PETALING JAYA: The late Anthony Bourdain once said: “You have to be a romantic to invest yourself, your money, and your time in cheese.”
That would pretty much sum-up the love affair Dexter Lim has with cheese, willing as he was to give up a 12-year career as a property investor to plunge headlong into cheesemaking.
FMT recently met up with Lim, 40, the founder of D’ Artisan Handmade Cheese, in his double-story Desa Park City home studio, where he churns out 49 different types of cheeses on a regular basis.
On the dining table is a cheeseboard with a mouth-watering selection of gorgeous cheeses – Halloumi, Asiago, Caerphilly, Gouda, Feta, Gorgonzola and the somewhat lesser known Venezuelan Queso Fresco cheese wrapped delicately in banana leaf.
There are also several wheels of varying heights, textures, colours and sizes – all different kinds of cheeses that Lim makes by hand.
Lim tells FMT that he took a leap of faith when he decided to leave his 12-year career as a property investor and venture into the exhilarating world of cheese making.
Before setting up his business, the cheeses he made were for personal consumption. “I quickly discovered that the commercial cheeses available in the market had around 15 to 20 ingredients that neither I nor my kids could pronounce,” he says of the additives and preservatives that go into cheeses to prolong its shelf life.
“I have a five-year-old daughter and three-year-old son, so that’s not something I want my family to be consuming,” he said.
Lim makes his cheeses from scratch, uses his own natural starter cultures instead of the commercial ones produced in laboratories.
He also sticks to the original recipes that call for organic cow’s milk, Himalayan salt, vegetable rennet and vinegar.
“It’s pretty much like how cheese was made 10,000 years ago and by making it at home, I know exactly what goes into it,” he says, taking great pride in his cheesemaking abilities.
“My latest creation, number 49 is the Wensleydale cheese with cranberries. It took me about two days.
“I already have number 50 in mind, Port Salut, a type of cheese from France. But the toughest cheese that took many rounds of trial and error was burrata.”
He admits to underestimating at first just how difficult cheesemaking was. His first attempt at making fresh mozzarella resulted in a mess that resembled ricotta instead, he says.
Not one to give up easily, Lim kept at it and today his fresh mozzarella is in such high demand that one Italian customer even sang praises of it.
“He said the mozzarella I made was as good as his mother’s. Imagine that, an Italian comparing my fresh mozzarella cheese to what his mother made,” Lim says, flashing a wide grin.
Also in his repertoire of cheesemaking is mysost, a type of Norwegian spreadable cheese with the consistency of smooth peanut butter.
This cheese has a sweet-salty flavour profile. “We are the only artisan cheesemakers that produce mysost here in Malaysia. It goes well with toast, crackers, sourdough bread or even green apples.”
The doting father has also concocted two cheese wheels for his kids for their birthdays; Devrie’s Adventure, a marble cheddar with blue pea flower for his daughter and Damon’s Bleu, a French blue cheese named after his son.
Lim also sells cashew-based vegan cheeses with bell pepper, tomato, sesame seeds and Braggs. These cheeses, Lim says, contain no sugar, preservatives or gluten.
One of Lim’s less subtle, crazier cheese creations is made from jengkol, a stinky vegetable, more pungent than petai. He says he first tried the vegetable in Indonesia and was hooked.
“The taste stuck with me and I had the idea of making jengkol cheese! It even has chillies inside, and we’ve named it Harta. It’s currently ageing in the cheese cave,” he says.
For customers keen to experience new flavours, D’ Artisan Handmade Cheese has its own cheese-of-the-month club.
During this period, Lim handpicks four to six of his finest quality, perfectly-aged, unique and rare artisanal cheeses to be the highlights of the month.
Each cheese is hand-cut, delicately wrapped and presented with a unique information card that includes suggestions for the perfect pairing. There are also recipe ideas.
“We are currently thinking of how to expand and we are hoping to get a place, like a production facility after the pandemic situation stabilises.
“For now, we will focus on educating our consumers on the different types of cheeses available,” says Natalie, who handles the marketing and social media aspects of the business.
“Cheese is a 10,000-year-old love affair,” quips Lim excitedly. With two cheese wheels in his hands and smiling like a Cheshire cat, there’s no doubt how deep Lim’s passion for cheese runs.