While living in Houston, Mitchell and her husband bought a second home outside Aspen in the mid-2000s. Like so many others who’ve been lured by the Elk Mountains, the more time they spent in the Roaring Fork Valley, they more they liked it, so they began to hatch a plan to live here full time.
Back in Texas, Mitchell owned a successful chain of burrito shops, which she sold before heading across the pond to spend a year in Scotland in 2006. While in the UK, she made friends with local farmers and foodies, and began attending short classes and workshops on the art of making cheese. “When we moved back, I didn’t want to do a restaurant in Aspen because of the challenges: high rent, seasonal employees—it was so much different from Houston,” Mitchell says. “But I knew I still wanted to do something in food.”
Many of the cheesemakers Mitchell had met in the United Kingdom bought milk from coops. “Unfortunately, most milk coops in Colorado are along in Front Range,” she explains, “so I couldn’t do that.” Determined to procure high quality raw milk for her cheeses, she decided to do the next logical thing: buy a farm, start breeding goats, and do the job herself!
Mitchell set up a creamery in Basalt, and Avalanche Cheese Company was born in 2008. (Trivia tip: If you’re wondering about the name, it’s because the outbuilding at her home sits on a avalanche shoot). She quickly gained a stellar reputation amongst local chefs and residents for her phenomenal goat milk cheeses, and started selling her products in local shops and grocery stores like City Market. Since then, she’s expanded her offerings to salumi, a restaurant and farm shop, and most recently, a cocktail bar. The restaurant, which opened in 2014, has become a favorite of locals and visitors alike. As its moniker implies, Meat & Cheese is a carnivore’s haven. They’re best known for their namesake meat and cheese boards that feature charcuterie and artisan cheeses, Old World style goat and pork sausages, porchetta, steak, local rotisserie chicken, and påté paired with delectable artisan cheeses, but you’ll also find lots of other “global farmhouse” fare on the menu. Think pork schnitzel, lamb korma, and Korean, Thai and Vietnamese flavors. Beverage-wise, guests can savor fresh squeezed juices, local favorite Rock Canyon coffee, organic teas, housemade lemongrass lemonade, chai and more. During nice weather, guests can dine al fresco.
While you’ll see plenty of local goods on the menu, farm shop manager Elisa Orcajada emphasizes that quality always comes first. “We love local, but we love artisan craft food even more,” she explains. “We celebrate the foods of the world.”
And while ‘sustainable’ has become a buzzword in the farm-to-table movement, Mitchell emphasizes that in her book, taste comes first. “I approach things less from the environmental side and more from the flavor side as a food person. I think about what I want to eat and what I want my family to eat. If animals are on pasture and there are no weird, synthetic hormones given to them, everything tastes better and is easier to work with and make cheese with. I focused on the flavor and started learning more about the importance of creating healthy soil and being a steward to the land. As I learned more, this became more important, but originally I did this for the quality of the milk.”
Most recently, Mitchell expanded her mini-empire by opening a cocktail bar, Hooch, in the basement of Meat & Cheese. As in the restaurant, you’ll see locally-produced items alongside international artisan producers. Whatever you do, don’t miss the jalapeño margaritas—a quick search of reviews reveals it’s a hit even with the most discerning tequila lovers.
Next time you’re on Restaurant Row, be sure to stop in for a snack or to browse around the farm shop. The cheese case can be a bit intimidating, but Orcajada says the friendly staff is all about educating visitors. “Everyone who works here loves food and we get really excited about it,” she laughs. “We all love to eat and to share our knowledge without being pretentious.”
Spoken like a true, passionate foodie.
—Davina van Buren
Meat & Cheese Restaurant & Farm Shop is located at 319 E Hopkins Ave. Aspen, CO 81611