Long-chain cellulose esters with very low degree of substitution (DS<0.3), useful for specialty applications, were obtained by reaction with fatty acids (FAs) without solvent for cellulose. Non-acidic catalysts such as FA salts were used to limit the cellulose degradation when subjected to reaction at high temperatures. The surfactant character of this type of molecules was employed to create an emulsion with FA and water to favor the contact of hydrophobic FA and hydrophilic cellulose. Response surface methodology was used as a statistical optimization method to find the best proportions of octanoic acid, potassium laurate and water. A highly hydrophobic product with retention of fibrous structure was thus obtained. The reactions with higher saturated FAs (C10–C18) yielded lower DS values but still comparable hydrophobicity.