You get exposed to the best food available in Austin.”
Barraza said it can be difficult to expand to new markets, but said the demand for local foods in Austin make his business sustainable.
“People actually care about how they look, what they eat and where they eat,” Barazza said. “If you want to be an Austinite, you need to know where your food is coming from.”