by Ray Linville
To watch cheese being made, taste some artisan cheese samples, and take home a package or two, I headed to the Blue Ridge area of our state to travel part of the Western North Carolina Cheese Trail. Little did I expect to be bottle-feeding a day-old baby goat. Within minutes after arriving at Round Mountain Creamery near Black Mountain, NC, I was holding a full bottle of warm milk for an eager kid who cared little about who was feeding it. The feeding was all part of the tour that I had arranged the day before.
Before visiting the creamery, I reviewed information about the Western North Carolina Cheese Trail online. The trail, established in 2013, links together farms and creameries that show how artisan cheeses are made from goat and cow milk and inform visitors about the art and science of cheese-making. Helping to promote the cheese trail is the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP), which builds local food connections and helps area farms succeed.
To be part of the trail, cheese makers do not have to have their own dairy herd, but they do have to obtain milk for at least half of their annual production from within 150 miles of their facilities. They also have to be located in the western third of the state. I picked Round Mountain Creamery to visit because it seemed very accommodating to visitors. Some farms are not open to visitors, several are open only limited hours, and others are open only by appointment.
Situated on 28 acres nurtured over the last 17 years into a working dairy, Round Mountain Creamery has about 200 goats and produces a dozen soft goat cheeses. Owned and operated by Linda Seligman, it is the state’s only “Grade A” goat dairy and farmstead creamery. The milk from its Alpine and LaMancha does is carried at only local outlets to assure freshness, although its cheeses enjoy a wider distribution. Some milk is also sold to other local creameries for cheeses that they make.
Taking home artisan cheeses was a goal of the visit, and I was as much interested in the cheese tasting activity as the tour of the production areas. After tasting several cheeses, I settled on three: Cran-Nut Zest, From the Garden, and Mild and Creamy. (All are excellent but the Cran-Nut disappeared the fastest after I got home.) Because I decided to purchase several cheeses, the usual $5 charge for cheese tasting didn’t apply, which made the visit even sweeter.
Although the legacy of using goat milk dates back centuries to well beyond 7,000 B.C.E. when goats were first domesticated, the creamery continues the traditions of independent subsistence farming in the state, particularly in western areas. In fact, according to the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, all of the dairy farms in the state are family owned and operated.
What I learned from the tour is that cheesemaking is hard work, profit margins are thin, and requirements for following all the health and agriculture standards in making cheese are very exacting. If you plan to explore the cheese trail, a GPS device is very handy. In addition, realize that only a few producers are near each other, and traveling on mountainous roads can be slow. Also call ahead to verify hours even for farms with regular visiting times.
Summer Salad with Goat Cheese, Watermelon, Tomatoes and Mint
Enjoy fresh goat cheese in a salad with ripe summertime watermelon and tomatoes. This recipe is simple and enjoyable.
• 2 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled
• 2 cups watermelon in bite-sized chunks (seeds removed)
• 1 large or 2 small ripe tomatoes, cubed
• 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint
• 2 tablespoons your favorite balsamic vinaigrette dressing
Directions: On a large platter or individual plates, arrange watermelon, goat cheese, and tomatoes. Sprinkle with vinaigrette and top with mint. (For extra green if desired, add half cup of arugula.) Serves 4.
Ray Linville writes and lectures on regional culture, including foodways and folklife. He has taught in the N.C. Community College System as a professor of English and humanities and served on the board of the N.C. Folklore Society. Read more about Ray’s ramblings at his blog: Sights, Sounds and Tastes of the American South.