North Carolina hasn’t historically been a destination for cheese enthusiasts to flock to for creamy creations. But there’s a revival of artisan cheese happening around the country and this region is getting its slice. With more than 40 cheese-making spots around the state, handcrafted and small batch cheese is gaining popularity fast. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the American Dairy Goat Association is based in Spindale, North Carolina and the state has emerged as a Southern leader when it comes to cheese. Around Charlotte, you’ll find farms like Waxhaw’s Bosky Acres, whose soft, unripened goat cheese you can pick up in local farmers’ markets. But there are several spots to satiate your local cheese craving beyond the farmers’ markets. While larger chains like Whole Food, Earth Fare, and Dean & Deluca have impressive international selections, we’ve found three great places to get your local fromage fix.
Orrman’s Cheese ShopThis cozy shop tucked inside the convivial 7th Street Public Market is packed with cheeses from around the world—but more importantly, you’ll find owner and cheesemonger Rachel Klebaur’s top choices from North Carolina. Look for cut-to-order options like Dancing Fern from Sequatchie Cover (available until early October), Pleasant Ridge Reserve Farmstead cheese, or Chocolate Lab Cheese from Looking Glass Creamery. Plus, you’ll find all the perfect pairings for your cheese feast like La Quercia prociutto, fig and black tea preserves, and gourmet pickles. Stopping in for lunch? Load up on creative cheesy sandwiches like Cheddar, Gouda, pickles, and mustard on sourdough or Gouda with preserved walnuts and shallot confit on sourdough. www.facebook.com/orrmanscheese
Atherton MarketThis bustling South End market plays host to many local sellers, but for top local cheeses, you’ll want to check out Queen City Pantry. Here, owner Rochelle Baxter offers a cache of hard to find choices from area farms. Pick up a container of pimento cheese made using Ashe County Extra Sharp Cheddar and Pepper Jack cheeses or grab one of Cheval Farmstead Dairy’s Blueberry Bombs, a mixture of fresh goat cheese with spices, sea salt, and blueberries. The most inventive—and tasty—option though may be the Marinated Goat Medley from Cheval Farmstead. Featuring a mix of goat cheese marinated with olives and peppers and packaged in a mason jar, this mixture is perfect for serving up at a party with the Pantry’s artisan Roots & Branches crackers, which are made in Asheville. www.facebook.com/queencitypantry
Reid’s Fine FoodsIt only seems natural that a store with such an extensive wine selection would also feature specialty cheeses. After all, the two have historically been a preferred pairing. Inside this gourmet grocery, you’ll find display cases packed with redolent wheels, chunks, and blocks from around the world (think pungent Camembert from France and firm goat milk cheese from California). But mixed in with these locavores can find creative local offerings such as North Carolina’s Goat Lady Dairy spreads in savory flavors like jalapeno and roasted red pepper. www.reids.com
WNC Cheese TrailWant to get serious about Southern cheese? Plan a voyage on this mountain road trip showcasing area artisans. North Carolina’s mountains feature dozens of creameries and farms making rich cheeses ranging from raw milk versions to soft-ripened ones. The trail, which is a non-profit organization, connects several cheese makers for visiting including Blue Ridge Creamery, Oakmoon Creamy, Ripshin Goat Dairy, and Looking Glass Creamery. Check their sites for hours (some are by appointment only) and bring your wallet—you’ll want to indulge in the tasting tours and purchase plenty of cheese to take home.