Cheese Trip Reflects Southern Hospitality
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about cheese. Cheese is not a new food to me; I’ve been eating some every day for most of my life. But I am learning about its nuances and its many incarnations. And that’s why we took a little trip down to Southern Tennessee, almost to the Georgia line, to visit a small creamery making really good cheese, Sequatchie Cove Creamery.
We drive down from the Cumberland Plateau, a beautifully wooded landscape, filled with hardwood forests cut by sharp gorges and ravines, caves and waterfalls. The fairly empty highway cuts its way down a steep incline and into the Sequatchie River valley. We follow the river through a gently rolling valley, surrounded by green, leafed out mountains and turn off the main highway to our destination. Winding on a narrow road, past small houses and farms in all states of maintenance, we see cows out in a pasture with a backdrop of mountains. Pigs roll in the shady mud, chickens scratch in search of food, and at the end of the road, a small building where we assume the cheese is being made.
Jim takes our dog, Stella, for a farm tour while I knock at the door to get someone’s attention. Caroline greets and welcomes me in the small shipping office, while through the window, I see two cheesemakers at work, putting curds in molds.
She has my cheese order ready. But first, Amelia takes me on a small tour. I put on the requisite lab coat, hair net and plastic boots, thoroughly wash my hands, and traipse through the foot bath on my way into the main cheese making room. The cows I saw happily eating grass as we drove in are the origin of all this. The cheese is made from their raw milk, kept in a large tank in the cooling room. I peek into the two caves where the cheeses are aged after they are made. The air smells smoky in the one: a blue cheese called Bellamy is aging with smoked salt rubbed into its surface. The other cave holds the washed rind cheeses and the air here holds more of a tang.
It’s time to get back on the road. But first, I thank my hosts, and take a last look around at the view that feels a little like paradise. All around us, we are surrounded with low mountains. The sun is warm and bees and insects are buzzing. The air is fresh and the quiet, peaceful valley sits soaking it all in. The cows giving milk for this cheese are happy. The people making and selling the cheese are passionate about their product. This is as local as it gets.
Later, I run into Caroline at the Chattanooga Farmers’ Market. Along with other local growers, she is selling the cheese that was made just down the road in the beautiful Sequatchie Valley. I taste a bite of that Bellamy Blue, and close my eyes, remembering the happy cows, the valley and the people. It’s worth every bite.