Paula Walter is on a mission to improve wine and cheeseboard pairings. Based in Sedalia, Missouri, Walter has recently launched a line of savory artisan crackers, each made with a different combination of cheese and a spice or herb, under her Culinary Provisions brand.
“I’m probably tilting at windmills, but I’m on a crusade to replace the fruit and cheese board with crackers that pair with a jam, a fruit butter, or a preserve, that mirrors the flavor of the wine,” she says.
For example, she developed her Parmesan-thyme crackers to pair perfectly with apricot jam, peach preserves and white wine varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, while her blue cheese crackers complement blackberry jam and red wines such as Cabernet Franc and Syrah.
Walter’s crusade started in 2005 with her mustard-Gruyère crackers. Back then she was just making homemade crackers for fun – the mustard-Gruyère was developed to pair with her favorite wine, Champagne – but positive feedback and encouragement from friends inspired her to pursue producing them professionally. As she began to conduct market research, she realized that there was relatively no local or regional competition for artisan crackers. “I’ve asked myself more than once, ‘Why is nobody else doing this?’” she says.
It’s taken Walter more than 10 years, working on her crackers off and on, and experiencing many “false starts” to perfect them. Although now back living in her hometown of Sedalia, she lived in the Kansas City area for almost 30 years; there, she connected with the food-science lab at Kansas State University’s extension in Olathe, Kansas. Through R&D there and more recently at a food-incubator in Kansas City, Walter has perfected her recipe for retail packaging and wider distribution.
In addition to the mustard-Gruyère, blue cheese and Parmesan-thyme flavors, her line of crackers currently includes pepper-Pecorino and Cheddar. All of the crackers are made with organic, unbleached all-purpose flour that’s milled at Heartland Mill Inc. in Marienthal, Kansas, and mostly imported cheeses – the one exception is the Cheddar crackers, which are made with white Cheddar from Hemme Brothers Creamery in Sweet Springs, Missouri. She sources her Italian Pecorino and Parmesan, Danish blue cheese and Swiss Gruyère. Walter says she’ll likely be switching the Gruyère in her mustard-Gruyère crackers for Swiss cheese.
“Everybody says how fabulous they taste,” Walter says. “You can see the mustard seed in the mustard-Gruyere and the thyme in the thyme-Parmesan; you can see the whole peppercorn in the pepper-Pecorino.”
Walter has also taken the work out of pairing her crackers with wine and fruit butters and jams for customers, crafting a chart with pairing suggestions. Currently she vends at the Sedalia Area Farmers’ Market, and her products are also sold online, as well as at select Missouri wineries, such as Dale Hollow Winery in Stover, Missouri. To complement the crackers, Walter also sells a range of jams, preserves and fruit butters, as well as cakes, cookies, crumbles, crisps, cobblers and breakfast breads.
In April, Walter will be sharing her crackers at two wine-and-artisan-food-focused events: On April 20, she’ll be vending at the Eastern Jackson County fundraiser in Independence, and on April 28, she’ll be at the Benton County Wine Stroll in Warsaw, Missouri, alongside more than 20 Missouri wineries and other food vendors. Walter is also hoping to soon redesign her logo and switch from packaging her crackers in boxes to bags. Her next challenge will be getting into retailers across the state, including local wineries.
“I’m really jazzed about this," Walter says. “It’s amazing how many places I can take these crackers."
Culinary Provisions, Sedalia, Missouri, culinaryprovisions.net