Where’s the Cheese?
In western North Carolina, a new guide helps you find people who make, sell and serve local cheesesBy Marilyn Jones
"Western North Carolina has a lot to offer," says Jennifer Perkins who owns Looking Glass Creamery with her husband, Andy. "But as much as there is to do, sometimes people want something a little different."
So Jennifer and other cheese producers joined forces to launch WNC Cheese Trail this year. With the support of local restaurants and specialty shops, they are further able to showcase their products to the general public.
"Some of our members have been in business for decades while others are relatively new to cheese making," she says. "What we all have in common is our love for the process, the creativity and our ability to provide local products to local businesses."
Most of the stops on the trail are in Asheville and the surrounding area and each offers something a little different. Some cheese producers, like Looking Glass Creamery, have retail space. Jennifer says they have expansion plans to open a tasting room and picnic area for visitors. In some cases a stop at a creamery is simply a way to meet the cheese maker and discuss the process.
"The idea is to build your own itinerary," Jennifer explains. "Visit a farm, sample the cheese at a local restaurant, and take some home."
For its inaugural year, three creamery stops on the tour have regular business hours and five are available to visit by appointment. Maps are offered at local tourist spots, retailers, and restaurants that support the cheese trail and its members. Or you can download the map at wnccheesetrail.org.
"Another positive thing to come from the growth and development of the cheese trail is the personal connections found in the network," says Jennifer. "Included in our extended family are employees, dairy farmers, retailers, customers, caterers, distributors, farm friends, cheese mongers, chefs and restaurants that support and encourage the evolution of this business."
Take some home
Hickory Nut Gap Farm & Store in Fairview has been buying direct from farmers for years and now stocks Looking Glass Creamery cheese alongside 100 percent grass-fed beef, locally made jams, honey and pickles, and free range chicken eggs.
"And we offer lots of family-oriented activities especially in the fall," says employee Walker Sides. "We have a you-pick pumpkin patch, round bale maze and animal petting."
The Cheese Store in Asheville is another great place to purchase locally produced cheese. The store carries products from WNC Cheese Tour locations and other North Carolina producers including Three Graces Dairy, Victor Chiarizia Artisan Cheese, Yellow Branch, Looking Glass Creamery, Round Mountain Creamery and Spinning Spider.
If you plan to purchase cheese, bring a cooler and ice packs for the journey home. Some retailers also offer direct shipping.
When you go
Hickory Nut Gap Farm & Store
57 Sugar Hollow Road in Fairview is open daily from 9 a.m.–8 p.m. in September and October, and 10 a.m.–5 p.m. the rest of the year. (828) 628-1027, hickorynutgapfarm.com
The Cheese Store
86 Patton Ave. in Asheville is open Sunday and Monday noon–6 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday 11:30 a.m. –7 p.m., and Thursday– Saturday 11:30 a.m.–8 p.m. (828) 254-6453, csasheville.com
Princess Ann Hotel
301 East Chestnut Street in Asheville was built in 1924. The hotel was recently restored to offer guests the feel of an earlier time and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (828) 258-0986, princessannehotel.com
WNC Cheese Trail
(828) 458-0088, wnccheesetrail.org
Asheville Convention and Visitors
37 Montford Avenue, Asheville. (828) 258-6101, exploreasheville.com
Breakfast: Biscuit Head, a family-owned restaurant, serves Looking Glass Creamery Chevre cheese on a brisket biscuit. Located at 733 Haywood Road in Asheville, the restaurant is open Tuesday - Friday 7 a.m- 2 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. - 3 p.m., closed on Monday. (828) 333-5145, biscuitheads.com
Lunch: Laurey's Catering, 67 Biltmore Avenue in Asheville, supports several local cheese makers including Sweet Grass Dairy, Yellow Branch Cheese, Locust Grove, Looking Glass Creamery, Spinning Spider, Three Graces and Chapel Hill Creamery. Cheeses are used in the preparation of meals in the café and are on sale in the adjoining shop. Open Monday - Friday 8 a.m. - 8 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., closed on Sunday. (828) 252-1500, laureysyum.com
Dinner: Red Stag Grill at the Grand Bohemian Hotel, 11 Boston Way in Asheville, offers dining with fresh local ingredients, selected at nearby farms — including creameries — by the chef Adam Hays. Dinner is served nightly 5 p.m. - 10 p.m. (828) 398-5600, bohemianhotelasheville
Night out: Lexington Avenue Brewery, 39 N. Lexington Ave, features the "Buncombe County Cheese Plate" on their menu. "WNC's finest artisan made cheeses, served with rhubarb caramel, fresh black berries, fennel jam, and marcona pesto," the menu reads. Open Monday - Tuesday 11:30 a.m. - midnight, Wednesday - Saturday 11:30 a.m. - 2 a.m., and Sunday noon - midnight. (828) 252-0212, lexavebrew.com