Nickajack might be the only cheese named after a bat cave. There are a few reasons for the unique moniker: the cave’s storied past as the subject of many local legends near Sequatchie Cove Farm (Johnny Cash supposedly had a spiritual awakening in it), “plus, it just has a great ring to it!” says Sequatchie co-owner Padgett Arnold. Nickajack is also the name of a rare southern apple variety, a nod to the cider washing process that the wheels undergo during aging.
Sequatchie Cove itself is a diversified farm of 300 acres set in the shade of the Cumberland Plateau outside Chattanooga, Tennessee. Under the direction of Bill and Miriam Keener and family, the farm includes a plant nursery and berry patch, as well as extensive pasture for the production of dairy, beef, lamb and pork. Animals graze year-round on the pasture, and no pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics or growth-promoting hormones are used. Raw milk for cheese production is sourced exclusively from Sequatchie Cove’s diverse herd of dairy cows.
During at least 60 days of aging, Nickajack is washed in Michigan-made JK Scrumpy’s hard cider. Scrumpy’s is chosen because of its aromatic quality and organic production methods, but in the future, Arnold says, Sequatchie hopes to develop and use its own hard cider made from local apples.
The repeated cider washing turns the rind a golden-tan to orange-red color while helping wheels to retain a moist and supple paste. Aroma is approachable for a washed rind, with fruity hints and a dairy-forward flavor, yielding salt around the edges and ending with an earthy, musky finish deep in the gullet.
Nickajack pairs nicely with a hard cider, of course—go for something on the sweeter side. Brown and amber ales also pair well, while the best food pairings include maple bacon and mustards.