We'd tried Pola Artisan Cheeses (1829 Colquitt, 281-414-2509) at the Urban Harvest Farmers' Market and even taken some to the Saint Arnold Brewery, but when we heard it was being made in a house in Montrose, we had to see it for ourselves. We called ahead to make sure it was cool to take a "cheese tour."
The tiny business was not easy to find -- there is no sign.
We walked into the cheese kitchen and began talking to Drew Wilson and Steven Parker. Wilson was in the middle of making a big batch of cheese and wrapping some already aged and portioned cheeses by hand. He showed us all the cheeses that were aging either at room temperature or in beverage coolers rigged with external thermostats. We were so impressed with the operation, we felt like kids in a candy store. Except we were cheese fiends in a cheese house.
We asked Wilson and Parker a million questions. There is one other person behind Pola (which stands for Port Lavaca): Brandon Shillings. He wasn't present during the cheese tour, but you can usually see him at the market. There was also an apprentice there who was stirring the curds with his arms (this is artisan cheese).
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Shillings was a chef for 15 years before getting into the cheese business. He said he just got tired of the industry and was already making fresh cheeses in the kitchen. It really blows us away that in less than a year, he has been able to turn out some amazing cheeses without ever being formally trained. Lets hear it for DIY!
While we were hanging out in the cheese kitchen, we tried the Beer Bathed Tomme, the Charoomy and the Robuchon, all amazing. Wilson told us about bringing in raw milk from local farmers in Bryan and Waller. They transport it in one-gallon jugs straight to the kitchen and begin making cheeses, experimenting with flavors -- rubs like ashes or ground chiles. Wilson even showed us the rennet, an enzyme from the stomach of calves that makes the milk coagulate.
In one of the coolers, there was a "cheddar"-style cheese aging, and it looked like it was going to be pretty tasty, in oh, say, about two months. There are a lot of goat cheese makers out there in Houston, but only one artisan cheese maker, and that's these guys, who give their cheese names like the Twissted Swisster and the Full Harvest Moonster. You can tell they are passionate about what they are doing and having fun.
Next time we go, we will bring a six-pack of Saint Arnold with us to show the guys we appreciate the cheese tour. We don't know if they do a lot of tours, but if you go, bring beer -- local beer.