Former human resources pro Kathleen Cotter started selling cheese at the Nashville Farmers’ Market in 2010 and remembers a customer who was surprised to learn that there was a local dairy scene. “Happily, I don’t hear that anymore,” says Cotter, founder of the 5-year-old Southern Artisan Cheese Festival.
With market experience and courses at Murray’s Cheese Boot Camp and various conferences under her belt, Cotter opened The Bloomy Rind, a store-within-a-store at Nashville’s Porter Road Butcher East, in 2011. Today she stocks her counter with up to 50 wheels and wedges, mostly American-made with an ever-growing Southern contingent. We asked Cotter to select five cheeses fit for an outdoor music festival—Bonnaroo descends on Manchester, Tenn., June 9 to 12, after all—and her crowd-pleasing picks are versatile and ready to travel. While Cotter has never been to the four-day free-for-all, she says the energy in Nashville that weekend is palpable, with “some of the finest people watching, ever!” So whether your bags are packed for Bonnaroo or you just plan to spend plenty of time al fresco this summer, grab these curds.
- Origin: Walland, Tenn.
- Milk: Pasteurized sheep’s milk
“Fresh cheeses—like brebis—have a bright acidity that I find refreshing in the heat,” Cotter says. Though Blackberry Farm’s version is great in savory preparations, try it with local, small-batch jam for a sweet treat that tastes like blackberry cheesecake.
- Origin: Sequatchie, Tenn.
- Milk: Raw cow’s milk
At this Sequatchie Valley creamery—just an hour or
so from Bonnaroo—semi-soft Nickajack is washed in hard apple cider as it ages, resulting in a “rich, slightly meaty profile with grassy notes,” Cotter says. Balance out the fatty, savory cheese with the zesty crunch of Somewhere Place Else Farm pickled green beans.
Roelli Cheese Haus Curds
- Origin: Shullsburg, Wis.
- Milk: Pasteurized cow’s milk
The Midwest meets the South when these squeaky, buttery gems crafted by fourth-generation cheddarmaker Chris Roelli are skewered with slices of spicy Welsummer Brand salami, made in East Tennessee from all grass-fed beef, and refreshing grapes. It’s the “ultimate portable snack,” Cotter says.
- Origin: Rougemont, N.C.
- Milk: Pasteurized goat’s milk
Farm owner and cheesemaker Kathryn Spann dusts these small, grab-and-go wheels—made from the milk of rotationally grazed goats—with a blend of rosemary, juniper, and crushed red pepper before the rind develops. The resulting “herbaceous bite of silky, sometimes gooey, cheese” goes well with these flatbread crackers, which are “sturdy and light in texture at the same time,” Cotter says.
- Origin: Austin, Ky.
- Milk: Raw cow’s milk
“This medium-intensity cheese is smoked, then waxed, making a fairly forgiving travel companion,” Cotter says. Something sweet is always welcome with blue, of course, and TruBee’s raw honey aged in whiskey-soaked oak barrels kicks the classic pairing up a notch.
photographed by Bruce Peterson; styled by Molly Shuster