Hot on the cheese trail in the N.C. mountains

Visiting cheese makers in the North Carolina mountains can be a great day trip. Mix in some breweries, vineyards and leaf-peeping, and you can make it a weekend.

It’s easier than ever: Farmsteads and artisan cheese producers formed a co-op to promote their fare by creating the Western North Carolina Cheese Trail, featuring stops from Robbinsville to Lenoir.

Here’s a look at five of them.

1. English Farmstead Cheese, Marion

Susan and Terry English are the fourth generation to own and run this dairy, but the first to make cheese. Terry does the milking and brings it, still warm from the cows, to Susan to begin the cheesemaking process.

Don’t miss: Cheddar or Jack cheese curds, great for snacking or making the Canadian specialty, “poutine.”

10 a.m.-6 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 19456 U.S. 221, Marion; 828-756-8166; .

2. Looking Glass Creamery, Fairview

Jen Perkins and her husband, Andy, are unique along the trail in that the 1,200 pounds of cheese they produce each month comes from both cow and goat milk. The American Cheese Society awarded the Perkinses’ Ellington cheese second place in the soft-ripened category, and William-Sonoma offers Looking Glass Creamery cheeses in their catalogs.

Don’t miss: Their Carmelita, a wonderfully balanced caramel sauce made from only goats’ milk and sugar.

3-7 p.m. Thursdays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays; 57 Noble Road, Fairview; 828-458-4715; .

3. OakMoon Farm and Creamery, Bakersville

Cynthia Sharpe made her first cheese in 1983. She and Dwain Swing married in 1996, “He didn’t know he’d become a goat man,” Sharpe says. But goat people they are, milking their herd of 60 goats twice each day and producing some of the finest pasteurized and aged, raw milk cheeses made in the Carolinas.

Don’t miss: Black Oak Boulett, delicate dill and garlic, soft cheese rolled in cracked black pepper.

Call ahead to visit. 452 Roan View Drive Bakersville; 828-688-4683; .

4. Blue Ridge Mountain Creamery, Fairview

Victor Chiarizia was an artist, blowing glass for 33 years before he began making fine, European-style cheeses. Using only milk from Jersey cows, Chiarizia makes cheeses and then ages them either in a cave he had specially made or, for his blue-veined cheeses, in a special walk-in cooler.

Don’t miss: All their cheeses are well worth trying, but not all are available all the time; call ahead to see what’s ready. Ask to see the aging cave.

Call ahead to visit. 327 Flat Creek Road, Fairview; 828-551-5739; .

5. Round Mountain Creamery, Black Mountain

What started with two pet goats has grown into 300 goats, 500 gallons of milk a week and North Carolina’s only Grade “A” goat dairy (meaning Round Mountain can sell goats’ milk, yogurt and cream to the public, as well as making their own cheeses). Owner Linda Seligman uses only vegetable rennet, so that vegetarians can enjoy the cheeses, too.

Don’t miss: Amber Moon, a semi-hard cheese, aged two to six months, whose nutty, bold flavor lies somewhere between cheddar and Gruyere.

Call ahead to visit. 2203 Old Fort Road, Black Mountain; 828-669-0718;

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