by Emily Kovach
To the unsuspecting eye, Emiliano Tatar seems like a regular guy: He lives with his wife and two children in Merion Station and is a full-time general pediatrician practicing in Roxborough. But, like an artisan superhero, in the evening he trades the stethoscope for a spatula and makes handcrafted cheese from a tiny creamery in the basement of his suburban home.
Tatar, who came to Philly 22 years ago for college and medical school, began making cheese as a hobby four years ago. With the help of books and online resources, the hobby escalated into an obsession.
“I really enjoyed the process of turning milk into something amazing by using old-world techniques,” he says. Plus, the scientific aspects of the process recalled his time spent studying chemistry and microbiology.
It was at the urging of family and friends who loved the results of his cheesemaking experiments that Tatar considered his new hobby as a potential source of revenue. He gained his first client when he met Pierre and Charlotte Calmels of Philly French restaurants Bibou and Le Chéri. “They tasted some cheeses and told me that if I could make it according to regulations, they would buy some,” he says.
To get legit, Tatar called the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and one of their inspectors visited his house to give him a detailed plan for how to build an in-home creamery that would meet federal and state rules and safety regulations. Tatar constructed a small, closed-off room finished with sanitary surfaces, sinks, a stainless steel work table and a shelving unit for the equipment. His aging “cave” is a large temperature- and humidity-controlled refrigerator, where the cheeses age for three months. “It’s cramped but it works… and the state approved it,” he says. He named his company Merion Park Cheese Co.
Now, about two days per month, he makes wheels of “Mercer Road,” based on the Welsh cheese Caerphilly, a hard white, crumbly cheese that he makes with milk from Bucks County. Di Bruno Bros., Fair Food Farmstand, Narberth Cheese Co., Tria Cafe and Kensington’s Martha are now among his growing list of clients. As for his second cheese, Tatar is collaborating with cheesemaker Yoav Perry on a spirit-washed cheese using gin from Pottstown-based Manatawny Still Works.
For Tatar, the best part of this new venture is the feedback he gets from people trying his homemade cheese. “It puts a smile on their face… That’s a great feeling,” he says.