Tennessee’s Sequatchie Cove Creamery is turning out award-winners with a little help from neighbors near and far.
Sequatchie Cove Creamery may be the only raw-milk farmstead cheesemaker in Tennessee. Its cheeses are just as uncommon, reflecting the influence of the French Savoie region and other old world cheese traditions, combined with references to its Tennessee heritage.
Led by Padgett and Nathan Arnold, the creamery is part of Sequatchie Cove Farm, a 300-acre diversified operation just about 45 minutes west of Chattanooga. The farm includes woodlands, pasture, a heritage-breed beef, lamb and pork operation, poultry, and produce. Cheeses like Shakerag Blue, Dancing Fern, and Cumberland have won numerous awards and recognition and are sold in strong artisan cheese markets from coast to coast. The couple and their team milk a herd of around 45 cows which graze year-round on about 100 acres of managed pasture.
As our second-ever Potash Featured Artisan, Sequatchie will get some extra time in the spotlight in our gourmet cheese department at the State Street store. We will feature at least three of Sequatchie’s cheeses in coming months. We have started with Shakerag Blue, a cave-aged cheese wrapped in fig leaves that are soaked in 1816 Reserve (a small batch Tennessee Whiskey made by Chattanooga Whiskey) and Cumberland, a Tomme de Savoie-inspired cheese that launched the creamery in 2010. Dancing Fern, a delicate washed-rind inspired by the French Reblochon, has graced our cases a couple times in the last year or so, and we will have it back again as we highlight Sequatchie’s offerings. Nickajack, a semi-soft cheese washed with cider, will also be featured in the coming weeks.
The Arnolds have been connected to Tennessee agriculture (and horticulture) for a couple decades, but until launching the creamery, they had never raised and cared for dairy cows for a living. Nor had they made cheese commercially. It was their interest in continuing to work with another couple, Bill and Miriam Keener—the second-generation owner/stewards of the Sequatchie Farm property—that led them to consider starting the creamery.
“Nathan and Bill are both dreamers—big idea guys,” says Padgett who handles sales and customer relations for Sequatchie Cove Creamery. “We saw cheesemaking as something that would make the farm more sustainable for multiple families. We needed something that would be another value-added product, and we hit on cheese.”
The concept began to take shape around 2005 after Nathan Arnold had attended the Slow Food Terre Madre conference in Turin, Italy. Prior to the launch in 2010, Nathan travelled to the Savoie region of France, and worked closely with several cheesemakers as he learned the art and science of cheesemaking. As it was developed, and for some time after it launched, the creamery was a partnership owned by the Arnolds and the Keeners, but it is now owned solely by the Arnolds and the land is leased from the Keeners. Construction of the creamery facilities began in 2008 and included installation of a grid-connected solar array that provides all the electricity needed to power the creamery, with some surplus when conditions are ideal.
Along the way, Bill Keener educated himself on dairy farming, and at the outset he cared for the herd. The Keeners were familiar with cattle, which gave them a foothold in dairying. Padgett says her husband Nathan has a knack for networking, which led Sequatchie Cover to join the American Cheese Society, and that move helped them become connected to a few of the hundreds of cheesemakers in North America, many of whom started just as they did. And while they may be among just a small number of farm-based cheesemakers in the Southeast, the Arnolds feel anything but disconnected.
“As a creamery we have grown up with ACS being a big influence and a very important resource,” Padgett says. “We are not geographically close (to other members) but we have been in close communication with them and they have been very generous in sharing their experiences and the knowledge they have gained.” These cheese neighbors have included the not-so-distant Meadow Creek Dairy, in Galax, Va., Jasper Hill Creamery, in Greensboro, Vt. and even Cowgirl Creamery and Tamales Bay Foods, in Petaluma, Calif. The Arnolds are now using a larger cheese vat they acquired from Jasper Hill. Sue Conley, of Cowgirl Creamery has visited Sequatchie Cove Creamery, as Tamales Bay is helping to get the creamery’s cheeses to West Coast retailers and cheese lovers.
Please follow Potash Markets State Street on Facebook (and/or look for posted messages on our cheese case) to find out more about when the Sequatchie Cove cheeses will be available for purchase and for a heads up on related sampling events.