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The NC Cheese Trail was featured in the December 9, 2014 edition of The News & Record, December 9, 2014 post on FOX8, and December 15, 2014 edition of The Winston-Salem Journal
Hit the Cheese Trail
By Jennifer Fernandez
− Cheese lovers rejoice. Just like wine lovers, you now can travel a
statewide trail to sample new and favorite varieties made in North
There even is a map online to help you chart your
course to farms making farmstead and artisan cheeses from cow, goat or
About 40 small farmers make and sell cheese across
the state, including 11 that make up the N.C. Cheese Trail, which
formed in April.
The trail stretches from as far east as Goldsboro to one farm that is west of Asheville. Several are in the Piedmont Triad.
trail features novice cheese-makers, such as Fabian Lujan of
Greensboro’s Piemonte Farm, who started last year, and veterans, such
as Gibsonville’s Calico Farmstead Cheese, which started with one kind
of cheese in 2005 but now sells mozzarella, fromage blanc spreads,
queso fresco, ricotta, farmers, feta, skillet cheeses and cheese curds.
of the N.C. Dairy Advantage, a nonprofit created in 2007 by the state’s
dairy leaders to support their industry, say the state has one of the
most robust cheesemaking communities in the Southeast.
Department of Agriculture doesn’t keep statistics on how much cheese
small farms make, but only a handful were registered to do so a decade
ago. Now about 40 are.
A push to eating healthy and buying local
have helped drive this industry, which has grown and stabilized in the
past decade, said Steve Lathrop with the N.C. Agriculture Department.
certainly an interest in cheese of any kind. Americans consume an
average 23 pounds annually, according to a 2013 report by a consumer
group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
“The fun thing about local cheese,” Lathrop said, “you can get cheese (that) you can’t get that flavor anywhere else.”
Part of that flavor is shaped by what the cows (or goats or sheep) are eating - the type of grass or feed.
Calico Farmstead, the cows are grazed on chemical-free grass pasture
and eat organic hay and forage, all the other feed is conventional.
of what determines the taste comes down to temperature and how much and
what combinations of cultures are used. Cultures react differently
based on temperature, which affects the final product.
makes cheese from cow’s milk twice a week. He gets up by 4 a.m. and
starts collecting the milk - 50 gallons - about 5 a.m. He hooks up the
cows to automated milkers and has to rush between the barn and the
creamery to stop the machines when he has enough milk.
track of the variations of his recipes in a notebook and carries with
him a copy of the third edition of “Home Cheesemaking” by Ricki
Carroll. Yellow sticky notes mark sections of the book that he still
The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Lujan
spent more than six hours making eight eight-pound wheels of his Don
Agustin cheese, a Manchego-inspired, semifirm cheese with a sweet,
nutty flavor. The name honors his grandfather’s Spanish roots.
An idea grows
said he and his wife, Sandra Sarlinga, came up with the idea of
cheesemaking while swimming on vacation at Hilton Head Island. The
couple, who are from Argentina, were talking about what they might
develop next after a stint of baking and selling bread at farmers’
But making cheese can be a costly business, with
equipment in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Lujan got a $4,000
loan just to build his “cheese cave” - a temperature- and
humidity-controlled building where he ages his cheeses.
But you also need presses and vats and, for some, pasteurizing equipment.
“We didn’t have cows, a creamery ... or knowledge,” Lujan said. “But these are things you can get with friends.”
turned to their longtime friends, the Gerringers of Calico Farmstead
Cheeses, who helped Lujan set up his cheesemaking at their creamery.
Gerringers had started to make cheese commercially after several
farmworkers asked about using the farm’s milk to make cheese. Farmers
can’t sell raw milk directly for consumption, so the Gerringers
followed their employees’ idea and now make about 1,500 to 2,000 pounds
of cheese during a typical week.
“When we first started, we couldn’t find out what we needed to do or (what) equipment we needed,” Larry Gerringer said.
They also had no idea where they could sell their cheese and had to learn how to market it.
The trail begins
the industry has grown, cheesemakers have helped each other sell their
products at farmers’ markets or shops they set up on their farms.
cheese trail was started as another way to help showcase the cheese
being made in the state, said Johnny Blakley of Buffalo Creek Farm and
Creamery in Germanton, one of the architects of the trail.
first looked at joining the WNC Cheese Trail, which was started in 2012
and now has 11 members in western North Carolina. But they decided to
start their own because the WNC Trail is focused on the Asheville area,
They’re still finding and adding members, Blakley
said, and are tying cheese into some other popular and growing
industries in the state
“We’re doing some cross-referencing with the beer trail and wine trail and even the barbecue trail,” he said.
All of the cheese made on the N.C. Cheese Trail uses either goat or cow’s milk.
said he plans to add two sheep’s milk cheeses, possibly by next year.
He and his wife recently bought their first flock of sheep - six ewes,
one ram and a wether, a castrated male - with hopes of enlarging to
Until then, he will concentrate on the many varieties of cheeses to be made from cow’s milk.
cheese he made just before Thanksgiving will be ready for sale after
sitting in the cheese cave for about two months, when it firms and mold
forms along its outer crust.
After that, only cleaning is required before sale.
expect that we will slowly add a few more” small cheesemaking
operations, Lathrop said. “We’ll continue to see a few come in and a
few go out, but the cheese market is much more stable.”
The NC Cheese Trail was featured in the May 3, 2015 edition of the Times News
Top cheese: N.C. Cheese Trail puts locally made cheeses on the map
By Michael D. Abernethy / Times-News
Is there a food more universally adored than cheese?
is within spitting distance, but there are religions that forbid it.
Pastries or freshly baked bread might vie for the trophy, but they fall
Cheeseburgers, cheese fries, cheesecakes, cheese
Danishes, cheese balls, cheese straws, cheese bread, cheese sauces,
cheese quesadillas, cheese toast, extra-cheese pizza, macaroni and
cheese. Heck, there’s even a cheese dog that’s literally just cheese on
Kids won’t eat broccoli? Add cheese. Use it to make
salads, soups and plain old potatoes decadent. Pair it with fruit or
wine and launch your taste buds into the flavor stratosphere.Face it,
there is no food quite as wonderful as cheese.
That’s why we now
have the N.C. Cheese Trail, actually the state’s second cheese trail.
The WNC (western North Carolina) Cheese Trail covers the hills and
dales of our Appalachians and foothills. Both trails have sprung up in
the last five years, following the local food trend and a shift back to
The N.C. Cheese Trail spans the Piedmont and
Sandhills, and currently lists 12 cheesemakers from Banner Elk (the
western outlier) to Mt. Olive. Each one offers different types of
cheeses and products, and more than a handful are in the Triad,
including two just across the Alamance County line: Calico Farmstead
Cheese in Gibsonville and Lindley Farms Creamery in Snow Camp.
in North Carolina is maturing,” said Steven Lathrop, with the N.C.
Department of Agriculture. “When it began, we started out with a lot of
fresh cheeses and chevres. Now, we have a wonderful variety.”
offered a quick primer on the types of cheeses, categorized as chevres
(goat cheeses, spreads), soft (mozzarella), semi-soft (Cheddar, Swiss)
and hard (parmesan, asiago). Ranges of tasty cheeses can be made from
the milk of cows, goats, sheep and buffalo. Different cheeses are made
by adding bacteria to milk and allowing it to ferment. Some cheeses,
like stilton, rely on fungus for their complex flavors.
milk has fermented, rennet - enzymes that cause the separation of solid
curds and liquid whey - is added. Once drained, the curds can be
molded, ripened and heated to create the array of cheeses we enjoy.
Carolina cheese makers boast many of those varieties, Lathrop said,
from cave-aged blue cheeses, Cheddars and many softer, savory cheeses.
LINDLEY FARMS Creamery, Ann Campbell specializes in mozzarella cheese
made from the Lindley family farm’s dairy cows. She sells mozzarella
cheese balls, feta cheese, spreads and cheesecakes.
everyone’s had cheesecake (and likes it), but you probably haven’t had
one like Campbell makes. The mozzarella is lighter, fluffier, with a
texture like soft fudge or cannoli filling.
into the mozzarella cheesecake market by accident. The family had been
looking for a way to make a value-added product from their dairy and
cheese was the natural choice.
Several years ago, after a
disastrous attempt at Cheddar cheese through mail-order cheese-making
kit, she used the kit’s mozzarella recipe.
“I couldn’t get it to
do right, but I didn’t want to waste it, so I ended up throwing it in
the blender with eggs and sugar and put it in a crust,” Campbell said.
The next day, a neighbor tasted it: “This is what you should do,” they emphatically told Campbell.
she perfected the recipe, her cheesecakes became a hit at farmers
markets. Her cakes have less sugar and fat than traditional cheesecakes
(her diabetic husband can eat them without blood sugar spikes, she
said.) Some Northern transplants with Italian roots tell her the flavor
and texture is similar to the sweet treats their grandmothers made.
days, Campbell’s scaled back on market days - an exhausting amount of
time spent cooking and traveling - and plans to open the farm to
customers one or two weekends a month, mainly selling orders placed
ahead of time through the Facebook page and website,
“I like small. Small you can control,”
she said, noting she would have to hire employees to keep up with the
demand of selling at five or six markets a week.
could be talking about the local food movement in general. People are
returning to the thought of knowing where their food comes from, how
it’s grown and who grows it. That’s spurred all sorts of North
Carolinian agritourism and food trails for barbecue, wine, produce and
NORTH CAROLINA-MADE goods are earning a reputation. That includes its cheeses.
last weekend, around 1,000 people attended the Western N.C. Cheese
Festival in Asheville to taste cheeses from about 15 makers, Lathrop
The State Fair now holds annual cheese-making contests,
with entries from across the country and around the world. Last year,
Chapel Hill Creamery took Best of Show and the Best in N.C. trophies.
Goat Lady Dairy, in Climax, has made foodie headlines nationwide for
its cow and goat milk cheese blends.
Now, national grocers want in on their share of the local cheese stock, Lathrop said.
idea for the N.C. Cheese Trail - the brainchild of Johnny and Robin
Blakley, of Buffalo Creek Farm and Creamery in Germanton, and Sue
Stovall, of Paradox Farm Creamery in West End - was to harness that
draw into a collective. The WNC Cheese Trail wasn’t interested in
expanding its reach too far outside Asheville, so in April 2014, they
started one to cover the entire state.
“Cheese has no
boundaries,” Johnny Blakley joked. “There’s so much cheese being made
in North Carolina, and so many different types of it.'
can visit farms, see cheeses made, sample and purchase what they like.
To become part of the trail, licensed cheesemakers need only apply at
the trail’s website and pay a $50 fee to cover marketing and webpage
upkeep.Buffalo Creek produces a range of soft chevres, farmers cheeses,
prize-winning fetas and aged raw-milk cheeses from its dairy goats.
Blakley cautioned consumers that raw milk can’t be sold under state
law, and that raw-milk cheeses must age at least 60 days before the
state will allow its sale. Anything else isn’t being inspected, he said.
That the trails work together means a yummy future ahead for the state.
excited about the cheese industry in N.C. growing and maturing,”
Lathrop said. “The trails are great. It helps cheesemakers grow and get
exposure and allows people to experience their cheese and go see how
their cheeses are made.”
details, including a map of the trail and a list of all artisan
cheesemakers on the N.C. Cheese Trail, go online at
www.nccheesetrail.com. The website includes contact information
for each cheesemaker and information about the types of cheeses they
produce. Call or email to plan visits or purchases.
• Calico Farmstead Cheese
3737 High Rock Road
Gibsonville, N.C. 27249
• Lindley Farms Creamery
255 Bob Clark Road
Snow Camp, N.C. 27349
Note: Calico Farmstead Cheese couldn’t be reached for this story.
According to its website, the Gibsonville creamery has been producing a
variety of cheeses - including queso fresco, mozzarella, fromage blanc
spreads and goat’s milk cheeses - since 2005.
The Trail and several cheesemakers were featured in the July/August 2016 editition of the Charlotte Epicurian
an adventure in north carolina cheese
by catherine rabb
you knew it or not, North Carolina has been developing a national
reputation for high-quality, locallyproduced foods and beverages. We’ve
seen explosions in craft breweries, wineries and local distilleries.
North Carolina’s rich barbeque heritage is being celebrated across the
country. It’s particularly exciting to see how enthusiastically
Carolinians are supporting locally-grown and locally-made food and
Farmer’s markets are packed with avid fans that
support a swing back to local agriculture. North Carolina farmers and
producers are featured on restaurant menus, and foodies are willing to
make an effort to learn about-and seek out-the best North Carolina has
to offer. Fortunately for us, cheese is no exception. Small batch,
handcrafted cheese is produced across the state, in a wide variety of
styles. And, boy, is it good. Cheese that is worth seeking out-and
worth a drive-as the quality is exceptional.
A friend and I
decided to travel along the North Carolina cheese trail (of course,
sampling all the way), and visited several cheesemakers. Yes, it was
fabulous, and we learned a bit about the trail along the way. We
quickly learned how much we didn’t know about the cheesemaking process,
about dairy farming and about the dedication of the cheesemakers, and
we had a blast learning even more. We also quickly discovered a few
tips for a successful cheese trail excursion.
there are two cheese trails in north carolina.
roughly, the Western North Carolina Cheese Trail, which centers around
Asheville and the foothills, and the North Carolina Cheese Trail, which
covers the central part of the state. Both have excellent websites with
up-to-date information about the cheese producers, where each is
located and a link directly to each producer’s website.
an established wine trail, however, where there may be a tasting room
open at every stop, many of the cheese producers are tiny, juggling
tending animals, making cheese and handling marketing, sales and
distribution. Some producers have retail outlets on their properties
with regular hours, and some only host visitors on specific days or by
appointment. It’s smart to do a bit of pre-planning, calling ahead and
checking websites or Facebook pages before you head out. If you’re
really smart, you may be able, as you plan your trip, to find
interesting stops for refreshments along the way by comparing your
cheese trail route with the North Carolina Wine Trail, or the North
Carolina BBQ Trail.
the cheese come from a variety of animals
A huge variety of cheese is produced in North Carolina,
milk coming from cows, sheep, goats and even water buffalo! Cheese
making is an art form, with the hand of the cheesemaker evident, as
well as the type of milk used. Cheese may be made in a soft, semi-soft
or hard style. Some require little to no aging, while others are stored
in cheese caves, carefully aged and matured over time. An artisan
cheese is one that’s made primarily by hand, in small batches. A
farmstead cheese is made from the milk of the producer’s own animals,
and outside milk is not purchased or used at all in the production.
Faythe DiLoreto says, “Making cheese is part cooking, part chemistry
and part magic.” Be sure to bring a cooler along, as you’ll want to
stock up when you visit.
talk to the cheesemakers
a minute to chat with the cheesemakers. They are a uniformly
fascinating bunch of folks, often with terrific backstories. All are
committed to their animals, if they have them, to their cheese and to
providing healthy, fresh food for their neighbors. Following are a few
of their stories, but with over 40 small cheesemakers in North
Carolina, it’s on my bucket list to visit (and taste) with each and
fading d farms
Located in Salisbury, Fading D
Farms is one of a handful of working water buffalo farms in the United
States. Owners David and Faythe DiLoreto (a retired physician and
teacher, respectively) fell in love with buffalo mozzarella on a trip
to Italy. Why water buffalo? David notes that they are genetically
closer to the wild than cows, which makes them particularly resistant
to disease. David notes that milk from water buffalo contains an A2
protein similar to goat’s milk, making it possible for some lactose
intolerant folks to enjoy the cheese.
The DiLoreto’s originally
purchased six water buffalo, but now have 43 in total, as well as
alpacas and a gorgeous Great Pyrenees dog, Valcor, who is the alpaca
guard. The water buffalo adults are big (around 2,000 pounds), a little
stranger shy, but very sweet, and are each named for cheeses (Brie,
Mozzi and Rella, and Pepper-Jackie). When babies are born, they’re
bottle fed and don’t begin milking until they’re three years old.
learning to make cheese from water buffalo milk, Faythe had to
experiment, as there were no recipes, and the milk had a different pH,
stretch-ability and moisture content than milk from other animals. She
jokes that her neighbors have gourmet pigs, and they got to eat the
mistakes as she learned. Today, the DiLoretos have a spotless
cheesemaking facility, where Faythe keeps meticulous notes and records
about each batch of cheese she makes, and a cave that holds around 400
cheeses in various stages of brining and aging. Their retail space,
open Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, showcases their cheese, as well
as Nigerian crafts (their daughter is a missionary there).
cheese is a hit at several farmer’s markets around Charlotte-look for
them in Salisbury, Davidson and Cotswold. Be sure to check out a
crazy-good cheese Faythe makes called Sepore, a Tallegio-like cheese
that gets a bit soft in the center as it ages, as well as a buffalo
version of Bel Paese.
buffalo creek farm and creamery
outside Winston-Salem in Germanton, NC, is Buffalo Creek Farm and
Creamery. Johnny Blakley (a retired police officer) jokes that they got
started when he wanted a boat, and his wife, Robin, wanted a horse.
Four horses and no boat later, they bought a historic, but abandoned,
farm with brush so high they had to stand on the tractor to mow it. At
one point, the property had been a goldfish farm, and they had to fill
in over 20 lakes to create a pasture. Eventually, they sold off the
horses, and got sheep and goats to graze. Johnny took a cheese-making
course at NC State, and they began a two-year journey to establish
There hadn’t been a dairy farm in Forsyth County
in over 40 years, so the process was new to everyone involved. Robin
tells of the long awaited day that the license for their operation came
in the mail, and she kissed “that green piece of paper” all the way
down the driveway, she was so thrilled.
Today, the Blakleys
raise Nubians, and enjoy their “talkative” personalities. Robin tends
the animals and does the milking; the goats get animal crackers as a
treat after milking. Johnny makes the cheese, and the feta-both the
marinated and the plain versions of which have won first place awards
at the North Carolina State Fair-is fresh, light and utterly addictive.
He also makes a number of flavored Chèvres, including one made with
local Amish orange jam and cranberries, as well as a Dutch-style waxed
dipped cheese. Instrumental in developing the NC Cheese Trail, they
talk a great deal about how supportive the local cheesemaking community
is, and how all support each other. The tasting room is open seven days
When Fabian Lujan and Sandra
Sarlinga moved to North Carolina from Argentina, they missed the bread
from home. While they are new to cheese, they are not new to
entrepreneurship, and began making herbal jellies and selling them at
local markets. They wanted something that brought back customers each
week, and began baking the much missed European-style bread, including
baguettes, olive loaves and Parmesan loaves, using their church kitchen
to produce them.
In 2013, they added cheese. They approached
their friends at Calico Creamery, who welcomed them, shared their space
and their equipment. Calico has been a working dairy farm since the
1940s, with an excellent local reputation, making terrific cheese
themselves. Fabian is a self-taught baker and cheesemaker, and has
gained an avid following for his creations. His raw cow’s milk
cheese, Don Augustin, is a Manchego-style cheese and takes several months to cure.
two have a small cheese cave on the property, and, in keeping with
their entrepreneurial spirit, big plans, which include adding dairy
sheep to their property and planting a lavender field.
points out, “We like to cook, and we like to eat,” and the pleasure
they take in both is shared with their fans. It’s also evident in
Sandra’s warm and welcoming personality. Every third Sunday from April
to October (except during July, when it’s too hot), they host a pizza
club party at the farm. A hundred or more people show up, mingle and
eat the handmade pizza Fabian makes in the outdoor wood stove while
friends play music. To join them, visit their Facebook page and fill
out the form called “Sunday Pizza.”
paradox farm creamery
Farm Creamery was started in 2008 by a couple concerned about where
their food was coming from. Two doctors (she a Doctorate in Physical
Therapy, and he with a Juris Doctor degree-hence the name) started with
11 goats and began producing cheese a few years later. Today, Sue
Stovall runs the farm alone, as her husband, Hunter, passed away
suddenly in 2014. She tells poignantly of her decision to continue the
business, and how quickly she had to decide what to do, as breeding
season started just a month after he passed away. Now, she runs the
type of farm people imagine their food comes from. She still raises
goats and does so in the most sustainable way possible. Babies stay
with their mothers until they are weaned. The goats are pastured, not
grain fed, and pastures are rotated to prevent disease. Two mini horses
graze on the empty pastures, which helps the fields stay healthy. A
small, but dedicated team, including
cheesemaker Claire, crafts the
cheeses and works with the animals. Be sure to try Cheese Louise, named
for their first goats, Thelma and Louise. It’s wonderfully creamy and
mild, and they boast a number of other excellent offerings as well.
Lovely and gracious, Sue notes, “My life is so different than what I
had planned,” but her many fans (including many restaurant chefs)
applaud her dedication and thoughtful commitment to the entire process.
What a fun-and delicious-way to explore North Carolina!
The Trail was featured in the July edition of Carolina Country Magazine
North Carolina’s cheese trail will make you smile
By Leah Chester-Davis
growing number of cheesemakers in the state is a welcome addition for
the farm-to-table scene. The world of cheese usually offers something
for all ages to love, from the pickiest of eaters to those with a
discerning palate. With nearly 40 artisan and farmstead cheesemakers
calling North Carolina home, you’re sure to find a favorite.
of the cheesemakers on the N.C. Cheese Trail are located in the
Piedmont and Sandhills region of the state, though High Mountain
Meadows Farm & Creamery is the westernmost outlier, located in Clay
County. Holly Grove Farms (Tri-County EMC territory) is the farthest
east on the map, located near Mt. Olive, about an hour southeast of
Raleigh. A different trail, the WNC CheeseTrail covers the Western
North Carolina mountain region and foothills.
While the N.C.
Cheese Trail is relatively new at about two years old, some of the
dairies have been around awhile and have developed quite a following,
such as the Goat Lady Dairy in Climax and Chapel Hill Creamery in
Chapel Hill. Many cheesemakers along the trail are located near some of
the state’s wineries, which make for an enjoyable day visit. After all,
cheese and wine are a quintessential pairing.
Knowledge of two
terms will be useful when exploring the trail: artisan and farmstead.
Artisan or artisanal cheese implies that a cheese is produced primarily
by hand, in small batches. Artisan cheese may be made from all types of
milk. The cheesemaker may not be the farmer.
signals that the cheese is made with milk from the farmer’s own herd
where the animals are raised. It, too, most likely will be artisanal
and made in small batches.
Owners of two dairies on the
trail - Buffalo Creek Farm and Paradox Farm Creamery - spearheaded the
effort to organize cheesemakers in the Piedmont and Sandhills to create
the N.C. Cheese Trail. Their goal is to promote cheese and cheesemaking
and to help more people become aware of quality, locally produced
cheese. Most of the producers are small dairies and the trail gives
them an opportunity to share their story and cheese with a broad
audience, says Sue Stovall with Paradox Farm Creamery, located in West
End (Randolph EMC territory).
Along the trail, visitors will
find a wide range of cheese flavors, primarily made from cows and goats
milk (although Fading D Farm, outside Salisbury, has a water buffalo
dairy herd, the only one in the state).
The N.C. Cheese Trail is
part of a thriving value-added dairy industry in the state, according
to the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. While the
state’s cheese business is small compared to other states like Vermont
and Wisconsin, it is the largest in the Southeast, with 38 cheese
makers making a $10 million impact on the state’s economy.
N.C. Cheese Trail is a great introduction to local food and healthy
eating,” Stovall says. “One taste and you can tell the difference!”
Know Before You Go
setting out, take a look at the North Carolina Cheese Trail website at
nccheesetrail.com, which links to individual farms. Farm hours vary and
some aren’t open to the public, although cheesemakers often set up
stalls at local farmers markets, with samples available to try before
purchasing. Many local cheese products also can be found in stores