- courtesy of Kent Walker Artisan Cheese
Last summer, you might have come across a guy with a folding table and platefuls of cheeses set up outside The Root’s front door some sunny Saturday. That guy was Kent Walker, and those cheeses are the culmination of a mid-level computer science career, a summer in an Oregon winery and a bad economy.
For Walker, it started as a hobby. An Arkansas native and UALR grad, he left a Denver, Colo., job designing websites for Lockheed Martin to marry a Little Rock girl. High tech jobs were hard to come buy, so he picked up a handful of foodie jobs — a natural fit, since his parents have always been in the food business. One of those jobs was helping with summer harvest at Montinore, a winery near Portland, where he met an amateur cheese-maker who showed him the basics. That was four years ago.
Back in Little Rock, Walker began making cheeses in his home kitchen, trying all sorts of milk, cultures and processes to discover the varieties he liked best. He made his first press out of Cool Whip tubs and aged the cheeses in his vegetable crisper for two to eight months. And he got back into the computer science business.
“I was working with a friend, handling his business accounts, and he decided to get out of it. The accounts were mine if I wanted them. That’s when I realized that I’d be essentially starting my own business,” Walker said. “So I decided if I was going to start my own business, why not do something I’m passionate about?”
He passed on the accounts and drafted a business plan. Soon he had found a handful of distributors to carry his cheeses. In the summer of 2011, Kent Walker Artisan Cheeses was born. And his home kitchen was too small to contain it. “One gallon of milk makes one pound of cheese,” Walker said. “At this point, I’m making about 110 pounds of cheese a week.”
He moved his operations to the empty industrial kitchen at the Cathedral School at Trinity Episcopal, spawning a new life for the kitchen as a community kitchen incubator. “They were looking for someone to use the space,” Walker said. “So they just donated it to me. Other people heard and asked to use it when I wasn’t using it, and now it’s become a community incubator, where small businesses can rent it for a day fee.”