If you enjoy watching talented crafters create
useful, artistic or edible products, Tennessee fills the bill.
Most of the places I visited on a recent
trip to Southeast Tennessee produced crafted items that the
artisan took great pride in showing off. The best thing about
all of these places is that they offer tours or allow visitors
so you can follow in my footsteps and visit them to see for
your thinking of "creative" to artists and crafters. It has a
much broader definition. Farmers create every day. At
Sequatchie Cove Farm,
owner, Bill Keener, explained his unique view of creativity. "We
look at our whole farm as creating solar energy. Each blade of
grass, like right now the sun is shining and photosynthesis so
what is going on is that photosynthesis is taking carbon out of
the air and creating energy and the cows come along and eat the
grass and we make cheese or create beef. To me each blade of
grass is a solar panel."
|Bill Keener presents some of his
award winning cheese
No wonder the
cheese he and his wife, Miriam, produce is the stuff of a
gourmet's dreams. It is produced from raw milk form the farm's
contented cows that are fed no antibiotics or growth promoting
hormones and graze on farmland and pasture that never sees
pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers. One of their
newer cheeses, Dancing Fern, has won third place from American
Cheese Society in the soft cheese category two years in a row.
Bill offered us a sampling of some of the farm's cheeses and I
was surprised many of the others had not won as well. They were
You can get
grass fed beef or pork and free range pork from the farm.
Another great way to enjoy Sequatchie Cove Farm is to visit
during berry season and enjoy their You-Pick Berries. They raise
blueberry and blackberry.
cheese crafter is
Sweetwater Valley Farm, owned and by the Harrison Family.
It's a dairy farm producing Farmstead cheese, meaning the farm
controls everything from cow to consumer. The farm, located near
Philadelphia, Tennessee gave us one of the most complete
dairy tours I have ever been on. From seeing the various
pastures and buildings where the cows live to the milking barn
where we watched the process form cow to truck. We visited the
special barn for the new mothers about to calf and met Belle,
one of the herding dogs. We even saw two hours-old baby calves.
|Some of Sweetwater Valley Farm's
visit be sure to taste the variety of cheeses they have
available. Also take a walk through dairy farming past and
present in their UdderStory exhibit.
If you are
lucky enough to visit when they are making the cheese, you can
watch through the glass wall. Mary Harrison, marketing director
and one of the family daughters, told us a little about the farm
history. It was begun by her parents in late 1980s as just a
fluid dairy. Her father, John Harrison, wanted to have more of a
people relationship. He
went to Wisconsin to learn cheese making. In 1998
Sweetwater Valley Farm started making cheese and opened the
present location in 1999. They are obviously doing something
right because in 2012 They were named IDFA's (Innovative Dairy
Farmer) Farm of the Year. They use about ten percent of their
milk to make the cheese.
goes to Mayfield Milk
which is another "Made in Tennessee" site open to visitors. It's
located in Athens. Scottie Mayfield, the fourth generation
involved with the plant, told us a little of the plant's
history, from its founding by his grandfather, T.B. Mayfield, in
1910 Through the family's decision to sell to Dean Foods. The
family is still very much involved in the business.
|Mayfield's iconic cow
reasonable tour price includes an ice cream and takes you
through all aspects of the production including making the
yellow jug that is such a recognizable Mayfield feature.
A visit to
Benton's Smokey Mountain
Country Hams makes you conscious of the skill and labor that
goes into creating an artisan food product.
|Thomas explains why Benton Hams
are so special
started the company almost by accident. He bought the business
in Madisonville in 1973 from Albert H. Hicks, a dairy farmer who
cured country hams. Allan, who had just realized his degree in
counseling was not what he wanted to do the rest of his life. He
thought of the ham curing business as a stop gap until he
decided what he really wanted to do. As he progressed, he
decided that creating hams and bacon cured or smoked as it was
done when he was growing up
was what he wanted to
guide, Thomas Williams, explained that the process mimics the
changing seasons as the ham progresses from a piece of pork to a
finished ham or slab of bacon just as the mountain people cured
hams for generations before refrigeration. Simple or not,
Benton's ham has become one of the celebrity chefs and high end
restaurants favorites. According to Chef John Malik, "Benton's
is perhaps the most famous, most sought after bacon and country
ham producer in the United States."
arrival of sudden fame after years of struggling Benton's Smokey
Mountain Country Hams suddenly found themselves in the position
where they could not fill all the orders that poured in.
Suddenly the food chains wanted to stock Benton's hams and
bacon. According to our guide, "That's not who we are. Allan
said, 'We want to dance with the one that brung us.' meaning
high end chefs and small mom and pop stores. We're not going to
triple our size and crank out millions of pounds. We're going to
keep it small so we can keep an eye on things."
us each a pound of their bacon to take home. I fixed some of
mine the very first day home and now my future grocery budget is
shot. I confess, I used to buy cheap bacon but after one taste
of the Benton's Bacon, I will never be satisfied with lesser
is named for
the Cherokee farmer, Tsali, AKA Charlie, who was executed in
1838 for trying to keep his people from being marched West on
the Trail of Tears.
Tsali was the inspiration for the play "Unto these Hills."
Tsali Notch Estate
is what is known as a farm winery near Madisonville. As a
farm winery they grow the grapes, in this case, Muscadine
grapes, and sell their product but do not make the wine
themselves. That part is contracted out.
|Hard to find a more scenic
location than Tsali Notch
alone makes a visit worthwhile. Acres of grapevines flourish
against a backdrop of the Smokey Mountains. A stately log
building is the tasting room and an beautifully restores farm
house was moved from an adjourning farm and reconstructed as a
event center and general lodge where guests can sit and relax
with a bottle of Muscadine wine.
J. D. Dalton, gave us some background."We started up in 2009and
now are the largest Muscadine vineyard in Tennessee with 202
acres all together and we are growing 35 acres of six varieties
of Muscadine." He is sold on Muscadine. "They have the highest
amounts of antioxidants of any fruit."
tasting, I can vouch for the fact they taste as good or better
than any other sweet wine you will taste.
You will find
lots of unique Muscadine products besides wine. Things like
Muscadine chow chow, Muscadine sweet onion, Muscadine salsa and
even a Muscadine pear apple jalapeno pepper butter. Events at
Tsali Notch run the gauntlet from concerts to Civil War
Reenactments to Muscadine Festival. You can also go and pick
your own Muscadines during season.
the beautiful Hiwassee River n the foothills of the Cherokee
National Forest, Is a family winery owned by Betty and Bruce
Davis. They also has some great Muscadine wine. It's their
specialty but they make a lot of other unique flavors. I fell in
love with the blackberry wine. Casey Davis, the owner's son was
handling the tasting when we arrived. He and his mom made us
feel right at home. It's that kind of place where everyone is
family. Casey explained why Savannah Oaks has some very unique
names for their wine like Ocoee Gold Sunset, Hiwassee Red Hussy
and perhaps the most interesting name, Cat Cat Party Crasher.
"When I was growing up and someone said 'wine' we thought of
either church or old people so we decided to make our names fun
|Savannah Oaks' Cat Cat Wine
He told me
the story behind the Cat Cat Wine name with a tear in his voice.
"Being raised on a farm cats and dogs just wander in. You don't
have to go pick them out. We don't give them names usually so we
don't get too attached. But that don't work. Several years ago,
a calico cat started hanging around. We took her in and just
called her Cat Cat. Cat Cat was the sweetest cat you ever met.
She was a great favorite. Visitors who came to the winery would
remember her name and not ours. She would pop up in every
wedding picture and event. She passed away the beginning of the
year and we all miss her so we named this wine in her honor."
Wine Stomp is a great time to visit but there is no wrong time.
This is a winery with not only great wine but lots of heart.
started as just an apple orchard. Chuck McSpadden told us the
story of his family orchard's beginnings as he droves us on a
trailer tour of the orchard. " My dad worked in a local Sears in
what was then called the 'garden department.' About 1964, my dad
bought two apple trees that were left over at the end of the
season. Eventually he got up to about 40 apple trees. He loved
fussing with them so my mom suggested he buy a few more. She
expected about 40. He bought 400. That was 1968"
|Nothing prettier than an Apple Valley Orchard apple
Valley has 45 acres with 27 varieties on around 1700 trees and
Chuck is planning on at least three or more varieties in the
next few years. Along with the orchard, they now expanded to
producing their own cider and other apple related products and
their new bakery will offer you some of their "almost famous"
Fried Apple Pie. Wow. It is tasty. It is just waiting for a few
of you to try it before it is considered "famous."
One of their
most popular products is moonshine jelly. They make it as a
basic apple jelly but add a few drops of moonshine whisky.
Naturally, cooking takes out the alcohol.
mill presses out
golden-taste-bud-tempters from mid-August through January. The
cider will be slightly different each week as they use a blend
and it varies depending what variety of green or golden is ripe
in the orchard that week. The blend starts with twenty five
percent Golden Delicious as red apples make it too sweet. Be
sure to try the apple cider slushy. I loved mine.
You can feel
safe eating the apples or drinking the cider as they try and
avoid pesticides. One story Chuck told relates to the worst pest
they need to control. "We've got some little white tags hanging
in the trees, our worst pest is the Codling Moth. Those tags put
out the we put those tags out in spring and early summer before
the trees bloom. They are filled with the scent of the female
Codling Moth. When the males hatch out the scent is so strong it
overloads their sensory system. They are so confused they can't
find a female to mate with and we don't have to chemically treat
thinks like that is my kind of guy.
everyone involved with growing things loves is the tiny honey
bee. At Appalachian Bee
in Ocoee, beekeeper, Diane Ravens, introduced us to her
little winged friends. Diane keeps an observation hive where we
could see what the bees are doing by opening a small trapdoor on
|Diane holding one of her bees
that the queen is the key to the operation. The queen has to
keep laying a steady stream of new bees as bees only live about
35 days. She said, "They literally work themselves to death."
She runs 50
to 100 colonies. local She provides hives to Chuck at Apple
Valley to pollinate his apple trees and to other local farmers
to pollinate their crop. Each type of plant the bees pollinate
create a different type of honey. Some of the crops such as the
apples do not produce any nectar to create the honey so she may
have to feed them some sugar water while they were there.
Besides honey Diane makes a lot of other products; honey butter,
flavored cream honey, sourwood comb honey, bees wax candles,
soap and so much more. She told us about propolis. Propolis is a
natural antibiotic that was commonly used before penicillin was
extraction kitchen is a model of efficiency. This is where she
removes the honey and creates her products. A visit to
Appalachian Bee will reward your sweet tooth in a healthy way.
healthy than honey but equally delicious sweet tooth treats can
be found at Bluff View
Art District, Chocolatier
Jerome Savin creates handmade chocolates blended with the
unusual. For instance, he uses some of Benton's bacon to create
a crunchy treat to die for. Michele Kephart, director of
marketing at Bluff View Art District, confided "Jerome loves
alcohol. He infuses it into as many of his truffles he can.
There is Jack Daniels, Creame de Mint, rum and every variety he
can think of in all sorts of dark and milk chocolates."
|Two examples of creative
sculpture The Grandfather
and in background is
Chocolatier Jerome Savin
Not only are
these creations delicious they are a work of art. You can view
him at work through a large picture window near The Grandfather
sculpture and sample his creations at
Rembrandt's Coffee Shop.
Roasting Company is another place to catch creative artisans as
work in Bluff View. Usually later in the day is the best time
but the burning smwll will tell you if they are hard at work
when you are there. They are located behind the Bocce Ball
Terrace across the street form the Sculpture Garden. which is
also filled with beautifully crafted works of art. If your nose
leads you there, step inside and if one of the
roasters is free, he
will explain the entire coffee roasting process. They sell their
unique blends to restaurants, grocery stores, hotels and of
course Rembrandt's Coffee House.
you might also peek in at the pastry chef, Eva Whitaker as she
creates some delicious treats for the local restaurants
By now you
might think I have been eating and drinking my way across
Southeast Tennessee and you would lonely be half right. I also
visited lots of other great places. One of which was
Lodge Cast Iron Store
in South Pittsburg.
Lodge Cast Iron factory, located just behind the store has
been in the business of making cast iron cooking equipment for
well over a century. Once a year during the National Cornbread
Festival in April, Lodge Factory opens its doors to allow tours
to the public. Of course you can visit the store year round to
get you favorite cast iron skillet, Dutch oven or other utensil.
unique products that are "Made in Tennessee" offer tours and
inside looks at their unique products. You just have to go visit
southeast Tennessee to enjoy them all.