Monday, October 21, 2013

Ashe County Cheese

According to CNN, macaroni and cheese is Number 31 on their list of Americans' favorite foods. I would think it is somewhere closer to the top of the list for American children--and for many adults I know. Americans do love their cheese. (I know I do!)

We had this in mind when we decided to visit a cheese factory during our recent family reunion. This old cheese factory, established in 1930 by the Kraft Corporation and it was a great place for adults and children to visit. We arrived around 10:30 am to watch the cheese-making process.

As we pulled up to the factory in downtown West Jefferson, North Carolina, we were greeted by three large cows that doubled as raw milk holders and greeters. (No, these are not Chick-fil-A cows!) I thought it was a very creative way to welcome visitors to the processing plant.

As we entered the plant, we saw the cheese being made through a large window and watched a video explaining the process.

One of the employees was stirring the curds and getting ready to pack them into round wheels--called daisy wheels. Most of what they make here is cheddar, but they also sell a few other varieties--mostly flavored cheddar. They also sell curds which are kind of like string cheese but more chewy with less flavor.

Sitting behind the employee stirring the vat of curds and whey with a big white shovel are the round daisy wheel molds, cleaned and ready to be packed with cheese.

After the cheese is pressed into the molds, they are dipped in wax and ready for aging and for the market.

Across the road is the gift shop. Apparently, over the years the cheese processing plant has changed owners a number of times and the shop and the plant are now owned by different people (no longer Kraft), working closely together to sell the cheese made there.

We really enjoyed watching the cheese-making process and tasting the cheese across the street, especially the cheddar. It was yummy. The fresh curds were not quite as good but it was nice to taste them. They wouldn't be something I would like on a regular basis.

In the shop, there were walls of jellies, jams, pickles, relishes and all kinds of things that team up with cheese to make it a great snack or meal.

Somewhere behind the processing plant, the wheels of cheese are aging. We didn't see that but we did see the video. I thought it was a great tour and would recommend it to anyone passing through that part of North Carolina. Also, this cheddar would make some Mac and Cheese that would make any American proud.

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