Love cheese? You’re in luck. North Carolina residents don’t need to travel to France or Italy to indulge in fine handmade cheeses, thanks to the many cheesemakers situated along the North Carolina Cheese Trail.
Nearly a dozen dairies and creameries across the state have perfected the art of cheesemaking, and they encourage visitors to spend an afternoon, weekend or an entire vacation exploring the North Carolina Cheese Trail. Not only do travelers get to sample and purchase award-winning cheeses, the trail also provides an opportunity to get out and enjoy the state’s scenic farmlands.
Boxcarr Handmade Cheese
Boxcarr Handmade Cheese in Cedar Grove makes nine different varieties of cheese, some of which are seasonal. Run by Austin Genke, his wife Dani and his sister Samantha Genke, Boxcarr Handmade Cheese started with 30 acres of heirloom vegetables, a herd of dairy goats, several litters of heritage pigs, and a food truck and catering company. After building a cheesemaking facility at the top of a ridge overlooking their farmstead’s pond in 2014, the family began crafting cheeses from cow’s and goat’s milk in 2015. They have since won awards from the N.C. State Fair, the American Cheese Society and Good Food Awards.
“With Italian roots stretching from the Piedmont to Sicily and a helping hand from our ‘formaggiaia’ – Italian for female cheesemaker – Alessandra Tompeo, we take inspiration from small, Italian farmstead cheesemaking,” says Samantha Genke, cheesemaker. “Our local milk is produced by two small, family-owned dairies who raise their goats and cows with the greatest care and highest standards. This translates, with the help of a handful of local interns, into fantastic cheese.”
Boxcarr’s top-selling varieties include Rocket’s Robiola, a silky cheese with almond and mushroom notes that is named after one of their goats; Cottonseed, a full- bodied cheese with a creamy, gooey center; and Lissome, a rich, melt-in-your-mouth cheese with a buttery exterior resembling a clean river stone.
Boxcarr sells its cheese at the Durham Farmers Market and to the Durham Co-op, Weaver Street Markets and select Whole Foods locations. Several local chefs and restaurants feature Boxcarr cheeses on their menus as well.
“The constant support we receive is so humbling, and we are so thankful that others enjoy the cheeses we make as much as we do,” Samantha says. “Cheesemaking is like meditation – you get to mentally put everything else aside and just focus on the cheese. Having started from a simple dream of making Italian cheeses, we are thankful for every day that we can do what we love.”
Brown Creek Creamery
In Wadesboro, Brown Creek Creamery began producing cheese in 2014 on a small family farm with 16 registered Jersey cows and 14 heifers on about 8 acres. Husband- and-wife team Robert and Jennifer Stovall, along with Jennifer’s parents, Jeff and Sherry Poplin, make farmstead cheese with the milk they collect every day. Their cheeses include mild and sharp cheddar, a Colby cheese called Creekside, and a soft cheese they use as a base for their pimento cheese and many other varieties.
“We sell a lot of butter and hard cheeses,” Robert says. “My favorite is the pimento cheese. It has our mild cheddar and our soft cheese in it. It’s really creamy with a bit of a bite on the back end.”
The family also makes soft-serve ice cream with their own milk and cream. They run their soft-serve machine on Saturdays when they open to the public for visitors. “We have had such a great reception from North Carolina. People are looking for fresh, local foods, and we can fill that niche,” Robert says. “The most rewarding part is the look on people’s faces when they try our products, and you can see they enjoy it. We are so critical of ourselves, wanting to put a fresh and delicious product out there, and it justifies that what we are doing must be working.”
Learn more about North Carolina cheeses and explore a map of cheesemakers at nccheesetrail.com.