It all started with a cave. For 31 years, brothers Salvatore and Joseph Paris have been running specialty food operations out of their 650,000 square feet of warehouse space in SubTropolis, Kansas City’s largest underground storage complex.
Paris Brothers Specialty Foods
was one of the first to get gourmet foods on supermarket shelves in Kansas City, things now easily found that used to be rare, such as extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and charcuterie.
In 2007, the brothers jumped from storing and distributing coffee to roasting it, creating Parisi Artisan Coffee.
Now Paris Brothers has expanded from storing and distributingartisan cheese
to aging it. The new cheese line is a collaboration with respected, award-winning Fiscalini Farmstead Cheese of Modesto, Calif.
In 2010, Joseph Paris gave Fiscalini’s master cheesemaker a tour of his storage facility, and the cheesemaker wondered about aging his artisan cheddar in the caves. In California, Fiscalini ages its cheese in refrigeration units using artificially introduced cultures. Paris offered to buy 14 wheels of Fiscalini raw milk cheddar and conduct the experiment himself to see if he could produce a cave-aged cheese that would meet Fiscalini’s standards.
Ben Hathaway, cheese specialist for Paris Brothers, was in charge of the project. On a walking tour of the caves, which remain a constant 68 degrees and 50 percent humidity year-round, he recalls his excitement when the raw cheese arrived.
“It was still rubbed in lard, really fresh, something you don’t get to see unless you go to a cheesemaker,” he says. “The original weight of the cheeses was around 60 pounds per wheel. After three years, they have dropped 10 to 12 pounds as they dry.”
In the caves, the culture develops first on the bottom of the cheese. Hathaway pulls on jersey gloves and rubs the culture up onto the sides of the cheese. At the 30-month mark, Fiscalini’s cheesemaker returned to taste a plug drawn from a wheel of cheese.
“I was nervous,” Hathaway says. “They release their cheese at 18 months, and at 30 months ours was still pretty moist. I was worried it wasn’t going to be where he wanted it, but he really liked it. The different aging methods produced two very different cheeses.”
Joseph Paris says that because Paris Brothers had been storing and aging cheese for other companies for several years, his caves are full of mold spores that create ideal conditions for natural aging, and the focus now is exploring those possibilities and slowly putting them into local shops.
“We are a bunch of foodies here. We like to say everybody gets their freak on when they come to work,” he says. “It’s fun when you aren’t always worrying about the dollar first.”
You can taste a sample of the Fiscalini cave-aged raw milk cheddar from 4 to 6 p.m. March 14 at Cosentino’s markets in Brookside and downtown.