Sisters in Cheese

Growing up on a farm isn’t always idyllic, but the three women who run Cane Creek Creamery in Fletcher, North Carolina say they wouldn’t have wanted their childhoods any other way.

Sisters Mollie Hembree and Alma Nesbitt are cheesemakers at the creamery. Their other sister, Amanda Sizemore, directs marketing and sales of their European-style cow’s milk cheese on this fourth-generation farm, and runs the family’s organic produce operation with her husband.

The sisters remember all of the hard work they did with their siblings on the weekends and after school, and also the joys of being part of a farming family. “We milked cows, and fed calves, and picked up hay,” Mollie says. “We did a little bit of everything, but it was a lot of fun. I couldn’t imagine growing up anywhere else.” Amanda explains that their family’s commitment to hard work continues today. “We’re definitely a family that knows how to get in there and get things done together,” she says.

Their farm story stretches back to 1903 when their great-great-grandfather, George W. Nesbitt, bought farmland in the Cane Creek community. He used a horse and plow to grow vegetables, and passed the farm down to his son, John. When the flood of 1953 washed their crops down the creek, John transformed the produce farm into a dairy, which continues today.

In addition to the dairy, Amanda and her husband Jeremy added vegetables back into the business in 2005 under the name Cane Creek Valley Farm. The sisters turned their attention to cheese in 2016 to diversify further. They now make several types of cheese, including feta, cheddar, brie, and a soft Trappist-style cheese with a mild, buttery flavor. Amanda sees cheese as a product that can add value to the dairy’s steady supply of milk.

“We’re a small farm and in order to survive for the future generations, we’re trying to find a way to do value-added products to the milk,” Amanda says.

The price of milk fluctuates frequently, but Cane Creek Creamery can set a fixed price on its artisan cheese. Small-batch cheese lends itself to local sales rather than national or international markets, which makes their cheese a product that is produced by and for the local community.

Making and caring for artisan cheese is especially labor-intensive. The creamery’s Trappist-style cheese must be hand-wiped and washed with a salt brine solution every two days, a two-hour task that falls on Alma’s shoulders. “Making the cheese is pretty simple, to me anyways, because it’s pretty repetitive, but taking care of it is a little harder because it’s more time consuming,” Alma says. Each style of cheese requires its own process and aging time, some as long as nine months, but between Alma and Mollie, there are enough hands to get the job done.

Amanda sees herself and her eight brothers and sisters as part of a transition generation that is ushering the family farm into the 21st century. A combination of innovative ideas, cherished traditions, and the strong work ethic the sisters developed as children is apparent in every wheel of cheese they produce.

By diversifying their business and welcoming the community to their creamery, they’re building a thriving farm that can be passed down to the next generation—and the ones after that. It’s not easy, but Amanda says it’s worth it.

“It’s an effort of love and a lot of work, but that’s our goal,” Amanda says. “We want our kids to grow up on this land and have fun on it and our great-grandkids one day.”  

The public is invited to peer into the aging room during ASAP’s Farm Tour on June 24 and 25. Wheels of cheese and cheesemaking equipment can be viewed through windows inside the cheese shop. Visitors can taste several styles of cheese and pet the dairy’s baby calves.

Cane Creek is just one of 20 family farms on ASAP’s Farm Tour. Learn about those farms and plan your route through the mountains at ASAP’s website.

Aired 6/12/17.

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