Epik Burger has long been a Jacksonville favorite when it comes to their burgers, but they recently added a new menu item that is guaranteed to knock your socks off, a Poutine using fresh Cheddar cheese curds from Wainwright Dairy & Creamery in Live Oak. In early March, we took a trip down to the farm to check out the creamery and pet some cows. Sadly, the cows did not cooperate, but we had a great time learning all about the farm and the amazing family that has been running it since the late 60’s. The dairy was started by Carl Wainwright on 80 acres of land while living in an Airstream with his wife Carol and their 5 children. Over the next several years the Wainwrights went through many changes including losing their initial farm and having to move into a run-down mobile home on the west side of town for a few years. Thankfully, Carl’s father still owned 40 acres across the street from the original 80. He put the land in Carl’s name, which allowed the family to move back onto the property. In 1986, they paid $200 for a burned-out house that the family would live in while he built the barn. By this time, there were 9 kids in the family. Carl’s daughter Cheryl Finney explained, “nowadays you hear it costs a lot to have kids. It costs a lot not to have kids when you have a farm.” She went on to explain how hard the older children worked, “the girls, they were up milking, and had it all milked before they caught the bus at 7”.
As the dairy grew, he recognized that it would be cheaper to grow their own feed. Carl started to acquire additional acreage in the area, including a buy back of his initial 80 acres. The Wainwrights now own around 550 acres and 300-350 cows. The cows are transferred to the barn from different areas of the farm when it’s time to milk them. I was wondering how they got the cows to the barn and was tickled to hear that when it’s time to milk, the cows will start walking that way on their own.
The Wainwrights take great pride in their milk. They don’t use any fillers in their products, unlike some competitors. Carl went on to explain how he conducted an experiment using Wainwright milk and another brand. “I sent 3 products off to a lab. One was our raw milk, one was pasteurized, then I went to town and bought a half a gallon of milk and I sent it off to a lab. The one from town came back and didn’t have no butter fat or protein listed in it, but it did have water and a whitening agent. That’s a fact.” Cheryl added that titanium dioxide was the whitening agent, to which Carl responded, “It was listed years ago, but it’s not listed now. The state allows them to put it in and not list it. What you get from us is gonna be the real thing”.
In 2009, the Wainwrights started their creamery. They now make many different types of cheeses including Baby Swiss, Pepper Jack, Chipotle, Colby, a few varieties of Cheddar, and more recently, Cheese Curds. Epik Burger has the distinction of being the first restaurant in Jacksonville to use their cheese curds on a menu item. Korey Konopasek, the owner of Epik Burger, first became aware of Wainwright’s cheese curds just before the holidays when his Sysco rep brought Cheryl by the restaurant. “My Sysco sales rep brought her by, brought her to a string of restaurants. He brought her by, and she had samples of things and I asked her about cheese curds. I’ve always wanted to do poutine, but I could never find cheese curds that were fresh from a farm. The only farms I found that were semi local didn’t do curds. The closest was in Georgia so it was still pretty far.” Korey continued, “The cheese curds stretch and squeak a little bit when they are warm and fresh, but if you buy stuff that’s been around for a month, it’s a different experience. It’s kind of like I wanted to do the real thing or not do it at all, so I just never did it”. Well that all changed once Wainwright started distributing their products through Sysco. Now Korey had access to fresh, locally made Cheddar cheese curds that he didn’t have to drive hours for. He then decided to replace the cheese on his Gravy Fries with cheese curds, and also created a brand-new menu item, a Poutine which has cheese curds, house made gravy, and scallions ($6.49)
Cheryl handed us a bag of curds and we continued our field trip by driving out to Epik Burger. We watched as Korey worked his magic in the kitchen, then we grabbed a seat and some forks to dig in. We got to try both the gravy fries and the poutine, and it was hard to pick a winner. I can see each option appealing to different people, for different reasons, but I was partial to the Poutine. You can definitely taste the freshness in Wainwright’s curds. They have a hint of salt that draws the flavor out and works very well with the gravy. Epik is currently running the Poutine as a special but Korey hopes to add it to the menu permanently. Make sure to pop in and grab one, if you feel comfortable doing so. Since the pandemic began, things have changed drastically for many restaurants. Korey realizes that some people might be uncomfortable dining inside of the restaurant, so they are still offering to go orders as well as delivery.
I am going to leave you with my favorite photo of the day. While trying to pet the cows, they would get spooked and back away from us. We found that if we turned away from them, they would come back, so we plopped down (while trying to avoid cow patties) and snapped a selfie. Enjoy.