Whether you’re a die-hard fan of cheese or seeking a scenic adventure to Asheville’s greenest hillsides, the WNC Cheese Trail is a must do trek anyone will love. One of the best ways to take in the breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains is to drive farm to farm across Western North Carolina, breaking up the travel into separate days.
Goat and cow creameries are popping up all over the Blue Ridge and they are producing some of North America’s finest cheeses. Planning your cheese trail adventure can be tricky so be sure to pay attention to each farm’s visitation hours for farm tours and tastings. Not all farms allow visitors and certainly not k9 visitors so leave the pooches home. Here are our suggestions for creating your artisanal cheese and farmstead experience.
Spend a whole day exploring and tasting Fairview, North Carolina. It is home to two very delicious and extremely productive farms, Looking Glass Creamery and Hickory Nut Gap Farm. Just a few minutes drive from downtown Asheville, this area of the cheese trail is super easy and a whole lot of fun! Or if you’re driving from Asheville to Chimney Rock or Lake Lure, we even recommend stopping at Hickory Nut Gap to pick up deli sandwiches or Looking Glass Creamery to make their cheese the final touch of your picnic lunch.
Looking Glass Creamery began its cheesemaking in 2009 and has quickly become one of the most recognized artisan creameries in North Carolina. I am here to tell you that they are doing everything right! For Looking Glass, every little detail counts and it all begins with the precious grass their milk cows feed and graze on. It is true that every detail in the cheese making process affects the flavor of the final product and this is something Looking Glass pays close attention to.
A few recommendations that I can offer are Chocolate Lab and Green River Blue. Who doesn’t love a chocolate lab? Especially one as delicious as this! Chocolate Lab doesn’t fit into any one cheese category and it is created by utilizing other local products such as a locally brewed stout to wash the rind then finished with a rub of crushed cacao nibs from French Broad Chocolates. Could they get more local than that? Probably not.
I first tasted Green River Blue while sipping cider at Urban Orchard Cider and whoa was I impressed with this European-style blue cheese. The creamy texture and sweet earth flavor had my taste buds dancing. It pairs very well with many different wines and I especially love pairing it with cider.
Although not primarily a cheese farm, Hickory Nut Gap Farm is a huge supporter of the local cheese industry and their farm-raised meats are the perfect match for our WNC cheeses. Stop into their butcher shop for grass-fed beef, pork, eggs, or order a handmade deli sandwich before gawking over the cutest farm animals in Western North Carolina.
Looking Glass Creamery
57 Noble Road
Thursday through Sunday 11 – 5pm
Hickory Nut Gap Farm
57 Sugar Hollow Road
Wednesday – Sunday 10 – 5pm
Day two is also a full-day cheese trail feat and consists of a true farmstead adventure that begins in Black Mountain at Round Mountain Creamery. RMC is strictly a goat cheese dairy situated on a 28-acre farm just south of Black Mountain and is home to over 150 goats producing delightfully rich soft cheeses. Before diving into sampling the product, it’s a must that you visit the goats and give them some praise. They love all guests of the creamery and expect, at the very least, a pat on the head.
A great way to sample the local goat cheeses is to stop in one of Asheville’s unique wine bars such as Rustic Grape Wine Bar conveniently located in downtown Asheville. RG dishes up Round Mountain goat cheese on their tasty cheese and charcuterie boards guiding you to one of their perfectly paired wines.
The next stop on day two is English Farmstead. Swiftly located just north of Marion, this picture perfect dairy farm is, in my opinion, one of WNC’s most stunning dairy farms. For me, the highlight of visiting this farm is observing the grass grazing Holsteins as they navigate the rocky, Irelandesque rolling hills which are also vibrant and green. You feel like you’re in a famous painting! One important thing to take note of before visiting the English Farmstead’s Cheese Shop is the store hours. Be sure to plan for a Friday or Saturday only.
Round Mountain Creamery
2203 Old Fort Road
Black Mountain, NC
Friday and Saturday Noon – 4pm
English Farmstead Cheese
19456 US 221 North
Friday and Saturday 10 – 6pm
For day three, set your sights on one particular creamery situated South of Asheville, Blue Ridge Mountain Creamery for a taste testing of cheeses created from raw cow’s milk and where ‘blue’ is appropriately the theme for these extraordinary cave-aged cheeses.
What makes this creamery stand out from some of the others? Some would say the cave aging process itself which carves out a unique ‘Terroir’ flavor, a French term meaning “of the land.” Similar to the winery grape growing process, cave-aged cheeses yield very specific flavors that cannot be duplicated in any other place in the world. The final product is a one of a kind regional gift of the soil and rock.
Pro tip for day three on the trail – be sure to call ahead to set up a visitation appointment with Blue Ridge Mountain Creamery. They’ll have you eating cheese till you’re blue in the face!
Blue Ridge Mountain Creamery
327 Flat Creek Road
Fairview, NC 28730
Call for appointment
Bonus – Make day three a two-stop day by pairing together with Looking Glass Creamery, they’re both gems of Fairview, NC.
Day four you’ll be jetting up to Bakersville, NC where you’ll fall in love with Oakmoon Farm & Creamery. This captivating little farm is located at the base of Roan Mountain where it materialized in 1998 by Cynthia Swain & Dwain Sharpe, a Carolina couple determined to cultivate a lifestyle of operating a self-sustaining goat dairy farm. People, they have succeeded! Not only are they producing jaw-dropping goat cheese, but they are also offering cheese-making and goat-husbandry workshops that have grabbed the nation’s attention.
OakMoon Farm Stand & Cheese Shop is run on the ‘Carolina-Way’ honor system seven days a week and open on Saturdays 9 to 5 where a knowledgeable Oakmoon agent is there for engaging chit chat about their farm. Not only will you pay close attention to the goat cheese, but also feel free to snatch up some free-range pastured eggs, humanely raised pork, local jams, farm-made butter and much much more.
Oakmoon Farm & Creamery
431 South Mitchell Avenue
Honor system cheese stand
Ok, cheesemongers, this is the grand finale! The fifth and final cheese trail adventure takes place in Marshall, NC just slightly North of Asheville and the drive is spectacular. Heads up – this is one of the trail days that will need to be pre-planned. Three Graces Dairy will expect a call for scheduling an appointment for your visit.
The first leg of day five will have you driving I-26 North from Asheville to Madison County where all roads lead to Spinning Spider Creamery and the goats and cheese are the main events. Do they say happy cows live in California? Well, that may be but, happy goats live at Spinning Spider Creamery where, in fact, the quality of the goat cheese is proof. Elevation and crisp mountain spring water may also have something to do with it.
One of the things I love most about Spinning Spider is that the entire family, including their children, are involved in the cheese making process which, in my book, says there is so much love put into their product.
Although it will be tempting set up real estate at Spinning Spider Creamery for the entire day, it is about a forty-five-minute drive to Three Graces Dairy, the next farmstead on your trail map. Believe me, you’ll want to make the trip to this farm.
Cow, sheep, goat ARE the three graces at this beautiful dairy farm and the product line up is extensive. At Three Graces Dairy, you’ll find they are producing French-style cheeses that are impeccable to taste and leave you wanting to stock up for weeks. Many restaurants and shops in the Asheville area utilize Three Graces Dairy for their locally supportive menus.
Sampling every cheese made by Three Graces could take days, that’s why we have a few recommendations to get you started. Never turn your nose up to the Turkish Delight, an American Cheese Society award-winning slightly sweet – Lebanese rose water goat cheese topped off with rose petals ya’ll! Wow!
Ooh la la… another one of my favorites is the Mélange French-style cheese, a soft-ripened delicate blend of cow, goat, and sheep milk. The silky texture alone will have your head spinning!
Spinning Spider Creamery
4717 East Fork Road
May – December Only
Friday & Saturday Noon – 4pm
Three Graces Dairy
Call for appointment
2019 Carolina Cheese Fest
For those of you looking for the most efficient way to uncover the WNC Cheese Trail, head to the Annual Carolina Mountain Cheese Festival happening at Highland Brewing April 28th, Noon to 5pm. The cheese fest is a family-friendly way to discover all your favorite local cheeses, meet the cheesemakers in person, sample enormous amounts of cheese and the best part – purchasing some North America’s best cheeses directly from the makers themselves. Brush arms with other cheesemongers, visit the cutest baby goats and cows while sampling tasty treats from other local merchants.
Which is another attractive feature of the mountain cheese festival, the diversity of vendors who are big supporters of the WNC cheese trail such as American Pig Charcuterie, Hickory Nut Gap Farm, Noble Cider, Rustic Grape Wine Bar and many more. Be sure to sign up for one of the cheesemaking workshops and demos, cider and cheese pairings, or even a flatbread making class. Find more here.