I did my volunteer shift at ACS on Friday, which left me with a free day Saturday before the Festival of Cheese. While conference registrants were slaving away in such tedious workshops as “Cheese: A Near Perfect Food” with Max McCalman (yawn) and “North Carolina’s Bounty of Fermented Foods” (snooze), I was free to explore North Carolina beers and cheese first-hand. (Yeah, I was still totally envious of those in the sessions. Next year!) But anyway, I made a quick stop at Fullsteam brewery (their Summer Basil really is summer in a glass) en route to Reliable Cheese. Having seen owner Patrick Coleff make the final 12 at the Cheesemonger Invitational, I was eager to see his shop. He maintains a small but impressively stocked cheese counter right in downtown Durham. And when I asked for local cheeses, he suggested the trio below. (A note: You can purchase a Reliable Cheese cheese board at Fullsteam. The brewery also hosts local food trucks, including a pizza truck the day I was there.)
From there, I headed back to Raleigh for lunch at the Busy Bee Cafe where I discovered Olde Hickory’s Southern Belle, a farmhouse style ale. I promptly added that to my shopping list when I mosied over to the Tasty Beverage Co., a beer retail shop and tasting bar in a renovated train depot.
On my North Carolina cheese board:
Goat Lady Dairy Sandy Creek: Goat Lady Dairy from Climax, NC, took home a blue ribbon for their apple wood smoked chèvre, Smokey Mountain Round (I don’t often care for smoked cheeses, but theirs was really quite a nice balance of fresh, lactic chevre and not-overwhelming smoke). Their Sandy Creek is a bloomy-rind, ash-centered round that is delightful, a little citrusy, fresh and creamy. It’s the cheese that prompted my son to sigh contentedly, “I think I’m in love with cheese.” (And the one my daughter is noshing on below.)
Chapel Hill Creamery Calvander: One bite of Chapel Hill Creamery’s raw milk asiago-inspired cheese took me back to my brother’s porch watching a steamy sunset over the tobacco fields. I have a theory that southern Maryland peaches are addictive because they are planted on former tobacco plantations. Clearly the same applies to dairy cows grazing on tobacco-rich land, because this cheese is seriously addicting. Sweet, with caramel and tobacco notes, it would go with a red wine as well as the farmhouse style ale I chose.
Heritage Homestead Goat Blue: Heritage Homestead of Crumpler, NC, makes both goat and cows milk cheeses. As Patrick explains, their Goat Blue is so named to distinguish it from their Raw Milk Blue, which is cows milk. This cheese was fantastically earthy, creamy and streaked with funky blue veins.
& the beer: I loved Southern Belle. It’s bright, just a little sweet and managed to pair nicely with all three of these cheeses (though perhaps slightly less well with the blue). I just wish I’d brought home more than one bottle.
Where to Buy Cheese in the Research Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill), North Carolina:
405A E. Chapel Hill St.
201 S. Estes Dr.
Chapel Hill, NC
Where to Get a Pimento Cheese Burger in Raleigh:
Busy Bee Café
225 South Wilmington St.
There’s also a fledgling cheese trail in Western North Carolina. And our pal Kirstin of It’s Not You, It’s Brie, posted some pictures from her morning at Prodigal Farm in Rougemont, NC. Ever had North Carolina cheese? If not, get yourself down South!