North Carolina’s cheese trail will make you smileBy Leah Chester-Davis
The growing number of cheesemakers in the state is a welcome addition for the farm-to-table scene. The world of cheese usually offers something for all ages to love, from the pickiest of eaters to those with a discerning palate. With nearly 40 artisan and farmstead cheesemakers calling North Carolina home, you’re sure to find a favorite.
Most of the cheesemakers on the N.C. Cheese Trail are located in the Piedmont and Sandhills region of the state, though High Mountain Meadows Farm & Creamery is the westernmost outlier, located in Clay County. Holly Grove Farms (Tri-County EMC territory) is the farthest east on the map, located near Mt. Olive, about an hour southeast of Raleigh. A different trail, the WNC CheeseTrail (wnccheesetrail.org) covers the Western North Carolina mountain region and foothills.
While the N.C. Cheese Trail is relatively new at about two years old, some of the dairies have been around awhile and have developed quite a following, such as the Goat Lady Dairy in Climax and Chapel Hill Creamery in Chapel Hill. Many cheesemakers along the trail are located near some of the state’s wineries, which make for an enjoyable day visit. After all, cheese and wine are a quintessential pairing.
Knowledge of two terms will be useful when exploring the trail: artisan and farmstead. Artisan or artisanal cheese implies that a cheese is produced primarily by hand, in small batches. Artisan cheese may be made from all types of milk. The cheesemaker may not be the farmer.
Farmstead cheese signals that the cheese is made with milk from the farmer’s own herd where the animals are raised. It, too, most likely will be artisanal and made in small batches.
Owners of two dairies on the trail — Buffalo Creek Farm and Paradox Farm Creamery — spearheaded the effort to organize cheesemakers in the Piedmont and Sandhills to create the N.C. Cheese Trail. Their goal is to promote cheese and cheesemaking and to help more people become aware of quality, locally produced cheese. Most of the producers are small dairies and the trail gives them an opportunity to share their story and cheese with a broad audience, says Sue Stovall with Paradox Farm Creamery, located in West End (Randolph EMC territory).
Along the trail, visitors will find a wide range of cheese flavors, primarily made from cows and goats milk (although Fading D Farm, outside Salisbury, has a water buffalo dairy herd, the only one in the state).
The N.C. Cheese Trail is part of a thriving value-added dairy industry in the state, according to the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. While the state’s cheese business is small compared to other states like Vermont and Wisconsin, it is the largest in the Southeast, with 38 cheese makers making a $10 million impact on the state’s economy.
“The N.C. Cheese Trail is a great introduction to local food and healthy eating,” Stovall says. “One taste and you can tell the difference!”