The hilly, tree-lined roads through North Carolina’ s mountains-to-sea landscape inspire wanderlust but, more importantly, cheese-lust. Over the past five years, the state has quietly forged a reputation for quality cheese-making by boutique producers.
Early last year, I made a plan to explore the North Carolina cheese trail. I set my sights on the central and western parts of the state: The Research Triangle Park covers the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill metropolis. This spirit of innovation applies to the region’s cheesemakers, too, who engineer award-winning bloomy wheels, aged goat Taleggio, and farmstead wedges. I’d continue west to the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the craft goes completely pastoral. At the secluded farms dotting the rolling mountainsides, I’d meet goats; buy handcrafted cheese and local cider; and picnic in the mountain meadows. I’d brave the hairpin turns on country roads to reach family-run creameries and stop at every farm store to load my car with handcrafted chèvre logs, tomme wedges, and brie wheels.
Certain, um, events of last year stifled many of my cheese trail aspirations. I satisfied that itch by shopping for North Carolina cheeses at my neighborhood wine shop and using them in elaborate cheeseboards. But things look different now. In my research and trip planning, I learned that experiencing the cheese trail can be as simple as a lunch outing or as elaborate as an entire mountain getaway. However much time you dedicate to the trail, choose your adventure, get behind that wheel (steering wheel, cheese wheel—you pick), and let your journey begin.
Cheesemakers To Visit
Husband and wife team, Sue and Hunter Stovall, fell in love with the push for local food during the mid-2000s. Despite having no farming background, they bought a house on a retired horse farm, and (as the story goes) after a little too much wine one evening, purchased three goats and a llama. Their goats started to kid and produce milk, and the couple turned the milk into cheese—for fun, at first, but then they seriously set their sights on starting their own creamery. They initially sold fresh chèvre and goat’s milk feta at nearby farmer’s markets. Demand took off. Production expanded, and their styles grew to include goat’s milk camembert, cow’s milk cheddar, and washed tommes inspired by Southern flavors, such as the Drunken Collard that’s wrapped in muscadine wine-soaked collard greens. You can drop by and purchase cheese from the onsite farm store, tour the goat farm in a forest of towering pine trees, and attend special events, like goat yoga.
The small, unincorporated community of Germanton doesn’t have much, but the Buffalo Creek Creamery supplies all the attraction you need between the locally-driven farm store and creamery tours centered around all things goat- and cheese-related. A three-generation farming family runs this meat and dairy farm, which produces farmstead goat cheese, goat’s milk soap, and market meats. The goat cheese appears in various forms beyond the standard fresh chèvre (though they make that, too), presenting playful takes on tommes, goudas, and havarti. They sell all their products onsite, along with local jams, honeys, pickles, and other goodies from other nearby makers.
Tucked away in the woods of Black Mountain, this farmstead goat dairy lies off the beaten path. Linda Seligman founded Round Mountain Creamery in 2002 with no more than five goats and some cheese-driven ambition. It grew to become North Carolina’s first Grade A Goat Dairy, meaning that they’re licensed to bottle their own milk. Their focus, though, are the sweet and savory chèvre spreads made from the herd of now 60 animals. Try the feta-esque Jazzed Goat, or smear the Nutty-Blueberry—an NC State Fair winner—on bagels or toast. Tours (tastings included) and visits are available by appointment. If you can’t make it to the farm, find their cheeses at markets around the Asheville area and at local restaurants.
Out of all my cheese trail ambitions, I did make it to Asheville last year for some mountain air but, primarily, Looking Glass Creamery. Their two locations include the creamery’s farm and farm store and a cheese shop/café, which offers cheeseboards and complementing beverages—a perfect spot for lunch with my mom. We got a to-go cheeseboard of five cow’s milk cheeses, each with North Carolina-inspired names, like the Green River Blue—a decadent smearable blue cheese with, yes, green veining. Surrounded by mountain views, we picnicked in the pasture outside the shop, sipping local ciders and sampling through the Alpine-style, cheddar, blue, morbier, and stout-washed cheese and we promptly bought wedges of each to take back home (not to mention more ciders).
And keep your eye out for…
You may recognize a few of these creameries from cheese counters around the country. While you can’t visit their actual farms and facilities, keep your eyes peeled for their names at regional farmer’s markets, where you can buy the cheese directly from the creameries’ crews and/or owners.
A stone’s throw from the University of North Carolina’s artsy college town of the same name, Portia McKnight and Flo Hawley make a variety of fresh and aged farmstead cheeses from the herd of Jersey cows at Chapel Hill Creamery. Styles include their buttery Carolina Moon brie (my personal favorite), Alpine-style Hickory Grove, and cojita-like Dairyland Farmers Cheese. Pair them with one of the creamery’s small-batch sausages (mad from whey-fed pigs) for a well-rounded meal.
Over in Cedar Grove, siblings Samantha and Austin Genke found an unlikely union for their graphic design and culinary backgrounds with Boxcarr Handmade Cheese. The highly aesthetic (and very delicious) goat’s and cow’s milk cheeses showcase masterful affinage for bloomy and washed-rind styles. Check out the crochet-like, ashen blanket encasing their creamy Rocket’s Robiola or the aptly named, white and gauzy Cottonseed, a buttery, truffle-y brie.
Originally inside an abandoned tobacco barn and 200-year-old farm house, the Goat Lady Dairy has since evolved into one of the state’s largest goat cheese creameries. Current owner Carrie Routh Bradds worked with the original “Goat Lady” (Ginnie Tate) since the creamery opened in 1995, washing dishes and general cleaning. She moved into managing the cheese production and bought the creamery with her husband in 2016. They make fresh, soft-ripened, and cave-aged cheeses using milk from their own goats and neighboring dairy cows, including cult favorite Providence, a goat cheese-style Taleggio.
Other Noteworthy Stops
This jam-packed cheese and wine shop offers an extensive selection of artisanal wedges and wheels, including most North Carolina-made brands, plus charcuterie and more. Can’t decide? Try one of the themed boxes, like the Local Cheese Box or the Sparkling/White Wine Pairing Box, for a package of assorted cheeses, meats, olives, and crackers.
Trio is my real-life Cheers but styled as a wine-cheese-beer shop inside an amber-lit wine bar. Sample their extensive by-the-glass selection or taste your way through the craft beers on tap before buying them from the wine cellar. Complement your sips with the monger’s choice of cheeseboard, featuring cut-to-order North Carolina, American, and European cheeses.
When one grilled cheese sandwich on the menu just isn’t enough, Orrman’s delivers with seven varieties (like goat cheese, peanut butter, and triple berry jam on brioche). Beyond the fromage-focused menu, their cheese counter contains over 100 types of cheese. Visit the market in person, or schedule a virtual appointment with a monger to explore the selection online.
Southern cheeses, American-made charcuterie, and artisanal provisions take centerstage at the Loyalist Market. This café and gourmet foods market features small-scale makers, and with a wide range of wines and local beers, provides the items for easy, at-home entertaining.
Where To Stay
You can live out your dream of waking up to bleating goats (no? Just me?) when you book a night or two at the Inn at Celebrity Dairy. The farmstead dairy makes logs of flavored chèvre, bloomy rind goat cheeses, goat milk gelato, yogurts, and goat milk soaps. Sharing the property, the inn is located in an inviting Southern farmhouse where free-range chickens and goats pass casually through the yard and around the original 19th-century log cabin. Guests enjoy breakfasts of farm-fresh eggs, chèvre, and garden vegetables.
Want to keep traveling? See what other stops are on our cheesy road trip here.