Our story begins back in the year 2000, in the Piedmont region of our home state, North Carolina. With over 20 years experience in the food-retail industry, we decided to follow our passion of cheesemaking. But not just cheesemaking. We wanted to make cheese from the milk of our very own herd of cows. So by 2001, after acquiring a herd of 9 Jersey cows and beautiful pastures close to Chapel Hill, we were selling our very first batch of handcrafted artisan cheese at our local farmers’ market!
We now milk 30 Jersey cows. But why Jerseys? In addition to their beautiful eyes, they produce rich, creamy milk and can handle our hot North Carolina summer climate well. Each cow has her own distinct personality and we name each one! We ensure a low-stress environment for our cows – their comfort and well-being is paramount: Good pasture access and proper handling of our calves and adult cows help to keep our herd healthy and happy. Grass is a primary food, supplemented by grain and hay for good nutrition. We grow a mixture of cool and warm season grasses in order to maximize the number of grass days per year, and we practice an intensive rotational grazing system: Moving our herd to different strips of pasture allows the grass to grow back to a height which is most nutritious for our livestock and improves the soil.
Our farm is Animal Welfare Approved which means we are certified to uphold the highest standards for animal welfare of any humane food certification program. AWA requires access to pasture or range for all animals. Producers must be family farmers.
We milk and make cheese year-round. We’re classified as a farmstead cheesemaking facility, meaning that we use milk only from our own herd and not from any other sources. Our delicious Farmhouse Cheese is hand-crafted in small batches, producing 6 to 8 different varieties from fresh to aged. You can find our cheese at our local farmers’ markets, retailers and restaurants throughout the state and a bit beyond. We also raise heritage-breed pigs on whey. Whey is a by-product of the cheesemaking process – it’s high in nutrients and gives the pork a tender texture. We sell our flavorful pork sausages at our local farmers’ markets.
If you visit our farm during the annual Piedmont Farm Tour, you’re sure to meet our ox, Fryer. Born right here at the Creamery, Fryer has been trained as working livestock and provides some low-impact labor on our land. Find out more about Fryer on his blog.
We’re proud to work with a small group of talented staff, who are dedicated to our animals and the cheese we make. We all share the values of sustainable farming, energy efficiency and the preservation of small farms and open spaces. But ultimately, it is the excellent health and happiness of our cows of which we are the most proud. We have a saying here on the farm: “Cows are mothers. Treat them with respect”.
Portia McKnight & Flo Hawley
Owners, Chapel Hill Creamery