Food Insider: Cheesemaker Kent Walker

Food Insider: Kent Walker – Kent Walker Artisan Cheese
Ever wonder what makes some of Little Rock’s food personalities tick? Food Insider takes a look at individuals who are helping change the landscape of our city’s culinary scene. Whether they’re in the kitchen, managing a storefront, farming land or running a food truck … we’ll delve into both the professional and personal side of these dynamite people.  This week it’s Kent Walker, owner and operator of Kent Walker Artisan Cheese 
Little Rock is home to some amazing culinary artisans, and lucky for us there seems to be a growing number of them.  Kent Walker joined their ranks in 2011 and has since become one of the leading names in the local food scene.  His cheeses have been featured on the menus of some of the city’s best restaurants, but most will simply know him by meeting him at one of the many of farmer’s markets around town.  Now in his upgraded location, Kent’s operation occupies the old Diamond Bear Brewery next door to Dempsey Bakery, and he has converted it into something really worth checking out.  I tracked down Kent to hear from him on how things are going in this edition of Food Insider.
Where did you learn the cheesemaking craft and how long have you been doing it?
I have been making cheese for about 10 years.  It started as a hobby.  I brought homemade cheese to a friend’s homebrew meetups.
What’s your most popular cheese?
It’s a tie between Habanero Cheddar and Garlic Montasio.  But people clamor for the winter seasonal, Ophelia.

What did you do before you started selling cheese?
I’ve done many things before:  I was a rock climbing instructor, a wilderness rescuer, a programmer for Lockheed Martin, and I worked at wineries, distilleries, and breweries.
Is there a cheese you just can’t stand?
Bland, unaged cheddar (Kraft style).  Also the rinds on some “stinky” washed rind cheeses can be too much for me.
What has been the biggest challenge in transitioning to a brick and mortar?
The construction phase was crazy.  The move also came with a big expansion in personnel and the amount of cheese we are making.  That brings challenges, but we’ve been settling in recently, a nice change.
Besides being home to all of your cheeses, what should people know about your store?
We also carry other local products (jams, pickles, honey, etc). We have local beer and wine to pair with the cheese as well as monthly events and live music.

Is it true you almost lost the business because of a power failure?
Yes, at our old location.  The coolers in the aging cave broke on a particularly hot weekend in September 2013.  The temp went from a cheese-cave like 52°F to a cheese-dip like 98°F.  We lost a LOT of cheese.  Insurance paid for about 60% of the loss and dropped me as a client.  I reinvested (and put in new redundancies and fail-safes in the cooling system) and here we are.
You are a big fan of comics and superheroes, if you could be a comic book character who would you be?
OK, Nerd Alert:  My favorite for a while was the (Carol Danvers) Captain Marvel.  She deals with a lot of doubt and covers it with portraying herself as a “badass”.  But in the end, she pulls of her mission, usually with great help from friends.  I am really digging the current run of The Vision, too.
What is your favorite board game?
Anything played with good friends.  Specifically ones were the players play together instead of against each other, Like Pandemic or Eldritch Horror.
If you didn’t work in the food industry, what else would you want to do for a living?
Teaching, computer programming or park ranger.
Is there a local artisan whose food really inspires you?
All of them.  Standing up against any big industry, including “Big Food” takes guts, bravery and the ability to take a punch.  Sally Mengel (Loblolly Creamery), Justin Patterson (The Southern Gourmasian), Gwen Jones (Beast Food Truck), and everyone else around Little Rock and other locales are inspirations.
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