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eNewsletters dating back to June 2014 are available online.

The NC Cheese Trail was mentioned in the Dec 6-12, 2014 edition of In The Field and the Dec 13-19, 2014 edition of In The Field
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

GREENSBORO − Cheese lovers rejoice. Just like wine lovers, you now can travel a statewide trail to sample new and favorite varieties made in North Carolina.

There even is a map online to help you chart your course to farms making farmstead and artisan cheeses from cow, goat or sheep’s milk.

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.

The 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.

Officials 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.

The N.C. 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.

Unique flavor

There’s 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.

At Calico Farmstead, the cows are grazed on chemical-free grass pasture and eat organic hay and forage, all the other feed is conventional.

Much 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.

Lujan 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.

He keeps 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 references sometimes.

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

Lujan 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’ markets.

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.”

They turned to their longtime friends, the Gerringers of Calico Farmstead Cheeses, who helped Lujan set up his cheesemaking at their creamery.

The 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

As the industry has grown, cheesemakers have helped each other sell their products at farmers’ markets or shops they set up on their farms.

The 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.

Organizers 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, Blakley said.

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.

Looking forward

All of the cheese made on the N.C. Cheese Trail uses either goat or cow’s milk.

Lujan 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 about 25.

Until then, he will concentrate on the many varieties of cheeses to be made from cow’s milk.

The 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.

“I 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?

Bacon is within spitting distance, but there are religions that forbid it. Pastries or freshly baked bread might vie for the trophy, but they fall short.

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 a bun.

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 agriculture.

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.

“Cheese 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.”

Lathrop 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.

Once the 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.

North Carolina cheese makers boast many of those varieties, Lathrop said, from cave-aged blue cheeses, Cheddars and many softer, savory cheeses.

AT 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.

Almost 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.

Campbell stumbled 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.

Once 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.

These 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, lindleyfarmscreamery.com

“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.

But Campbell 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 aquaculture.

NORTH CAROLINA-MADE goods are earning a reputation. That includes its cheeses.

Just last weekend, around 1,000 people attended the Western N.C. Cheese Festival in Asheville to taste cheeses from about 15 makers, Lathrop said.

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.

The 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.'

People 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.

“I’m 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.”

More information

For more 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.

Local cheesemakers:
• Calico Farmstead Cheese
3737 High Rock Road
Gibsonville, N.C. 27249
(336) 697-2213

• Lindley Farms Creamery
255 Bob Clark Road
Snow Camp, N.C. 27349
(919) 742-1284
• 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
cheese please!
an adventure in north carolina cheese
by catherine rabb

Whether 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 beverages.

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.

Very 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.

Unlike 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,
with 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.

Cheesemaker 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

Do take 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 every one.

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.

When 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).

Their 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

Just 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 their business.

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 a week.

piemonte farm

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.

The 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.

Sandra 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

Paradox 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

Say Cheese!
North Carolina’s cheese trail will make you smile
By Leah Chester-Davis

The 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.

Most 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.

Farmstead cheese 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.

“The 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

Before 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 statewide.