In North Carolina’s High Country, a thriving agricultural community provides fine artisanal products to residents and visitors alike. These are sold primarily at farmers markets, but farm tours can usually be arranged in advance. Here are some of our favorite finds.
This goat dairy, set on a five-acre family farm on Bailey Mountain, sells handcrafted cheese. Started in 1999 by husband-and-wife team Chris and Jeff Owen, Spinning Spider offers a variety of fresh chevre, including garlic, rosemary, fig and seasonal cranberry, as well as a number of aged cheeses, including a tomme, a bleu and a feta. I highly recommend the flavorful, milky Camille, Spinning Spider’s version of a Camembert. If you are a fan of Cowgirl Creamery’s Humboldt Fog, you’ll naturally gravitate toward the Stackhouse, a square loaf-shaped bloomy cheese with a layer of ash through its center.
Spinning Spider Creamery
4717 East Fork Road, Marshall, NC 28753. Tel. (828) 206-5509
Initially started as a hobby by Steve Tatum in 2003, this terraced mountain vineyard is in a beautiful location at the base of Grandfather Mountain along the Watauga River. It eventually opened its doors as a commercial winery in 2011 and now makes delicious wines (the whites are superior). This family-run operation (Tatum’s son is now the winemaker) is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon in an Adirondack chair beside a bubbling brook, glass of wine in hand. Take note of the endearing labels of the owner with his beloved dog, which grace the Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel bottles.
Grandfather Vineyard and Winery
225 Vineyard Lane, Banner Elk, NC 28604. Tel. (828) 963-2400
This family-run farm perched on a hill sells baked goods and organic produce, but we went to try the unpasteurized raw honey. Bee yards scattered around the area produce a delicious wildflower honey, with the taste and color depending on the season. I was intrigued by the hard-to-find sourwood honey. The sourwood tree, also called the lily of the valley tree, grows primarily in the southeast United States and blooms for about only 25 days from mid-June to late July, when few other plants are flowering. To produce this unique, tangy honey, careful beekeeping is necessary to prevent dilution of the sourwood with other nectars. Sourwood honey is unlike any we have tried before and memorable for its hints of anise, caramel, maple and cinnamon.
Faith Mountain Farm Honey
489 Big Laurel Road, Creston, NC 28615. Tel. (828) 406-8172
Steve Bardwell bakes European-style breads that are crunchy on the outside and soft and airy on the inside. His classic breads use only three ingredients: hand-ground, organic unbleached flour; well water; and Celtic sea salt. His 70-acre farm outside Asheville has been in his wife’s family since the 1800s and over the years has been used to grow tobacco, cultivate corn and raise cattle; it is now under a forest preservation program. The history of the estate and the craft techniques Bardwell employs to make his wood-fired breads ensure this a worthy stop. The asiago ciabatta was outstanding, as was the classic French sourdough.
Wake Robin Farm Bread
472 Teague Road, Marshall, NC, 28753. Tel. (828) 683-2902
This craft brewery shares a tasting space with Calaboose Cellars, the smallest freestanding winery in America. Though it is off the beaten path (the town of Andrews is about an hour and a half west of Highlands), the setting is delightful and the staff are welcoming and friendly. We enjoyed a tranquil afternoon on the brewery’s rock-yard patio, imbibing a hoppy Third Cut Pale Ale. Live music is offered throughout the summer. Those who don’t care for beer should head to the Calaboose Cellars tasting room, a stone building that once served as the town’s first jail. Though the wines were too sweet for my taste on the whole, I did enjoy the crisp white Seyval.
Andrews Brewing Company
565 Aquone Road, Andrews, NC 28901. Tel. (828) 321-2006
Doug Munroe began tapping a few maple trees on his 25-acre property in 2006, and over time he established a full-fledged commercial maple syrup operation with the help of his daughter, Wheeler. This family-run enterprise uses a gravity-fed system of about 450 taps to collect the sap from hundreds of trees. You can call in advance to arrange a tour of the sugarhouse, which was built in 2010. It takes about 55 gallons of sap to make a single gallon of syrup at Waterfall Farm, so the production each year is very limited. We purchased a bottle at the Ashe County Farmers Market, and the taste was superior to any syrup we’ve tried since visiting a sugar shack outside Montréal a few years ago.
Waterfall Farm Maple Syrup
Tel. (336) 385-6507