Take a pot of milk and heat. At a very specific temperature, add in a bit of acid or a bit of rennent, stirring all the while. In a moment of magic, the curd will separate from the whey and you are on your way to making your own cheese. Eugene’s Keith Ellis likes this moment of magic so much, in 2008 he decided to start his very own cheesemaking adventure: Cheese Louise Creamery. The name came about because Ellis’s mother and grandmother both shared the name Louise — making his homegrown business the perfect namesake!
The Local Dish: What sparked your interest in cheese making? Ellis and his wife own Cook’s Pots and Tabletops, a shop and cooking school in South Eugene. He’s been teaching in the culinary program at Lane Community College since 2006 and is a respected chef, cooking at restaurants in Eugene and along the Oregon Coast. The Local Dish interviewed the busy chef via email to learn more about how he flexes his cheesemaking muscles.
Keith Ellis: I was trained as a chef, and operated restaurants, catering firms and other culinary adventures, including designing of multiple cheese shops.
TLD: Why the focus on Italian cheeses?
KE: My family is originally from Naples, my restaurant was Italian focused and I have always had an affinity to Italian foods. I have traveled several times to Italy to visit cheesemakers there and learn more about the processes they use and to gain experience.
TLD: What is your favorite cheese of those you make and why?
KE: I am very fond of the Ricotta Salata, a slightly salty, dried version of whole milk ricotta, it is wonderful grated over pastas and salads
TLD: What is it you like about cheese making?
KE: The process is fascinating and the results are very rewarding.
TLD: Do you have plans to offer aged cheese, or any different styles of cheese?
KE: Perhaps in the future, once the company has a chance to grow.
TLD: What is your favorite way to use the cheeses you make?
KE: I make all of the cheeses with the intent of using them in cooking, as opposed to table cheeses, probably because of my cooking background.
TLD: Where can you buy Cheese Louise Products?
KE: Locally available for retail sale at Long’s Meat and Cheese Market at W. 28th Ave in Southtowne Shoppes, Eugene, Oregon.
After the interview, we headed over to Long’s and picked up Ricotta Salata from Cheese Louise, recommended to us by Ellis to use in this recipe for Sicillian Sformato (Ricotta Cheese and Autumn Vegetable Bake), which he generously offered to share with Local Dish readers.
Images: Jackie Varriano