Cheesemaking in the South has come leaps and bounds from when it was known only for cheese straws and pimento cheese, and even further still from the days when all you could find at roadside markets was hoop cheese (made simply with cow’s milk and set with a round hoop mold, often coated with red wax). Despite the lack of rich cheesemaking history, spotty distribution chains, and sweltering, humid summers that are hard on animals and humans alike, the region’s cheese industry is flourishing.
Following in the footsteps of Southern luminaries such as Meadow Creek Dairy, Sweet Grass Dairy, and Goat Lady Dairy, other small farms and creameries have found their niche in areas where people actively seek out local food and sustainable agriculture. These dedicated farmers and cheesemakers love the lifestyle, the land, the animals, and the local food movement, and they are forging ahead with passion and grit. As Gail Hobbs-Page, a farmstead goat’s milk cheesemaker at Caromont Farm in Esmont, Virginia, says, “We exist because we have a demographic that gets it.” Finding support locally happens by vending at farmers’ markets, selling their cheeses to restaurants and small local retailers, and, most importantly, bringing folks to the farm for classes and dinners.
The best way to experience cheese in the South is to head on down and explore for yourself. Not only can you see beautiful southern landscapes, but you can also snuggle goats at Caromont Farm in Virginia, have a five-course meal at Goat Lady Dairy in North Carolina, or signup for a cheese class at the annual Fête des Fromages in Louisiana. Many of the region’s best cheeses can now be found in specialty shops across the US, but most are only available within a 50-mile radius of where they were made. The recently revived Southern Cheese Guild is a trusted resource when planning a trip—checkout their map of southern cheesemakers, complete with an events list. The South may be a bit late to the party, but great cheesemaking is definitely on the rise.