N.C. Artisan Cheese Operation Grows with NCVACS Award

Chuck and Janet Moore are the owners of Honey Mountain Farm near Mt. Ulla, N.C., where they raise a family, grow fresh produce and process artisan cheeses. They acquired the farm in 2003, and in 2009 began construction of a 6,000-square-foot farmstead cheese-processing facility on the property. In 2012, Honey Mountain Farm continues growing its cheese-production operation thanks in part to the N.C. Value-Added Cost Share Program (NCVACS).

Coordinated by N.C. MarketReady, NCVACS awarded Honey Mountain Farm $22,000 to help the business apply for and secure a USDA Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG). NCVACS funds helped Honey Mountain offset the costs of the VAPG planning and application process, such as those incurred by professional grant writers and feasibility study consultants.

Rick Parker (second from left), Mary L Farm, and Chuck and Janet Moore (far right), co-owners of Honey Mountain Farm, received a USDA-VAPG grant from (far left) N.C. director for rural development, Randy Gore, and (second from right) under secretary for rural development, Dallas Tonsager, with assistance from the N.C. Value-Added Cost Share Program.

Ultimately, Honey Mountain Farm was awarded $120,000 in USDA-VAPG funding, which will help fund working capital expenses from the cheese-production operation. The facility will also include space for a retail shop, which could employ as many as eight people. A windowed hallway will allow visitors and school tours to view the cheese-making process and goat milking in action. The capacity of the facility will allow for the annual production of approximately 36,000 pounds of goat cheese and 50,000 pounds of cow cheese.

NCVACS is coordinated by N.C. MarketReady, the Cooperative Extension outreach of the N.C. State University Plants for Human Health Institute, located at the N.C. Research Campus. Funded by the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund Commission, the cost share program was launched in 2009 to encourage more North Carolina producers to apply for federal funding and to generate more competitive applications.

The vision for the new dairy materialized when Chuck Moore met Rick Parker, a fourth generation dairy farmer just down the road in Rowan County. Parker owns and operates Mary L Farm, North Carolina’s first certified organic dairy farm, in Mt. Ulla. Having taken ownership of the farm in 1998, Parker had experienced the volatility of the dairy industry and wanted to find more stability for his family farm than could be obtained in the Grade A, fluid milk market.

Together, Moore and Parker came up with an idea to pursue a new artisan cheese venture, one that would leverage their existing resources and help them to expand. Moore (with his goat milk) and Parker (with his cow milk) will operate the dairy facility under a shared arrangement, with each farm being responsible for the branded sales of the cheese produced from their milk. All milk used in the cheese-making process will be produced by the respective farms.

Parker believes, “If you’re going to put a new product on the market, it needs to be different from what’s already on the shelf.”

Producing artisan cheeses will set them apart. The artisan label indicates no shortcuts have been taken in small-scale cheese production.

“Many consumers don’t realize that powders and imported milk protein concentrates (MPC) are used in the production of many commercial cheeses,” says Parker. Artisan cheese typically commands a premium of 20 to 60 percent over commodity cheese prices.

A large space in the facility will be devoted to cheese storage. Aging is an important part of the cheese-making process and this storage ability is a unique quality among dairy products.

For more information on Honey Mountain Farm:
335 McNeely Road, Mt. Ulla, N.C. 28125