Cheese’ll be comin’ round the mountain when cheese comes! That’s how the rhyme goes, right?
I’m guessing the tune has always been sung that way in Asheville, N.C., home to a long history of cheesemakers and now the first annual Carolina Mountain Cheese Festival. The all-day event will be held this Sunday, April 26, at Highland Brewing. Tickets will be $12 each ($15 at the door), and the earnings will benefit the Western North Carolina Cheese Trail. The WNC Cheese Trail connects visitors with local award-winning cheesemakers. The goal is to expose tourists as well as longtime residents to the rich history of cheese making in the area.
Though not as widely publicized as dairy powerhouses like New England, New York, Wisconsin, and California, there is such a thing as Southern cheese—and the people who practice the craft take it seriously. To share this little known history with residents, the Carolina Mountain Cheese Festival will show every step of the cheesemaking process: from starting out on the field or farm and ending up on a dinner plate.
To educate the public and encourage involvement, the festival will include milking demos, lectures and panels, cheese tastings, and a grilled cheese cook-off. One of the discussions will be called “Old World and New World Practices,” focusing on how artisan cheesemaking has evolved over the years and changed the product. Keeping cheese history in the forefront, another event will provide a demonstration for how cheese was made before the dawn of electricity and refrigeration. Of course, some people choose to forgo these luxuries even today, like the Bicycle Powered Butter Churn from the minds behind Cycle to Farm on display for patrons to test out.
For those who want to focus more on honing their palate rather than their quads, several cheese tastings and pairing events are in the works. Meredith Leigh, author of The Ethical Meat Handbook, will teach a Charcuterie 101 class, covering best practice for meat storage and recipes. Another class will focus on cheese plate aesthetic, taught by cheese stylist Ashley Loakimedes (the best kind of stylist out there). There will also be a cheese and wine pairing class as well as a Mountain Cheese & Highland Beer Pairing class.
But of course, what festival is complete nowadays without a cook-off? The grilled cheese competition will pit nine local food joints against one another as they grill for the title of Best Grilled Cheese in West North Carolina. Some of the restaurants competing are The Local Joint, which features a Grilled Tempeh Melt; The Native Kitchen, well known for the Linwood Sandy with fresh mozzarella and fried green tomato; and Lexington Avenue Brewery, which makes a Croque Monsieur and Four Cheese Mac.
After filling guests with cheese sandwiches and local brews, the festival will finish with a baby goat petting zoo for the kids, even though we all know there’s no aging out of baby goat adoration. I have a feeling that after seeing the extremely cute source of dairy for so many fine cheeses, locals will be on board for learning even more.