Tag Archives: Asheville

Weekend Wandering: Cheesy Trails to You

There are a few things I love in life – my family and friends, my dogs, travel, the mountains, and cheese. I feel like that list really defines me as a person. So what happens when you combine all of these great things? Only the best birthday surprise ever! Otherwise known as the Western North Carolina Cheese Trail.

If you’ve never heard of the WNC Cheese trail, join the club. Only in it’s second year, the trail showcases local artisan cheese-makers from across the Western Carolina region. Andrew just happened upon an article in an airline magazine featuring the cheesy excursion. In hindsight though, I’m amazed I didn’t come up with the idea myself – what could be better than a day spent driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains sampling some of the regions finest dairy offerings?

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We began the trek with a night in Asheville, one of our favorite weekend destinations. After an evening dining on tile fish, lemon thyme risotto, scallops, and coconut custard cake at the incredible Black Bird restaurant in downtown Asheville, we set off to explore.

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As we left the city limits, I had no idea where we were going or what was in store. Winding down country roads, the options became ever more limited – based on the road signs we were either going to one of a dozen Freewill Baptist churches or we were going to a creamery. I’m happy to report it was the latter. We pulled up to a small farmhouse with the most beautiful view of the mountains in the distance and a couple goats and sheep standing guard.

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Looking Glass Creamery in Fairview, NC was our first stop. Upon entering the small shop, we were greeted by the delightful Ashley, who didn’t hesitate to offer us endless samples their dairy delicacies. Their soft creamy chevre goat cheese served on local Roots & Branches crackers invited us to indulge. The plain chevre is fantastic, but the unique flavors they offered really took the cheese to the next level. Not wanting to choose between sweet and savory, we picked a chevre flavor from each category – delicately sweetened coconut chevre and tangy garlic & chive. The real standout cheese, though, was their signature award-winning Ellington. This lovely pyramid of goat cheese covered in a thin layer of ash tastes to me like the most delicious hybrid of goat cheese, brie, and blue cheese and is perfect on it’s own or paired with a freshly cooked steak.

Beyond cheese, Looking Glass has a few other tasty treats. Most tempting for me was their Bourbon Vanilla Carmelita – a rich sweet caramel sauce expertly balanced with the unbeatable flavors of bourbon and fresh vanilla. It’s my new favorite addition to coffee, but I would also gladly eat it by the spoonful on it’s own.

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After our tasting session we went outside to meet the goats of Looking Glass and thank them for their goods. Apparently they were interested in what we could offer them to eat in return.

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As much as I would like too, one can’t survive on cheese alone. So we went to find lunch at the Local Joint. The Local Joint is a Fairview, NC gem hidden in plain sight – it’s connected to a gas station. But don’t let it’s location fool you. They serve up some of the freshest, most delicious homemade food with a side of southern hospitality. I ordered The Local, an impeccable burger with bacon and blue cheese embedded into the patty on a fresh bun smothered with garlic aioli – truly one of the best burger’s I’ve had in a while. Andrew got the pastrami sandwich, which is made with local Lusty Monk mustard on a pretzel bun – also a delectably great option. And Bella certainly enjoyed the sweet potato fries and house-made chips.

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Fully satiated, we headed on to Hickory Nut Gap Farm to explore, and of course buy more food.

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Hickory Nut Gap, also in Fairview, NC, is not just a farm or store, but a full experience. Spanning endless acres across a beautiful valley intersected by a fresh mountain stream, we could have spent a day just enjoying Hickory Nut Gap.

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We wandered around the farm picking blueberries, meeting baby chicks and piglets, and tromping through the cool stream (Bella’s favorite).

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Back at the Hickory Nut Gap market, the friendly and knowledgeable staff welcomed us and didn’t hesitate to make recommendations on their favorite cuts of meat and other local treats.

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While Hickory Nut Gap is not a creamery, they offer some of the region’s best meats to accompany your cheesy finds. I could easily make a meal of their flavorful Sweet Sopressata salami and any choice of cheese.

Stocked with a cooler full of our fresh finds, we wound further east to Round Mountain Creamery in Black Mountain, NC.

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As a fully functioning goat farmstead, dairy, and creamery, as well as home to it’s owners, visiting Round Mountain is by appointment only. Fortunately the passionate owner, Linda Seligman, was kind enough welcome us to her farm on short notice.

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Round Mountain is the only producer of Grade A goat milk in all of North Carolina, so we knew their milk and cheeses were bound to be great. Linda gave us a private tour of the creamery, walking us through each step of the painstaking process – from prepping the goats to milking to processing the milk, and finally to making a delicious assortment of cheeses. Round Mountain Creamery has been a labor of love for Linda, 12 years in the making, so it was incredible to see the work and detail that goes into every aspect of making the highest quality goods.

After the tour she set us free to explore the farm and meet the hard-working goats before rejoining us in her tasting shop.

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Like a loving mother, Linda offered us endless samples of Round Mountain’s fresh cheeses, giving us the rundown of what ingredients were added and the process for making and aging each variety. To top it off, we got our first taste of goat milk, which is fairly similar to cow milk, but with just a bit to that tasty tanginess that makes goat cheese unique. We took with us a bit of everything – goat milk, various flavors of soft goat cheese, and (at Andrew’s request) a whole wheel of their award-winning Amber Moon aged goat cheese.

Bidding farewell to Linda, we headed north to enjoy the afternoon light and view of the mountains along the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway.

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Andrew had one final birthday surprise in store – going to one of my favorite places in the world, Valle Crucis, NC, to visit my dad. Upon arrival my dad greeted me with the most delicious birthday cake from Valle Crucis Bakery and Cafe, with none other than cream cheese icing!

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What a wonderfully unique birthday! Those who know me certainly know that cheese is the way to my heart…

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There were a few other creameries we wanted to get to, but you can only do so much cheese in one day. Next trip we hope to make it to the cheese cave at Blue Ridge Mountain Creamery, as well as English Farmstead, OakMoon Farm, and maybe even the Western Carolina cheese mecca of Ashe County Cheese. For a full list of cheese trail participants, visit www.wnccheesetrail.com.

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Weekend Wandering: Adventures in Asheville

Andrew and I are lucky to get to spend most weekends at home together. Still, with all the hustle and bustle of daily life, errands to run, and chores to get done around the house, it can be nice to get away and have a change of scenery. Though I love the life and home we’re creating, monotony gets stifling to me and I’m always seeking new experiences and explorations.

So this past weekend, for a breath of fresh air, we headed to Asheville, North Carolina to celebrate a belated Valentine’s Day / an early 6 month anniversary / any excuse to get away. Though I’d been to the beautiful mountain town of Asheville years before, I’d been longing to return with Andrew and bribe him to visit the Biltmoreand other city sites in exchange for feeding him endless local craft beers. A win-win really.

So we set off Saturday morning without a plan. While this lack of planning may bring stress to some (myself included at times), it also adds to the adventure. Armed with just a few friendly recommendations and a vague idea of where we might sleep that night, we were determined to drink in the best of the city in just one short weekend.

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We wandered through street musicians and artisan markets into the incredible Battery Park Book Exchange. This place is a library meets bar meets living room. Or if you’re a book lover like me, it’s simply heaven.

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All the books are previously loved and deeply discounted, and the place itself welcomes you in and makes you want to stay until you’ve read every book under their roof.

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But time was limited and stomachs were rumbling, so it was time to try local cuisine with a side of southern hospitality at Mayfel’s. Though surrounded by mountains, we enjoyed a lunch of shrimp po-boys, gumbo, and fried catfish that tasted as if it came straight out of the bayou. And the beignets… oh the doughy fried sugary goodness!

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After a bit more meandering and a tasty craft brew for Andrew, he indulged my inner book nerd once more with a visit to Asheville’s infamous Malaprop’s Bookstore. This local landmark has become a mecca for book-lovers and talented authors from around the world. So I was excited to score a signed copy of This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by one of my new favorite authors, Ann Patchett.

Though I could have happily stayed and read the evening away, the sunny skies and fresh mountain air beckoned us outside again. It was too late to soak in the beautiful weather with a hike, but just the right time to take it all in at an urban beer garden.

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Our lunch waitress suggested we visit the new and little known Ben’s Tune Up. This gem of a find has risen from the ashes of it’s former life as an auto repair shop to become an eclectic bar, beer garden, and sake brewery – the perfect open space to gather with friends and share some Asian fare and ginger beer.

And let your patriotism shine…

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On the recommendation of, well everybody, we ended the night with dinner at the delicious Curate tapas bar. If you’re like us and don’t plan, know that you will likely be waiting for over an hour to score a seat. But the wait is well worth it, and since the restaurant texts when the table is ready, we used it as an opportunity to explore even more.

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The beauty of tapas style dining is the ability to try so many different dishes. From chorizo and clams to croquetas, none of our mini meals disappointed. And you just can’t go wrong when you finish the evening with homemade raspberry sorbet and lemon thyme ice cream.

Sunday morning we were up bright and early for our day at the Biltmore Estate.

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Since I had been pestering him for months about visiting America’s largest home, my sweet husband surprised me with tickets for Valentine’s Day.

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To fuel up for the trek through the 178,926 square foot house, we began with a bountiful brunch buffet at the Biltmore’s Deerpark Restaurant. There were more amazing options than we could even handle, so we waddled out full and happy.

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Once inside the house, the magic and majesty of the mansion that I remembered from childhood overtook me once more. The grandeur, the design, and the detail are the stuff of dreams.

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The vistas of the Blue Ridge mountains encircling the property are breathtaking.

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And a beautiful terrace to relax and enjoy the views doesn’t hurt the charm either.

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After winding up grand staircases, down sprawling hallways, and through tapestry laden living rooms, we emerged from the house slightly humbled. Though it’s nice to visit, the upkeep of such an estate, especially without many of today’s modern conveniences, seems downright daunting.

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As the early evening sun settled over the mountains, it was time to return to the real world. East Tennessee was calling and new adventures, including a new dog, awaited us back home.

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No matter how brief, the break and breath of fresh air that a weekend escape brings is always wonderful. I’ve returned to daily life rejuvenated and only slightly bitter that I wasn’t born a Vanderbilt…