Darla Stewart

Joaquin Avellan is the owner of Dos Lunas, an artisanal cheese company that sells homemade cheese sticks in on-campus markets. Dos Lunas uses milk from grass-fed cows in its locally-sourced cheese.

Photo Credit: Michael Baez | Daily Texan Staff

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.”

Photo Credit: Connor Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

Students consume about 77 percent more bananas than they do apples, according to 2013 data from the Division of Housing and Food Service, making them the most popular fruit sold by the University.

In 2013, the University purchased 238,320 bananas, while only purchasing 71,559 apples. Darla Stewart, DHFS assistant director for purchasing and procurement, said the University uses a food management software system to determine how many cases of bananas and other types of fruit should be purchased from the produce vendors who provide shipments daily.

“The [dining hall] managers will go into the system and forecast the number of students or customers they expect to have,” Stewart said. “They say, ‘OK, for this meal period — say, for lunch in [Jester Second Floor Dining] — we’ll probably have 1,500 people.’ They’ll enter 1,500, and the computer, using its data that has been put in, and historic data, will then come up with an amount that needs to be purchased.”

Stewart said the system, which has been in place for about 20 years, is accurate enough that there is rarely any leftover fruit.

“We utilize every bit of fruit,” Stewart said. “If, for instance, there are some bananas, which would be the only fruit that’s leftover, we freeze them and use them in our banana bread.”

According to Scott Meyer, DHFS food service director, besides leftover food items, fruits that sell out are also indicators of how much fruit to purchase.

“Every week, [the system is] updating itself,” Meyer said. “[If the system] told you to buy four cases of apples, and you used all four of them, you might want to get five cases next time.”

According to Stewart, increased methods of transportation have allowed fruit to be shipped globally, while still maintaining excellent quality.

“In the last 20 years, my bet is that there is more fruit being eaten now than then,” Meyer said. 

According to Stewart, the increased education regarding the values of eating fruits may be another reason for increased fruit consumption.

Biology senior Cameron Ginnings said he generally eats a banana once a week when he eats the fajitas in Jester City Limits, and that he makes use of the option in JCL to substitute any side with a piece of fruit or small salad.

“Whenever I get the fajitas, I like the beans, but I don’t like the rice, so I get a banana for a side,” Ginnings said. “[Bananas] taste good. That’s why I choose them over an apple.”