Imagine a cheese plate on wheels.
Ash & Bleu is a new food truck concept that hit the streets in early May to showcase Midwestern farmstead cheeses by offering a menu of made-to-order grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese plates and cheeses by the piece.
Farmstead means the cheese is made on the farm from milk produced from animals also raised on the farm.
“A lot of people are unfamiliar with the word and concept,” says Harris, who grew up in a rural community in Missouri near Jefferson City, where her father raised cattle and her mother had her own canning kitchen in the basement of their house.
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The other cool thing about Harris’ “traveling cheese shop” concept?
There’s really not much like it rolling around the food truck universe. Sure, there are grilled cheese-focused food trucks, but the only traveling cheese shop she found during her online research was operating in New Zealand.
I caught up with Harris at the Overland Park Farmers Market recently to check out her converted 1969 Shasta trailer — and, of course, to taste her wares.
The menu typically includes four or five grilled cheese sandwiches featuring a variety of rotating artisan cheeses made from sheep’s, goat’s or cow’s milk. Or customers can order a $5 cheese plate built around a cheese of their choice. Recent offerings ranged from an ash-rubbed black goat cheese from Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign, Ill., to an Ozark Mountain Bleu crafted by Edgewood Creamery in Purdy, Mo.
I chose to sample a chunk of slightly salty natural rind blue cheese made from grass-fed cow’s milk. The farm’s website describes how its cheese is pierced with stainless steel rods to allow air to circulate and then cave-aged for three to four months. The resulting blue mold that speckles the interior gives the cheese a nutty flavor and creamy texture.
To complement the cheese, Harris adds a spot of house-made jam, lightly salted marcona almonds, thinly sliced apple, a cluster of red seedless grapes and hunks of toasted Ibis Bakery Country Bread.
Harris is an Ibis alum, and her former employers wished her well when I posted a cheese plate photo on Instagram. She’s also an alum of the specialty cheese department at Whole Foods Market. But she grew up eating “orange American” cheese.
Her knowledge of artisan cheese deepened when she lived in Prague in the Czech Republic after college. Despite her food training, Harris insists, “I am by no means a cheese expert. I have no cheese professional certification. I just really love it and love working with small farmers.”
Harris initially wanted to sell cheese by the pound — she currently sells 6- to 7-ounce pieces for $6 to $12 and is “slowly moving to per pound pricing.” But her business model evolved to include grilled cheese and cheese plates, which are more financially feasible and provide an easy way to introduce an unfamiliar concept.
“I think there’s a lot of work to be done in educating the public about the makers, the processes and telling people why these cheeses cost more,” she says.
Harris also relies on her relationships with farmers to discover new cheeses. She recently started working with Hemme Brothers Creamery in Sweet Springs, Mo., makers of quark (a fresh cheese served by Eastern European countries and similar to cottage cheese), cheese curds and cheddar.
Ash & Bleu’s grilled sandwiches are made on Ibis bread and feature fillings such as ham and Marcoot Jersey Creamery Cave-Aged Heritage ($6.50), apricot jam with Prairie Fruits Farm Chevre ($7.50) and tomato and basil-walnut pesto with Marcoot’s mozzerella ($7.50).
The most popular grilled sandwich so far combined fig jam, goat cheese, bacon and arugula.
But it’s already off the menu: “Some of my customers are not thrilled with that decision, but one of the things I really stand by is seasonality.”
How to find Ash & Bleu: Harris will be at the Overland Park Farmers Market on Wednesdays 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. through September and the Mission Farmers Market on Saturdays 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. through October. Down the road, Harris envisions adding private cheese tasting with wine pairings.