Eric Czapla doesn’t remember how his first experiment with smoking cheese fared. It was about 30 years ago when he first dropped a block of cheese over some leftover coals as a teen at hunting camp.
“It maybe didn’t turn out that well,” he said with a chuckle.
But over the years, his smoked cheese became a favorite among his hunting buddies. Even after he moved from western New York to Powell 13 years ago, he frequently sent his smoked cheese back to his friends for Christmas.
“My friends kept telling me I should start selling it,” he said.
So, he and his wife, Tricia, opened Zap’s Smoke Shack out of their home six years ago. Business has doubled every year since, he said.
An electrician by trade, smoking cheese isn’t Czapla’s only gig. He enjoys working on vintage cars and has worked in the oil field.
Smoking cheese is more of a “hobby business,” he said. But, he and Tricia are selling their products at bigger and bigger shows – craft shows, sportsman’s shows, gun shows, etc. – throughout the region every weekend, and people seem to like it.
“Usually when people sample, they buy,” he said.
Czapla is careful to clarify he doesn’t make the cheese itself. In fact, no one in Wyoming currently makes cheese, he said. So, he orders high-quality cheese from Wisconsin and smokes it using his cold-smoke technique that keeps the cheese at refrigeration temperature to meet health department standards. It’s a time-consuming process; each 150-pound batch requires many hours to complete.
Most so-called “smoked” cheese on the market isn't really smoked, he said. Instead, it’s flavored with processed liquid smoke that adds a smoky flavor to mass quantities in much less time. He and his customers appreciate the flavor of his cold-smoke technique.
“We’re extremely grateful to our customers who support local companies and appreciate the work that goes into making our products,” he said.
Zap’s Smoke Shack cheese can be purchased in individual 8-oz. blocks or in gift boxes that make terrific host gifts or appetizer trays.