Travel outside the cities of Western North Carolina and you’ll find picturesque, rural areas that are home to many small farms. More than a dozen locally owned farms and shops make up the WNC Cheese Trail. Their dedication to local cheesemaking preserves the authentic rural lifestyle that draws so many to the area. Here, local food production is not a trend. It has been and continues to be a way of life.
What is the WNC Cheese Trail?
Officially, the WNC Cheese Trail operates as a nonprofit cooperative to promote the production and sale of area artisan cheeses, facilitate consumer education, and encourage tourism to the region.
“People in Western North Carolina love their food,” says Katie Moore, owner of the Cheese Store of Asheville. “They love local food. And they understand the importance of purchasing things that are locally made and locally produced. So, the cheesemakers here provide a wonderful opportunity for people to interact with them at their farms and purchase products that are handmade right here in Western North Carolina.”
At this basic level, the WNC Cheese Trail allows you to connect directly with cheesemakers, see where your favorite cheeses are crafted, and buy straight from the producers. The Trail’s award-winning cheesemakers range from new operations to pioneers in the artisan cheese movement. They also include both goat milk and cow milk cheesemakers.
“We’re all so removed from where food comes from,” says Marilyn Cade of Mountain Farm in Burnsville. “The Cheese Trail is just a new way of encouraging people to feel like there’s something going on at this farm, and I know what to expect when I get there, and I get a little information about it.”
The WNC Cheese Trail is Fun for Consumers and Cheesemakers
Local food is a staple of our area, and the WNC Cheese Trail is one way the region is helping to support this vital growing industry. As a nonprofit, their mission is to educate the community about cheese making as much as it is about promoting sales.
“Another goal of coming together and creating the Trail is to educate consumers,” says Moore. “Not only about locally made food, but the artisanal and traditional role that happens in regard to making cheese. Rarely do we eat cheese alone. We usually do things like eat it with bread, and crackers and charcuterie, and preserves, and mustards. All of those things are made right here in Western North Carolina, so there’s a vibrant, sustainable industry here.”
Interacting with customers on the WNC Cheese Trail adds to the cheesemakers’ experience, as well. After all, cheesemakers love what they do and love sharing their products and knowledge with the community.
“It’s a lot of fun,” says Victor Chiarizia of Blue Ridge Creamery in Fairview. “It’s fun ‘cause we’re kinda solitary people. You know, we’re here, we’re makin cheese, or you’re on the farm and you’re milking your cows or goats. And if you don’t get off the farm, you don’t get to see people. But it’s fun!”
WNC a Perfect Location for a Cheese Trail
Travel outside the cities of Western North Carolina and you’ll find beautiful rural areas that are home to many small farms. The fifteen or so farms that make up the WNC Cheese Trail have a symbiotic relationship with the land. The land itself delivers what the cheesemakers need, and their dedication to local cheesemaking preserves the authentic rural lifestyle of the region.
“You need good milk to make good cheese,” says Moore. “In Western North Carolina, you have a lot of farmland out here, you have a lot of strong animals that are producing amazing milk. Having that connection with the animals and the land, which play a really important role in making good cheese—it’s important to be in a setting that you can do that.”
“So, one way that that happens here for cheesemakers is you have to be in a rural setting,” says Moore. “And if you need to be in a rural setting, this is one of the best places because of the beauty of the mountains and the hills, the water. There’s so many attractions that I think bring people here, but certainly for cheesemakers, a really important one is that connection to the land.”
Have a Gouda Time on the WNC Cheese Trail Today!
Like your love of cheese, there is no beginning and end to the WNC Cheese Trail. Spend an afternoon or a weekend soaking in the beauty of Western North Carolina and sample some of the best handmade cheese being made in the South.
Use the map at WNCcheesetrail.org to plan your route. Remember that each business is independently owned and not all stops offer farm tours, so it helps to visit their website before planning your visit.