Chapel Hill Creamery wins Best of Show, Best of N.C. at fair

Farm makes cheese from Jersey cow milk
Oct. 14, 2013 @ 05:01 PM

For the second year in a row, Chapel Hill Creamery has won Best of North Carolina and Best of Show awards in the N.C. State Fair International Cheese Competition.

Judging was held Oct. 11, ahead of the start of the N.C. State Fair, which opens Thursday.

Cheeses were judged on technical and aesthetic merits using the American Cheese Society’s point system. Eight cheese makers submitted 36 cheeses in the contest.

Chapel Hill Creamery’s Carolina Moon cheese won the awards in the open class soft-ripened cheese. Last year, the creamery’s Calvander cheese took home blue ribbons for Best of Show and Best of North Carolina. For 2013, the creamery also won gold medals for Swiss style cheese, mozzarella cheese, and open class hard cheese; and silver medals in flavored hard cheese, flavored soft cheese, smear ripened cheese and open class soft and spreadable.

Chapel Hill Creamery’s cheeses are made from milk from their Jersey cows. Co-owners Portia McKnight and Flo Hawley started the 37-acre dairy and cheese-making farmstead 12 years ago. Both previously worked at Whole Foods for 20 years. They have about 40 cows, with a few calves born this fall. A calf was born Thursday morning to Jersey cow Appleby. Bulls go to a neighboring farm as they can’t be milked, although a few have stayed to train as an oxen team.

“Cheese is magic,” McKnight said. “It’s a really compelling mix of science and magic. If you put that together with being able to work with animals and living in a beautiful place, it’s a great combination.”

Cheese at Chapel Hill Creamery includes Farmer’s cheese, a simple cheese that lets you taste the Jersey milk, McKnight said, with the flavor profile of a tangy old-fashioned cottage cheese. Carolina Moon cheese is their version of Camembert. Calvander is inspired by Asiago cheese and made with raw milk.

You can sample some Chapel Hill Creamery cheese during the fair at the Got to Be NC Dairy Products tent, which showcases North Carolina products from dairy farmers. It’s on the fairgrounds between the Jim Graham Building and Dorton Arena. The winning cheeses will be displayed in the Education Building.

The yellow color of the cheese varies throughout the year, depending on the color of grass the cows are eating. Rye grass is their Jersey cows’ favorite, McKnight said.

Whey, the liquid leftover from cheese cultures, is fed to Chapel Hill Creamery’s pigs. The creamery also produces sausage and pork, and Animal Welfare Approved rose veal. Creamery products are sold at the Durham Farmers’ Market in Durham Central Park, Carrboro Farmers’ Market and Western Wake Farmers’ Market, as well as local stores.

Creamery employee Allison Sturgill milks the cows, breeds them and raises them. She also trains twin bulls born in 2009 as an ox team. They pull sled, carts and wheeled wagons around the farm. She hopes they’ll be in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Holiday Parade this year.

“Being a small farm, draft animal power is a wonderful thing on a farm like this,” Sturgill said. “You’re not using power, just feed them and they’ll go to work.” She wanted to bring them to the N.C. State Fair, too, but the draft animal competition is just for horses.

For information about Chapel Hill Creamery, visit chapelhilcreamery.com.