Looking Glass Creamery continues to diversify in Columbus
There’s something about seeing where your food comes from that makes it taste better. A tomato is naturally sweeter when it’s plucked from your garden. A fish is never fresher than when you’ve spent the morning wrangling it in on your own line.
Environment affects flavor. Was that really the best schnitzel you’ve ever had, or was it just that you had it in that ski lodge on a hillside in the Alsace? There’s no question that wine tastes best when sipped during a stroll through the vineyard that produced it.
And so — could a cheese be any more flavorful than when you hear the cows responsible for it mooing in the distance?
Well, local Looking Glass Creamery’s fromage blanc, while always good, tastes superlative once you’ve finished hiking one of the trails on the creamery’s farm and have settled down for a picnic with a glass of site-made hard cider.
The latest venture from the well-established company is a fully realized agritourism destination, including dairy farm and store, at their new-ish location in Columbus, and it proves to be a prime way to spend an afternoon.
“We originally wanted to do an urban creamery in downtown Asheville, but we thought, if we do that, where is our milk going to come from?” says Jennifer Perkins, who founded the business with her husband Andy in Fairview in 2008. “But then the dairy farmer we were buying milk from was ready to retire, and he asked us, ‘Why don’t you buy this place?’”
Buying milk wasn’t unfamiliar to Perkins. After all, she’d started the creamery buying just 50 gallons of milk, and grew the business until they landed a contract with Williams-Sonoma’s Cheeses of the Southeast. “That really ramped it up for us pretty quick,” she says. But something about having their own animals to milk made more sense, even if it would change their entire business. “It was a big shift, but it’s really what brought me into cheesemaking. I love the animals and being around them, but we just didn’t have the room out in Fairview.
“When we made the leap to buying our own farm and milking our own cows,” she continues, “we really had to make a decision: Are we going to expand the cheese program and distribute throughout the East Coast, or continue to grow in place and stay within our boundaries?”
They spread their roots locally, and as Perkins explains, “Our cheese footprint hasn’t expanded greatly, but what we are making and what we are selling to people has.”
After buying the 226-acre Green Hill Farms in 2016, they shifted their production from mostly goat’s milk to cow’s milk, and began developing the farm for agritourism. “We were selling all of this jam, caramel, and pickles and we thought, ‘Well, why don’t we just make this?’” Skewing microlocal by tapping the area’s renowned orchards, in this case Creasman Farms in Hendersonville, “We decided to make hard cider, as well,” she says. They even experiment with those ciders, making strawberry and watermelon versions when apples are out of season. “It’s very small scale — the only place you can get [the cider] is at our two locations,” she notes. [The original cheese shop in Fairview remains open.]
The creamery started to make and serve ice cream in Columbus — a natural fit. But they didn’t stop there. Looking Glass next began selling their own farm-raised beef, butchered locally.
Despite all the diversification, it’s still mainly about the cheese. From outside the production facility, you can watch the crew make cheese behind big windows. There’s also a window peering into their largest cheese cave, where piles of wheels age to perfection.
“We have about 1,000 square feet of space under three feet of earth built into the hillside that insulates and keeps the cheese cool,” Perkins explains.
But it’s the outdoors that’s the draw. In addition to hiking trails, there’s space to spread out a blanket, sip a little cider, eat a cheese plate, and watch the cows wander the fields. “It’s a great place to just get out and let the kids run around. We have spectacular views of the mountains.” And she reveals: “We’ll eventually have live music and some educational programming around our garden.”
Looking Glass Creamery Farm Store, 115 Harmon Dairy Lane, Columbus. Open Thursday through Sunday, 11am-5pm. For more information, call 828-222-0751 or see lookingglasscheese.com.