Southern cheeses need their own trail. A highlighted route or map for turophiles (lovers of cheese) to explore. More than one state - that’s California’s gig - we are better and bigger than that. Connect the curd all the way from Maryland to Florida. We need to show folks the whey. Seriously this needs to be done.
Like that west coast behemoth, not all of our Southern producers / facilities are open to the public. That’s ok, but creating an awareness that we are dairying, in the South, would be a boon for small producers to tell their story. That and it supports the ever popular “Buy Local” sentiment, with increased cheese awareness. I mean, how well do you know your state’s cheeses today? Specifically, how many Virginia cheese producers or cheeses can you name? If you are holding five fingers up you are doing very well. Now contrast your Virginia cheese awareness against say, European cheese varieties and producers. More than fingers and toes you will likely need a notepad to capture them all. That’s my point. We know more about cheeses from an ocean away.
Having recently driven thousands of miles exploring southern cheeses, I believe the unique tastes and character of Southern cheese are worthy of distinction. Two creameries that I visited showcase some of the diversity that I speak of. First stop was Sequatchie Cove Creamery in Tennessee. The creamery itself is not open to the public, but their cheeses are available nearby at West Street Farmers Market in Chattanooga or (if you are in touch with the creamery) at the Trading Post. Their cheeses, like the soft ripened, bloomy rind Dancing Fern (heavenly), or semi soft Coppinger with ash layer similar to Morbier or Shakerag Blue share a common thread - they are each made from raw milk. Working exclusively with raw milk preserves time honored cheese making traditions while preserving the distinct flavors of place that are commonly lost in pasteurization. Sequatchie Cove also takes further steps toward preserving itself re-purposing their whey to some very contented pigs and being 100% reliant on solar energy. It’s the sort of place where the room in which cheese is made has picture windows to the outside and to views of the milking parlor and, if the staff let Nathan, the Grateful Dead will be playing over the speakers. Bottom line, it feels genuine, homey with the sense of welcome that you could join in and help.
Further South, in Thomasville, Georgia (Which is a must see destination on it’s own), lies Sweet Grass Dairy. In this business endeavor cheese is a family enterprise has expanded from dairying into a restaurant / retail operation that showcases their cheeses. Here, too, you can’t get inside the creamery, but man oh man is it sweet. The cheeses are rock stars in own right (Thomasville Tomme (a personal favorite), Green Hill (silky double cream) Asher Blue & others), and it’s great to see the make and aging of same. What struck me most at Sweet Grass were the people. I could call out so many magical moments (like hugs) that resonated, but the playfulness of employees about things as seemingly mundane as cheese wrapping or making Pimento Spread (yeah, they make a good one of those too) explains much about their success. If it makes any sense, somehow all that love and fun comes through in their cheese. Southern Cheese.
If you ask me, Southern Cheese is the next big thing. We just need a map (or an application) to guide people desirous of hopping from one curdelicious destination to the next. Something like California’s Cheese Trail just bigger and with Southern charm, y’all.