Cheesy Road Trip: Texas | culture: the word on cheese
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Cheesy Road Trip: Texas

Cheese might not be the first thing to come to mind when you think about Texas, but the Lone Star State actually has a small, steadily growing artisan and farmstead cheese scene. While beef may be king from a historical and economic perspective, Texas boasts the highest concentration of meat goats in the U.S., particularly in the Hill Country. Giant swaths of the state aren’t conducive to raising dairy cattle on a large scale due to poor soil and climate (hot, and hotter), which is why goats are a more practical and financially feasible option for modern cheesemakers. Central Texas’s nineteenth-century Czech and German settlers also had a lasting influence on the agriculture and food of the region, from farming and curing meat to cheesemaking.

There are a handful of cheesemakers using cow’s milk, as well as a fledgling water buffalo dairy (the latter thrive in the sub-tropical climate). Homegrown grocery chains—perhaps you’ve heard of Whole Foods?— carry a selection of Texas cheeses, as do specialty shops. Austin and San Antonio’s food scenes have also matured, making them culinary hot spots in their own right, while Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston offer more eclectic dining due to their diverse ethnic populations.

It’s not possible to mention every cheesemaker in such an enormous state, so we’ve selected two manageable routes that offer an abundance of dairy, distilleries (Texas is one of the nation’s leaders in the production of craft spirits), and destination-worthy dining. Time to hit the road, y’all.

Cheesemakers To Visit | The Hill Country

Pure Luck Farm & Dairy, Dripping Springs

Considered the OG of Texas farmstead goat cheese, this pastoral second-generation dairy was established by cheesemaker Sara Sweetser in 1995; her daughter, Amelia Sweethardt, has carried the torch since Sweetser passed away in 2005. Her impeccable chèvres and French-influenced soft-ripened cheeses are ACS award staples, but don’t miss out on June’s Joy—a local wildflower honey-sweetened chévre. Tours are offered in partnership with Austin’s Antonelli’s Cheese (see Cheese Shops below) and include plenty of time for goaty snuggles; workshops will resume post-pandemic.

Bee Tree Farm & Dairy, Manor

This enchanting dairy outside of Austin specializes in fresh cheeses like Diablito—a chipotle-honey-chèvre, feta, and halloumi; their thick, creamy skyr, called Besos, has been likened to the “love child of yogurt and mascarpone.” The seasonal happy hours and tours like, “Cocktails and Cuddles with Baby Goats, and Wildflower Goat Walks,” are the real magic here, allowing guests the freedom to roam with the herd (and a livestock guardian dog or three), drinks in hand. Hit the little farm shop before heading out.

Oro Bianco Italian Creamery, Blanco

Texas’s only water buffalo dairy was still ramping up to release its traditional mozzarella bufala and burrata as this issue went to press, but its café is selling salumi made with water buffalo and whey-fed pork, as well as churning out seasonal scoops of luscious, high-butterfat gelato in flavors like Texas strawberry sage and single-origin chocolate with Piedmont hazelnuts, courtesy of chef/partner Fiore Tedesco and gelatiere/dairy founder Phil Giglio. Partners Jason and Marianna Peeler head up the meat program and are also the founders of an esteemed grass-fed Wagyu cattle ranch/diversified farm in Floresville, where the bufala are also raised. The company’s emphasis on sustainable agriculture and honoring heritage products—Giglio’s family are from Campania—are at the heart of Oro Bianco’s philosophy.

River Whey Creamery, Schertz

Cheesemaker Susan Rigg crafts aged raw milk cheeses inspired by Europe but made with Texas ingredients (she also makes seasonal fresh cheeses in winter, as well as a blue and a Caerphilly-style). Using milk from a nearby family Jersey dairy, Rigg’s most popular offerings include Caldera España, a savory Spanish style that’s been smoked over pecan hardwood; Indigo Ridge, an ACS-certified American Original; and Keystone, a Northern Italian-influenced wheel rubbed with Hill Country olive oil. There are also classes including advanced cheesemaking workshops, and although the creamery isn’t open for tours, there’s an online store. The best way to taste River Whey cheeses is to visit their stand at San Antonio’s weekend Pearl Farmers Market.

Cheesemakers To Visit | Central/North Texas

Brazos Valley Cheese, Waco

Midway between Austin and Dallas sits one of Texas’s oldest artisan creameries. Established in 1999 at the Brazos de Dios agrarian community, the creamery is part of a living heritage center devoted to farmstead food production and crafts. Award-winning raw milk cheeses like cave-aged Van Sormon, an alpine-style rubbed with vanilla, sorghum, and cinnamon; and a cheddar spiked with local ghost peppers are sold at the on-site cheese shop, where you can also view the make processor take a cave tour. Caseophiles can also take classes from the creamery’s affiliate homesteading school, the Ploughshare Institute.

Full Quiver Farms, Kemp

Grass-fed dairy and beef cattle and pasture-raised chickens and heritage pork are the mainstays of this multi-generational family operation that practices daily rotational grazing; in addition to raw fluid milk and aged cheese, there are mozzarella, flavored cream cheese spreads, cheese balls, drinkable yogurts, and fat logs of sea salted butter. The farm store, which also carries meat, eggs, preserves, and fermented vegetables, is open six days a week, with tours by appointment.

Farm Stoehr Goat Dairy, Scurry

After cheesemaker Anne Jones of Latte Da Dairy in Flower Mound stepped back from cheesemaking in late 2020, her friend and protégé Kelsey Stoehr picked up where Jones left off, launching the state’s newest farmstead goat dairy. Farm Stoehr sells raw and gently pasteurized fluid milk and makes a creamy chèvre; coming soon: a selection of surface ripened cheeses. Private tours and cheese pickups are offered by advance notice through the website.

Veldhuizen Texas Farmstead Cheese & Shoppe, Dublin

Four generations of the Veldhuizen family run this sustainable, diversified farm. The raw milk from their grass-fed herds of Jersey, Guernsey, and crossbreed cattle and Awassi, Friesian, and Lacaune sheep are turned into rustic, lovingly crafted wheels like Fat-Tailed Tomme, the Stilton-like Bosque Blue, and Ol’ Redneck Cheddar, made by soaking the curds in Shiner Bock. There are also weekly farm and cheesemaking tours and a farm store.

Other Noteworthy Stops | The Hill Country

Antonelli’s Cheese Shop

Austin’s famed temple of dairy (and cheese education) offers a tight and impeccable curation of Texas makers, in addition to coveted domestic and international offerings. You can also purchase wine, local brews, and an array of cured meats and accompaniments to round out your cheese board (you can also purchase pre-made trays and picnic baskets); if time permits, sign up for a virtual class or order their popular, pandemic-inspired Cheese in a Box. Check the website for updates on when the shop will resume in-person events, including the full-day Cheesey Bus Tours, which includes multiple tastings, pairings, and tours at Pure Luck Farm & Dairy and regional distilleries, breweries, and cideries.

Milam & Greene Distillery, Blanco

Master Distiller Marlene Holmes—a veteran of Kentucky bourbon production—and Master Blender Heather Greene craft outrageously good small-batch whiskies, including a Port cask-finished rye and a single-barrel bourbon (enjoy them at home with an aged Gouda or semi-firm blue). The cozy tasting room and intimate tours are a delight.

Jester King Brewery, Dripping Springs

Next to whiskey, Texans love their beer, and this bucolic brewery set on 165 acres is one of the state’s best. Hyper-seasonal local ingredients—some of which are foraged—indigenous yeast, and a focus on barrel-aging are the hallmarks here, but there’s also a popular open-air restaurant showcasing the brewery’s sustainably grown produce. A herd of Nigerian Dwarf goats help with weed control (and greet visitors); new are five attractive guest cabins so you can have just one more beer.

Cured, San Antonio

Housed in the Pearl Brewery’s handsomely restored 1904 executive offices, chef/owner/James Beard finalist Steve McHugh’s intensely regional cuisine is a must-experience. From the housemade charcuterie and other preserved foods to the use of pristine, local ingredients at the bar and on the plate, Cured reads—and tastes—like a love letter to Texas.

Other Noteworthy Stops | Central/North Texas

Veritas Wine Room, Dallas

With nearly 400 labels to choose from and an array of cheese and charcuterie board options, it’s easy to while away an afternoon or evening at this East Dallas wine bar.

Scardello Cheese Shop, Dallas

If you’re in need of a dairy “roadie,” consider a cheese plate or kit to go; there’s also a diverse array of virtual pairings to get you through the quarantine era.

Local Goat Distillery, Granbury

As bizarre as it sounds, it’s possible to make alcoholic spirits by using whey in place of grain (the sugars ferment, after yeast is added). Founders Roger and Jessica Wall have partnered with nearby cheesemaker Veldhuizen, using their whey to create their signature milk-based vodka. Drop by to pick up a bottle after a tasting and tour in this historic town.

Mozzarella Co., Dallas

The grande dame of Texas cheese, Paula Lambert, founded her Deep Ellum factory in 1982, and it’s still going strong, producing acclaimed fresh and aged goat and cow’s milk cheeses, many featuring Texas ingredients like hoja santa and epazote.

Petra & The Beast, Dallas

Acclaimed chef Misti Norris—a 2019 Food & Wine Best New Chef—has turned an early twentieth -century gas station into one of America’s most celebrated restaurants. In accordance with her philosophy of “Farm, Forage, Ferment, Fire,” Norris turns exquisite local ingredients, including offal, into dishes that sing of the seasons. Dine in or order a cheese or charcuterie board or rotating Family-Style Dinner, which are only available for curbside pick-up.

Where To Stay | The Hill Country

Heywood Hotel, Austin

Located in a cleverly restored 1925 bungalow on the buzzy East Side, this sweet family-run modern hotel has just seven rooms, five with private courtyard access. It’s all about Austin here, from the art, textiles and décor to the coffee and beer offerings, but you’re also walking distance to some of the city’s best food trucks, bars, honky-tonks, and restaurants. Use the free bikes for peddling around nearby Lady Bird Lake.

Hotel Emma, San Antonio

One of San Antonio’s crown jewels is this gorgeously renovated 19th century riverfront property, originally the home of Pearl Brewery and named for CEO Emma Koehler. Every aspect of the Emma reflects attention to historical preservation, South Texas cultural influence, and thoughtful curation, from the reclaimed tile floors and exposed brick walls to the meticulously crafted cocktails and locally sourced ingredients used at Sternewirth bar and Supper restaurant. The hotel also anchors Pearl, a LEED-certified multi-use complex housing an array of independently owned shops, eateries, and bars; an outpost of the Culinary Institute of America; and San Antonio’s beloved weekend farmer’s market.

Where To Stay | Central/North Texas

Beeman Hotel, Dallas

This tony boutique property puts the local art and music scene at the forefront with pop-culture aesthetics and vibrant décor.

Elm Creek Manor, Muenster

Cheese is the star at this family owned “culinary inn” situated on 14-creekside acresnorthwest of Dallas. The B & B’s in-house chef offers cheesemaking workshops andmeals sourced entirely on-site, from the produce, eggs, and honey to the milk. Nightlyhappy hours showcase elaborate cheese and charcuterie boards.

Want to keep traveling? See what other stops are on our cheesy road trip here.

Laurel Miller

Laurel is a contributing editor at culture and a food and travel writer based in Austin, Texas. She also serves as editor at Edible Aspen.

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