Autumn cues the emergence of a subterranean kingdom. As misty, cooler air settles in, trees shed their leaves, carpeting the forest floor in shades of ochre and umber, to be pierced by the rising fruit of the underworld. Professional foragers, citizens, and adventurous chefs alike take to the woods to harvest nature’s bounty: the incredible, edible mushroom.
Thirty-six gallons a year. That’s how much hard apple cider the average adult drank during the American Colonial era. Children drank theirs watered down in a beverage called ciderkin. Shortly after explorers planted their stake in the ground in the New World, English and French colonists planted apple trees. Within decades, thousands of different apple varieties flourished in the colonies. Each variety was carefully chosen for its role on the farm, on the table, and in the kitchen.
Everyone needs a happy place. That destination where we go—whether mentally or physically—for a reprieve from the everyday, where we hit the pause button on our routines, where we retreat, relax, and get centered again. For James Beard Award-winning Chef Frank Stitt and his wife and business partner, Pardis, that place is Paradise Farm.
“Cheese around the curve” forecasts a small, hand-lettered wooden sign on the side of US 221 North in Marion, North Carolina. Sure enough, just around the bend sits a petite red building with rockers beckoning from the front porch. This is the headquarters of English Farmstead Cheese, my first stop on the Western North Carolina Cheese Trail, a group of ten (the number fluctuates as new members are added) cheesemakers dotting the mountains of Western North Carolina from Robbinsville to Waxhaw.