“To my current knowledge, we’re the only full-service, cut-to-order shop in the state of Arkansas,” says Sweet Freedom Cheese owner and founder Jessica Keahey, who worked in the engineering field for 10 years before realizing she wanted to pursue this culinary endeavor. Itching to learn as much as she could, Keahey took a six–week road trip visiting shops and creameries around the US in what she calls her “cheese-mobile.” Although she learned how challenging it could be to make it in the industry, she took the leap and started a tiny licensed creamery in the Arkansas Food Innovation Center.
Now Keahey runs a full cheese shop in Bentonville’s 8th Street Market, a vibrant and diverse culinary community. Since opening last November, customers have flocked here to shop a selection of locally and internationally sourced cheeses, cured meats, and specialty grocery items, as well as enjoy charcuterie and cheese boards with beer and wine in a cozy on-site dining room.
The self-proclaimed “curd nerds” behind the shop—including cheese educator Pat Polowsky, seasoned cheesemongers Maddie Ward and Tiffany Tayrien, and newbies Shelby Thomas and Kristen Martin—are all about educating and sharing cheese with their community. To that end, they offer classes on pairings, cheesemaking, and cheese science and history, as well as a plethora of events, from Fondue Fridays and Raclette nights to serving special grilled cheese sandwiches on holidays.
culture: When were you sure that you wanted to pursue a career in cheese?
Jessica Keahey: One evening, while enrolled in the Sterling College Cheese Intensive course, I was on the front lawn of Jasper Hill Farm. I had my first bite of Harbison and it was transformative and emotional. I realized right then and there that I wanted to make cheese my profession.
culture: What is the first thing you recommend to cheese beginners?
JK: Brush away any intimidation or fears of not knowing all the cheeses in our case or mispronouncing names. We’re in a location where most of our customers have never been to a cut-to-order cheese shop, so we put an emphasis on our Southern “curdesy.”
culture: What’s your go-to pairing?
JK: Unpopular opinion here, but gjetost and apples. It’s my personal mission in life to convert caramel-loving Arkansans into gjetost fans.
8th Street Market
801 SE 8th St., Ste. 1
Mon.–Wed. 10:30 a.m.–6:30 p.m.
Thurs.–Sat. 10:30 a.m.–8:30 p.m.