An afternoon spent with Will Eaves helping him pair cheese with bourbon is not a wasted one. Quite the opposite, in fact, as Eaves, who is often called “The Cheese Dude,” knows just about everything there is to know about the dairy delight — and random facts thrown in for good measure.
For example, did you know door knobs are usually brass or silver because those metals are naturally anti-bacterial? I didn’t either until Eaves got on the topic of hand sanitation, its overuse and an eventual “superbug” in the making.
But back to cheese.
Eaves works at Lotsa Pasta as a pasta maker and sales rep, and before that, he served as the store’s cheesemonger. In between those two positions, he left the company for three years to work for Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese as an affineur (a person who ages/ripens the cheese).
If you’ve been to the New Albany Farmers Market, you’ve most likely met Eaves behind the Lotsa Pasta booth, schlepping everything from lasagna to gouda.
Eaves says he’s always loved food, and he followed that passion to culinary school at Sullivan University. He worked in a few kitchens around town and eventually landed at Lotsa Pasta because it was close to home and he needed some extra hours.
“The cheese counter kinda seduced me,” he says. “First I tried everything — twice or more. Then I read all the books there, found more books, and I wanted the cheeses I couldn’t find, so I ordered them. I loved telling people the stories that followed the cheese from wherever they originated (there really is a place called Cheddar, sad story) or why and how they achieved that cool texture and taste. Still do.”
With all his knowledge and love for cheese, you might be surprised to hear what his favorite is.
“Gotta love a good Colby (also a town) — simple, rich, tasty, nostalgic. Never lets you down. I will never turn down a ripe Taleggio or a true farmhouse cheddar,” he says.
Eaves believes cheese is a blend of science and art, which makes it so intriguing. And it’s just about a near perfect food.
“Chemical change that is aromatic and beautiful. We take a liquid, pull the solid bits we want out of it. Then affect and mold it in hundreds of different ways,” he explains. “For every cheese, there was a place where the people felt unique and said, ‘This is the way we do it.’ They were right in a way. The natural micro-fauna of that area made cheese that didn’t quite taste like it was made anywhere else.”
Cheese dates back at least 2,000 years, Eaves says, and that’s just what we have written evidence of.
“It’s definitely older than that, it’s just yet to be proven.”
I had to ask Eaves an improbable scenario: What if he woke up tomorrow and was lactose intolerant? Naturally, he had some fast facts to share.
“I wouldn’t worry at all,” he says. “Any cheese aged past six months hasn’t much lactose left. The wee bacteria are eating the lactose and producing lactic acid. Good Parmesan hasn’t seen lactose in years.
“Sheep and goats milk cheeses don’t really have any either,” he continues. “And if we get down to brass tacks here, if I gotta, I’m going chew some lactose tablets and grub down on some decadent soft-ripened triple creams.”
Eaves hosts cheese pairings for Lotsa Pasta and other establishments around town, and he’s currently working on one that’ll be held at Bourbons Bistro in August. It’ll be a bourbon and cheese pairing, and details will be announced soon.
With all the pairings he’s done, he believes that beer goes best with cheese.
“Wine can some times clash, bourbon can bury it, but beer plays well with others,” says Eaves. “The bubbles cut through the fat/cheese coating your palate and open up the flavor again, changing and evolving it. There are as many variations as there are breweries and creameries. Remember what I said about local microfauna? Beer is the same.”
Before Eaves gets on another topic, we asked him some very important questions …
What was your first concert?
ZZ Top in 1991. Man, I love those furry dudes.
What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?
How to make, store and select good cheese. Or, as my wife’s limited patience have proven many times, Roman history.
What job would you be terrible at?
I’m really good at getting people into what I like but truly terrible at selling anything I don’t believe in. Proven several times over.
What is your favorite restaurant or bar?
Favorites are HARD. Guaranteed good meal? Barry’s Cheesesteak. Damn it’s good, inexpensive and filling. Legit Philly, no foolin’. There is always a line, good sign.
Want to go back for like … the third time? Sarang. Lil’ Korean joint on the corner of Bardstown and Eastern. So. Good.
New infatuation? Al Hamra in Mid City Mall. I don’t know Middle Eastern food well at all, but it’s a buffet! No worries! I had seconds on some kind of spiced cauliflower. Cauliflower! Mom would be so proud. I cleaned my plate. Twice.
Next month? Dunno yet. Whatchu eatin?
What is something you think everyone should do at least once?
Tabletop games like modern board games and role-playing games. Not Monopoly with your brother while you cry to Mom about how he cheated (he probably did). I mean games like Dominion or Pandemic, where strategy is king. Or good ol’ D&D, maybe something new like Starfinder. Space laser swords! Nerd is hip. Seventh-grade me would be shocked!
Where would you direct a newcomer of Louisville to get a feel for the city?
The downtown music shows — I love our city, our skyline. Every Saturday I come back from the New Albany Farmers Market and smile when I come around that curve to see the city. Every time.
What keeps you here?
It’s where my house is. Heh heh. I like it here. Small-town friendly in a big city. And lots of new good food to talk with people about.