Grass to Goat, Milk to Cheese

It’s feeding time at Round Mountain Creamery and the farm’s 300 goats are getting hungry.  The mature females will produce about 30 gallons of milk today at this small creamery in Black Mountain, North Carolina, and much of that will be turned into cheese.

The artisan cheesemaking industry is growing in Western North Carolina, and with it a community of dairies that raise livestock to supply them. At Round Mountain Creamery, the goats eat mostly alfalfa pellets, green grass, and local hay.

“You say that goats can eat anything and it’s true, but you don’t want to give them tin cans. If you want good milk, you give them good feed,” says Linda Seligman, owner of the creamery.

Her cheese and goat milk operation supports a network of farmers and creameries in the area. A nearby pig farmer picks up whey that’s left over from the cheesemaking process to feed his animals. The goats’ hay comes in bulk from a local farmer who grows without pesticides. It’s a full loop: from grain to goat, milk to cheese.

Looking Glass Creamery comes to the farm to get goat milk straight from the source. The milk travels just 13 miles to Fairview, North Carolina where the next day co-owner Jennifer Perkins checks out their goat cheese as it hangs.  The milk was pasteurized the same day and then sat overnight to thicken. This morning it was tested and poured into cheese cloth bags, which now hang from chains in the cheesemaking room as the unwanted whey drips down.

Soon only the curd is left, and by the end of the week the chevre will be on menus at local restaurants. It’s a surprisingly short process compared to the aged cheeses the creamery also produces. The quick turnaround encourages communication between cheesemaker and dairy farmer.

“We drink the milk we buy from our local farms and so we’re very familiar with the taste as it changes, and what’s happening in the field definitely transfers into the cheese,” says Perkins.

Looking Glass Creamery is one of 12 local cheesemakers and dairies that make up the WNC Cheese Trail. The nonprofit produces a map that guides the public through the mountains to discover the region’s farmstead and artisan cheesemakers.

Katie Moore, the director of the Cheese Trail and the Carolina Mountain Cheese Fest, says she’s seen tremendous growth in the artisan cheese industry, both in WNC and beyond. She says when cheesemakers, farms, and dairies work together, it makes Western North Carolina’s cheesemaking community stand out.

“You have a collaborative effort between all these makers coming together and understanding that as they draw attention to what they’re doing as an individual business, but are part of something larger, it draws a lot of attention to what everyone’s doing,” Moore says.

Cheese trails are often found in New England, the Midwest, and other regions that have a robust cheese economy. Moore says that this same type of agritourism will play a role in the evolution of the Western North Carolina cheese industry.

“I think people are really happy to come here and kind of partake in this beautiful environment where we live so that they can go up into the mountains and visit some of these cheesemakers and creameries and dairies and see where the magic happens,” Moore says.

Back at Round Mountain Creamery, goats graze along the hillside. As owner Linda Seligman walks back down the hill, she talks about what it’s like to be part of the cheesemaking community here.

“We’re helping each other,” Seligman says. “We don’t tell each other our cheese secrets, but we’re helping each other, and we’re there for each other, and that’s really marvelous.”

Find out how to visit local creameries at Learn where to find local cheese at markets, restaurants, and grocery stores in ASAP’s Local Food Guide:

Aired 2/15/16

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