Made with Love: Dos Lunas Artisan Cheeses

Hecho con amor. That’s the tag line for Dos Lunas Artisan Cheeses, and according to Austin cheesemaker Joaquin Avellan, love is the first ingredient in all of the cheeses he makes. Familial love took him back to his native Venezuela for several months to help care for his father’s dairy farm after an illness, and love of queso fresco came home with him when he returned to Austin several months later. He recalls some of those first weeks back in the states, waking in the night convinced it was time to rise and milk his father’s cows and get started making cheese. The fresh raw milk, the traditional cheese, and the culture of love associated with them – he wanted to find a way to bring authentic Venezuelan cheese to Texas.

Queso fresco in the United States is a facsimile of what is found in South America. Here, regulations require aging, pasteurization, or some combination that takes the cheese far from its origins. It is then infused with water that mimics the whey of traditional queso fresco. Whey deteriorates quickly, whereas water has a very long shelf life. The result is that, while there are plenty of items sold in the store called “queso fresco,” they are not authentic. Joaquin Avellan wanted to change that.

While his father regained his health, Avellan spent 2.5 months in Venezuela studying his father’s process for making queso fresco. Having set up video cameras to record everything happening in the dairy so his father could view it from his home while he recovered, Joaquin became curious himself. He studied the video feeds piece by piece.  Over time he came to know where inconsistencies happened, and he developed methods for refining the process to be very stable and predictable. He took these ideas with him when he returned to his home in Austin.n

After love, the key ingredient in queso fresco is raw milk. In Texas, the laws allow us to purchase raw milk from farmers, and there are plenty of raw milk producers to choose from. For the caliber of cheese Joaquin intended to make, however, he couldn’t use just any raw milk. The milk needed to come from cows fed a high quality diet of grass instead of the typical grains fed to most dairy cows. Avellan contacted Bob and Darlene Stryk of Stryk Dairy Farm, and he knew in his first telephone conversation with them that they were the farmers he needed in order to make his cheese. They have an inherent joy when it comes to raising their Jersey cows, and their love is manifested in the care they take over their herd. The result is a high quality milk with a high fat content that is ideal for making cheese.

The milk at Stryk Dairy goes directly from the cows into the cheese vats, which is as freshly as it is made in South America. Avellan sticks to his father’s traditional recipe until it comes time for aging, and that is where U.S. regulations differ from Venezuelan. American cheese from raw milk must be aged for 60 days, and so the cheese gets divided into 50-lb blocks to age for just longer than the two moon cycles that give Dos Lunas its name. By making a full cream cheese based on the traditional processes of South American queso fresco but aged for 60 days, Avellan has introduced a variety of cheese that is 100% new to the United States.

Fine restaurants in Austin can’t get enough of Avellan’s signature cheeses, from the mild and creamy Clasico to the drier and more tart-tasting Seco, and the searable half-cream Especial. He continually develops new methods and tinkers with the cheese making process to create flavor varieties that please the palates of Austin’s fine diners and farmer’s market patrons. Love is a driving force behind it all.

Winter 2012 Austin Food Warrior
This post is from one of the interns in the Real Time Farms Food Warrior Internship Program. These interns are collecting data, pictures, and video on the growing practices of our nation’s farms, gathering food artisans’ stories, and documenting farmers markets. We all deserve to know where our food comes from! 
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