Our love of cheese precedes us. Like most Southerners, those of us in the Triangle—Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill—are known for our allegiance to pimiento cheese: a simple spread of grated cheddar, pimiento peppers, and mayonnaise. The stuff shows up at almost every spot where cheese is sold. In fact, we eat so much of it here (we’re rumored to be tied with Charlotte, North Carolina, for the most in the nation) and hold it in such high regard that I even penned a thesis on the subject. I can also report, however, that our taste for cheese goes deeper than the peppery mix—as evidenced by this roundup of local cheese sources that venture beyond the Southern spread. But do give pimiento cheese a try, if you haven’t already. After all, a dairy trip around the Triangle just wouldn’t be complete without it.
Reliable Cheese Company
Opened in 2011, Patrick Coleff’s downtown store is Durham’s only artisanal cheese shop, but it more than fills that role. Coleff, formerly of Murray’s and Stinky Bklyn, keeps customers (and a slew of local businesses) in stock with a range of traditionally crafted, cut-to-order cheeses, in addition to leading workshops from his space. For those who don’t want a wedge, Coleff also serves select slices and spreads on a crisp pressed sandwich, making use of an impressive case of charcuterie. Try Johnston County’s country ham with blue cheese and fig jam.
Reliable Cheese Company 405 East Chapel Hill Street Durham, NC 919.680.3939
A Southern Season
Having grown from a small coffee shop opened in 1975 to a 60,000-square-foot market, A Southern Season has become one of the South’s largest gourmet retailers. Under the direction of Alexander Kast, official cheesemonger for the American Cheese Society’s 2012 Conference in Raleigh, nearly 300 cheeses find a spot at the shop’s sprawling counter. Kast also collaborates with Chef Ryan Payne at the market’s Weathervane Restaurant to provide a rotating plate of seasonally minded selections.
A Southern Season 201 South Estes Drive Chapel Hill, NC 877.929.7133
Weaver Street Market
Known as “Carrboro’s front yard,” the shaded space that stretches out in front of Weaver Street Market is prime for picnicking. Find all the necessary fare inside the community-owned store, from beer, wine, bottle openers and glasses to a cooler brimming with local cheeses. Regional heavy hitters such as Meadow Creek Dairy are here, but what stands out in Weaver Street’s case are the smaller, perhaps lesser-known labels. Not to miss is Black River Farmstead’s chèvre.
Weaver Street Market 101 East Weaver Street Carrboro, NC 919.929.0010
Whole Foods Market, North Raleigh
The Triangle’s newest Whole Foods Market, which recently celebrated its first anniversary, provides one of the best bets when it comes to cheese buying in Raleigh. Nathan Raskopf, who led the counter at a second Raleigh Whole Foods store for 11 years, keeps almost 250 varieties in his case. Or as Raskopf puts it, from “local to just about anything.”
Whole Foods Market, North Raleigh 8710 Six Forks Road Raleigh, NC 919.354.0350
Fox Liquor Bar
Tucked a few steps below street level, Fox Liquor’s blazing green door is a worthy find. Inside the dimly lit space of a former Piggly Wiggly, the bar’s cheese selection is as well balanced as its crafted cocktails. Build a plate from eight, but save room. Upstairs and around the corner, chef and owner Ashley Christensen offers two other excellent options: Beasley’s Chicken + Honey (fried chicken and traditional Southern sides with a twist, including pimiento macaroni and cheese custard) and Chuck’s burgers.
Fox Liquor Bar 237 South Wilmington Street Raleigh, NC 919.322.0128
Fullsteam is home to Southern beer. The brewery, housed in a brick warehouse on the edge of Durham’s Central Park District, prides itself on a “plow-to-pint” philosophy, making brews from the region’s grown goods. El Toro, a smooth, classic cream ale, is brewed with North Carolina corn grits, while the Carver subtly incorporates the state’s abundance of sweet potatoes. Most evenings Fullsteam finds a mobile grill in front—from the Chirba Chirba Dumpling truck to Farmhand Foods’ Sausage Wagon. The bar also offers a cheese plate curated by Patrick Coleff of Durham’s Reliable Cheese Co.
Fullsteam 726 Rigsbee Avenue Durham, NC 919.682.2337
Six Plates Wine Bar
It is as its name suggests: six small plates of food plus wine (and lots of it). More than 150 bottles span the clipboard menu at this smart, dark bar, located steps from Duke’s west campus. From expertly paired wines by the glass to a solid sampling of cheese, offerings change weekly, if not more frequently.
Six Plates Wine Bar 2812 Erwin Road Suite 104 Durham, NC 919.321.0203
Named for its impressive inventory of single-estate coffees, teas, and wines, 3CUPS prides itself on the transparent relationships it has with many producers, including local food artisans—Portia McKnight and Flo Hawley of Chapel Hill Creamery, for instance, who offer five cheeses to plate or purchase, and April McGreger of Farmer’s Daughter, who sells barrel-fermented pickles and farm-driven jams, considered by many to be a local treasure.
3CUPS 227 South Elliott Road Chapel Hill, NC 919.968.8993
After stints at Murray’s Cheese Grand Central and Artisanal Bistro, Kate Elia left New York for her native North Carolina, where she now mans a small but sturdy case of mostly domestic cheeses at Wine Authorities. Offerings lean toward regional standouts, such as Looking Glass Creamery’s ashen Ellington and Meadow Creek Dairy’s pungent and buttery Grayson, for which the store has plenty of pairings to offer with more than 400 bottles of estate-grown wines.
Wine Authorities 2501 University Drive Durham, NC 919.489.2884
The Raleigh Wine Shop
This whitewashed brick market near downtown Raleigh delivers on several levels. For a small fee the Raleigh Wine Shop will bring selections to your door. A small selection of local, handmade meats, crackers, and cheeses—mostly from the Hillsborough Cheese Company—are also available for call-in. And for those who make the trek to town, a tasting corner with 12 wines offered by the ounce provides further reward.
The Raleigh Wine Shop 126 Glenwood Avenue Raleigh, NC 919.803.5473
Look for a pig suspended high like a cross above this shrine to Southern cooking, which turned 30 this year. Crook’s plates many cheeses from the local community. But also of note is its famed shrimp and grits: a dressed-up version of a traditional breakfast for low-country fishermen, which finds plump shrimp, mushrooms, bacon, and scallions on a savory bed of cheese grits.
Crook’s Corner 610 West Franklin Street Chapel Hill, NC 919.929.7643
In downtown Raleigh, the Pit offers the real deal: whole-hog, pit-smoked, vinegar-dressed barbecue. Try it, and understand why this style of meat is defended with religious zeal among eastern North Carolinians. For starters sample another sacred Southern dish: pimiento cheese made with peppers
and mayonnaise in flaky biscuits topped with lettuce, bacon, and tomato. For something of a holy trinity, order bourbon, too; the Pit shelves about 20 different kinds.
The Pit 328 West Davie Street Raleigh, NC 919.890.4500
Carolina-style cheeseburgers—a welcome mess of chili, onions, slaw, and mustard—are standard fare at grills, gas stations, and pubs throughout the state. But few boast true Carolina cheese. That’s where Chuck’s gets it right. At Ashley Christensen’s sleek burger joint in downtown Raleigh, a melted slab of Ashe County’s mountain cheddar holds “The Dirty South” together: cool tomato-spiked slaw, heirloom peas, smoked pork chili, plain old yellow mustard, and thin, crisp fried onions piled on top of 100 percent chuck.
Chuck’s 237 S. Wilmington Street Raleigh, NC 919.322.0126
True to its uplifting name, this beautiful bar in downtown Carrboro boasts walls of windows, ample outdoor seating, interesting wines by the glass, and seasonal small plates, including a thoughtful selection of cheese. Also, on Mondays many bottles on the restaurant’s lengthy list are available for half price. Not a bad way to start the week.
Glasshalfull 106 South Greensboro Street Carrboro, NC 919.967.9784
Markets & Food Trucks
Carrboro Farmers’ Market
Now in its 34th year, Carrboro requires farmers and artisans to sell their own goods. On Saturday mornings that means an opportunity to buy Chapel Hill Creamery’s buttery Carolina Moon—a take on camembert—directly from owners Flo Hawley and Portia McKnight, and Celebrity Dairy’s Silk Hope— a mold-ripened goat cheese—from Brit and Fleming Pfann. The two sets of cheesemakers are among dozens of vendors at the Carrboro market, which serves as a showcase for the Piedmont’s fertile farmland. All of the market goods are sourced from within a 50-mile radius.
Carrboro Farmers’ Market 301 W. Main Street Carrboro, NC 919.280.3326
Will & Pop’s
Local cheese takes a ride with Will and Pop. The father-son duo grills Ashe County’s Habanero Cheddar, Pepper Jack, and Hoop cheese from a truck that makes stops throughout Durham. Go cheese-only with the Primitive, or gussy up a grilled cheese with a smear of pepper jelly, mango chutney, or guacamole. Find Will & Pop’s for Saturday brunch at Fullsteam Brewery, or follow their route on Twitter.
American Meltdown Gourmet Melts
American Meltdown is the Triangle’s only gourmet cheese-melt food truck, recently launched by husband-and-wife duo Paul and Alycia Inserra. Their idea is to serve this muchloved sandwich both classically and creatively, with soups and dips on the side. The truck’s name was inspired by the financial meltdown of 2008, which left both Paul and Alycia, New Yorkers at the time, without jobs but with time to cook up their own ideas, including these signature hot sandwiches: A.M. Patty Melt, Mexi-Melt, Pigs ‘n’ Figs, Scarborough Fare, Fordham, and the Hangover. Their traveling fare features only North Carolina–baked breads; cheeses vary but there are always local ones on the truck’s changing menu.