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Sweet Freedom Cheese is Arkansas’s first independent, cut-to-order cheese shop. This ensures that everyone gets the absolute best quality.
Owner and renowned cheesemonger Jessica Keahey felt trapped, stuck in a nine-to-five desk job. She knew it wasn’t what she wanted to do with her life. It was the late 2000s, and Jessica had spent about eight years on engineering education and was raised during a time where you “get the job and stay there.” Yet her heart didn’t want to stay.
Jessica found the courage to start exploring and fell in love with cheesemaking after taking a class in 2012. Immediately she knew she had to figure out a way to bring cheese into her life. She studied extensively with cheesemakers and mongers around the USA and earned the Certified Cheese Professional distinction and Level 3 certification with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.
In 2013 she started an artisan creamery, yet Jessica knew that it would be a hard mountain to climb. The business model morphed, and in 2018 she opened the doors to Sweet Freedom Cheese, which allowed her to focus on a larger array of wonderful cheeses from around the world.
“Initially, the name Sweet Freedom Cheese came from me trying to find my personal freedom and real passion in life. It’s also morphed over time to leverage what we do at Sweet Freedom as a resource to help people in our community find their own personal freedom and make the world a better place. And, ultimately, to do some Gouda.”
While not an official tagline (it should be), “doing good” defines the personality of Sweet Freedom. Jessica is a helper; it’s who she is. Yet it’s not just Jessica because you feel the love from her employees, too.
“Doing Gouda can be a lot of diverse things,” Jessica says. “The thing we tend to focus on is food insecurity. We are locally focused on food-based initiatives like food banks and national causes such as diversity in the cheese profession and such. We also run promotions and donations for all sort of local organizations such as the Children’s Safety Center who promote emotion and physical childhood security.”
Jessica continues, “You kinda know it in your heart when you can do that Gouda. We are very small and have limited resources, but there is no reason for us not to. Opening Sweet Freedom Cheese wasn’t about making money but seeing a problem to solve and filling that need.”
Jessica and her team are always looking for – and thinking of – bright ideas. They started Day 1 with “The Heart of the Parm,” where they bring in high-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano that is ultra aged from a special region in Italy. The standard for this cheese has to be a minimum 12-month age, and Sweet Freedom brings in a 24-month or older (usually 2 ½ years) that has a different depth of flavor.
When a new whole Parmigiano-Reggiano wheel is ready to be “cracked” or opened, it’s a big to-do. Before COVID-19, it was a public event where guests could sample the hard cheese immediately. They also collected donations to support non-profit initiatives in the community.
COVID-19 obviously changed things, so the cracking moments are now posted live, and portions of monthly proceeds still go to non-profit organizations.
Another initiative during the pandemic focused on the impact on national artisan cheesemakers. As Americans stocked up on staple foods like hard cheeses, many fresh and soft cheeses were struggling in distribution warehouses.
Sweet Freedom created a victory box with a sampling of American cheesemakers that supported small American cheesemakers. Portions of the profits also went toward the local food bank. They actually still do this!
Another way Sweet Freedom supported the struggling cheese industry was by working with distributors that supplied larger quantities of cheese to big restaurants and supermarkets that were temporarily shuttered at the onset of the pandemic. Sweet Freedom donated these cheeses to COVID-19 relief efforts and hosted a “free cheese day,” where anyone who showed up would get a free piece of cheese.
“We were always trying to think outside the box. We would have an innovative pasta night with recipes for soft Brie cheese that might otherwise have just languished in a warehouse at the start of the crisis and use the proceeds to help for community donations. We tried everything we could do to keep our amazing team on staff and do our part to help the industry survive.”
If you skip over everything in this article, pause on this statement: Sweet Freedom always gives samples.
While the shop isn’t massive, you will be pleasantly surprised by the variety and scope of what is available in the cozy space. From artisan cheese ranging from cow’s milk to sheep’s milk to goat, they have something for everyone.
“We carry the basics like a million cheddars, Swiss, etc. We aren’t focused solely on small-batch artisanal cheeses, even though we enjoy those. We want cheese that is accessible for everyone and their pocketbooks.”
They sell cheese-making products like culture, molds and ingredients. Wine, beer, crackers, and condiments line the shelves and refrigerated sections throughout the store.
If you’re unsure where to begin, a good start is with the top 5 most popular cheeses.
In addition, you can order lunch and dinner off their menu. The cornerstone of their business is ordering a cheese plate where you can build your own assortment or house-made (they pick based on what you like).
If you’re a sucker for grilled cheese, you can’t find any better in Northwest Arkansas. Gluten-free and keto options are available (and you won’t be disappointed).
Another great pivot during the pandemic was switching in-person cheese classes to virtual. In fact, they’ve been such a success that when things open up again, they probably won’t stop the virtual classes. It has provided an opportunity for many to attend that more than likely would not have been able to attend in person.
Classes range from Cheese 101 to Mozzarella Making to Wine & Cheese Pairing classes. Kits are available to purchase online and in the store. Find class details on their website.
Northwest Arkansas has a little bit of something for everyone, and Sweet Freedom is high on the list of awesome places to frequent. Making your cheese experience wonderful is the goal of Jessica and her team.
“We really wanted to focus on interesting products and things not available in the region and fill that void. There’s something for every pocketbook and budget. I wanted to work really hard not to have the reputation of the snobby gourmet shop. Part of that is the sampling program to try and sample before buying so that our customers love what they purchase.”
It’s as simple as that.
Sweet Freedom Cheese
801 SE 8th St., Ste. 1
Monday-Thursday: 10:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m.
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