St. Martinville native Wanda Barras has been an artisan cheesemaker for twenty years. The secret to her award-winning, handmade varieties? Goats.
[caption id="attachment_2474" align="alignnone" width="960"] Photo courtesy of Wanda Barras.[/caption]
In St. Martin Parish, it’s common knowledge that the best cheese in all Cajun Country can be found not within the aisles of a big-box store, but on a small St. Martinville farmstead on the banks of Bayou Teche. Here, Wanda Barras has crafted award-winning artisanal cheeses for the past twenty years.
The picturesque Belle Écorce Farms lives up to its name. The moniker is French for “Beautiful Bark,” for the allée of stately, sprawling live oaks planted by Wanda’s grandfather, that line the drive leading to the farm. She grew up here, caring for the family’s livestock, training horses and milking dairy cows from a young age.
From Animal Lover to Accidental Farmer
Belle Écorce was born back in 1999, when Wanda returned home one day with two pregnant dairy goats in tow. Ever the animal lover, she had missed having four-legged friends around at the house she built on her family’s property with her husband, Kenny. “I’ve always loved animals, they were always my friends,” she says affectionately. Soon enough, Wanda had a small goat herd of her own. Faced with a supply of fresh goat’s milk that needed to be put to use, she learned how to make cheese.
Having studied art education in college, Wanda found herself naturally drawn to the creative process of cheesemaking. Once she realized it was an art form in its own right—one that required practice, time, and experimentation—she was hooked.
Handmade Cheese: The Original Slow Food
“I enjoy seeing what it ends up being,” Wanda says. “It’s not all instant gratification. Sometimes it’s not immediate and you have to wait several months, even a year or two. It’s a little different each time because I don’t really follow recipes. It’s interesting when you make that first cut in the wheel to see how it turned out.”
Every Saturday, Wanda and Kenny are up before sunrise in order to pack their truck and make the drive to the weekly Red Stick Farmer’s Market in Baton Rouge, where Belle Écorce has been a mainstay vendor for years. The early morning haul over the Atchafalaya is always worth the chance to see new and returning customers in person. “It really is rewarding,” Wanda says. Her most popular varieties often sell out, including her signature creamy chèvre and a crumbly brined feta.
Traditional Mainstays to Flavored Specialties
Wanda makes a variety of French-inspired soft cheeses and aged hard cheeses, as well as flavored specialty cheeses. A few beloved customer favorites include her bayou bleu cheese, an aged gouda, and various chèvre spreads that range from sweet to savory. Often flavored with fresh herbs, seasonal fruits, or even edible flowers, Wanda’s unique chèvre offerings like rosemary garlic, pineapple satsuma, and peach mango are as pretty as they are delicious. All her cheese is handmade using milk from her own herd. Wanda loves having visitors out to the farm, so you can meet her goats—all individually named, of course—and learn first-hand why food tastes better when you know where it comes from.
Wanda’s cheeses of the week are available for purchase at the Belle Écorce farm store, as are fresh yard eggs and, if you’re lucky, some scrumptious home-baked goods. To find out what cheese varieties Wanda has in stock or to schedule a tour of Belle Écorce, call 337-394-6683 or follow the farm’s Facebook page.