Chapel Hill Creamery Makes a Variety of Excellent Cheeses from The Milk of Grass-Fed Jerseys

By on September 28, 2011

Portia McKnight Explains the Milking Station

Portia McKnight and Flo Hurley never dreamed they’d end up herding a bunch of dairy cattle.  Sure, they’d worked at Whole Foods for twenty years.  Sure they loved great cheeses and knew they wanted to make them – heck they went to Canada to take lessons, but they didn’t start off thinking that they’d end up buying cattle.

They just thought maybe they’d help out the shrinking numbers of family dairy farms in North Carolina by making cheese. That was their original idea when they leased the land, they now own.

But, you know how these things go.  the more they learned about making cheese, the more they knew that if they wanted to control the cheese making process, they’d have to have their own cows. So they bought one.  But pretty quick they had 9 jerseys with 8 wild heifers, and they were awash in that rich jersey milk.

Well, on it went, and before you knew it, they had 55 cows.  55 cows who all have names, and special places in their hearts.  55 cows who are methodically moved from green pasture to green pasture, so that their grass fed organic milk will produce the richest, most voluptuous cheese possible.

Here’s a podcast that shows you the gorgeous cattle and lets them tell you, in their own words, how they make cheese.

Portia McKnight and Flo Hurley talk over their dairy business.

Chapel Hill Calves Come Every Sprint

To get milk, those cows have to give birth to calves, and so, then they learned why they wanted what is known as a “closed herd”.  That means they don’t buy cattle,  they raise cattle,  using artificial insemination (AI), and of course,  once in a while,  they get little bull calves.

So what do they do with the little bulls? Well they teach them to pull a plow, to enter into contests, and to be there for entertainment.  Yes, Portia and Flo, along with their manager, Allison Sturgill, have fun with those cows and bulls as well as making stupendous cheeses.

Allison Sturgill Manages the Little Bulls

If you want to know more about the lives of their little bull calves, the calves have their own blog, Breis & Fryer – Blog.

Now don’t go thinking you can find this cheese at Zabar’s or Bloomingdale’s. No. Its a local cheese.  It’s sold in and around Chapel Hill, North Carolina in stores and is found in local restaurants. They’re making a big push this year to extend their market to the far reaches of North Carolina, but they have no wish to sell their products much further.  Too bad for us.

Among the varieties they make are Carolina Moon, a camembert, Thunder Mountain Swiss, New Moon, Hickory Grove and their pride and joy, an Asiago cum North Carolina they call Calvender.  They’re all great. Watch the podcast. You’ll learn lots more about Portia and Flo’s dream.

Chapel Hill Creamery
615 Chapel Hill Creamery Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27516
919 967 3757 (also the home number)
Portia McKnight, Florence Hawley (Flo)

Tours by appt – we spend most of our time milking cows and making  cheese and therefore can’t accommodate unannounced visitors – tours are $75 including a sampling of our cheese.

Primary sales outlets are the Carrboro and Durham farmers’ markets – Saturday mornings year round and Wednesday afternoons seasonally (check market websites)  Also sold at specialty foods stores and  restaurants throughout NC, and they are beginning to sell at other locations in the Southeast.

Photography by Linda Eckhardt

About Linda Eckhardt

Linda West Eckhardt, is an award winning journalist, food writer, and nutritionist. Her more than 20 cookbooks have garnered prizes including the James Beard prize for the best cookbook for a text she wrote with her daughter, Katherine West DeFoyd, entitled Entertaining 101, Doubleday. Their follow-up book, Stylish One Dish Dinners, Doubleday, was also nominated for a James Beard prize. Their next book, The High Protein Cookbook, Clarkson Potter, remains a best seller after 12 years. That book was designed to accompany low carb diet plans. Her ground-breaking book, Bread in Half The Time, Broadway Books, was named the Best Cookbook in America by the prestigious IACP, The Julia Child award. Her award winning radio work with Jennifer English, for a national show on the Food and Wine radio network, was nominated for a James Beard Prize for a show called, “I Know What You Ate Last Summer.”