Jennifer Perkins in the owner of Looking Glass Creamery, located just outside of Asheville. She crafts cheese using milk from local dairies and has a devoted following comprised of local chefs, wholesale customers and tailgate market fans.
I knew from when I was very young that I wanted to be a farmer. I wanted to work with livestock and get my hands dirty, but I convinced myself it wasn’t a realistic option for a girl from the suburbs of Washington D.C. It took me 30 years to figure out that if I wanted to do it, I could and so I did.
Cheese is the ribbon that connects the farmland and seasons to the animal and farmer and—ultimately—to the cheese maker. It is work made real.
The more I explored cheese and its history and diversity, the more I became passionate about the craft. I love the historical concept of cheese representing the bounty of the harvest that is carried forward into the dark season of winter. I love that like wine, a complex cheese is different depending on what day you taste it.
I also find it amazing that the simplicity of milk can be transformed into so many different and delectable outcomes with small but significant changes in the process. All of those reasons and the opportunity to influence the process and make signature cheese lead me to become passionate about creating cheese.
At 30, I felt I knew what I wanted to do if I could just get out of my own way. I took the opportunity to apprentice at a goat dairy in Virginia. I worked there full-time for six months milking goats and making cheese. I didn’t get paid a dime and loved every minute of it. From that point on, I was hooked.
My husband and I had hiked a large section of the Appalachian Trail for our honeymoon in 1993. We loved the beauty of the southern Appalachians and the offbeat, but progressive, feel of Asheville, so we vowed to come back some day. My husband got a job in the area, and we moved here in 2000.
Plant, learn, grow, harvest, preserve, eat and share our bounty with friends and neighbors. Then buy what food we don’t grow from other local farms, friends and neighbors when we can.
We make a variety of cheeses, but specialize in mold-ripened, semi-soft cheeses. I think my interest in that style of cheese began in childhood when my mother would buy Brie on rare occasions for the arrival of special guests or for a party. That is when I first began to realize there was cheese and then there was really good cheese.
Our two signature mold-ripened cheeses are Early Bird and Ellington. Early Bird, a goat’s milk crottin, was named after an elderly neighbor named Ella Early who lived just down the road from us. She was a southerner to the bone, pragmatic and tough as nails, but quick-witted and kind, too. You never left her house without a sweet potato pie in hand. She called herself Early Bird, so we named our first cheese in honor of her memory.
Ellington is an ash-coated pyramid of goats’ milk named after Douglas Ellington, the famed architect of Asheville’s signature art deco buildings. The detail on the Ellington label, created by local designer Matt Palomares, was pulled from the architectural elements of the S&W Building in downtown Asheville.
We are different from other cheese making operations in the area in that we are strictly a creamery. We buy raw milk from other local dairies and transport it to our creamery for cheese making.
Historically, many small farms in Western North Carolina had dairying as a part of a diversified farming operation. Increased regulation and a trend towards consolidation and larger dairy farms forced many of small producers out of business or left them with no place to sell their milk.
With the emergence of artisanal cheese making in the United States, the return to local, small-scale dairying is more realistic. We hope to support the development of independent small dairies in Western North Carolina, which can supply us and other cheese makers in the area with great milk. The result is excellent cheese that reflects the character and complexity of the amazing place we call home.
We sell our cheeses through these Asheville stores: Greenlife, EarthFare, Laurey’s Catering, Merry Wine Market, Black Mountain Farmers Market Store, Hickory Nut Gap Farm Store, Troyers Amish Store and Trout Lily.
We also sell wholesale to a variety of restaurants including Red Stag Grill, Lexington Avenue Brewery, The Blackbird, Square 1 Bistro, Tupelo Honey and Rise N Shine Café.
Seasonally, we are also at the Black Mountain Farmers Market on Saturday mornings and the Flat Rock Tailgate Market on Thursday afternoons.
The diverse population found in Asheville is very supportive of local food and open to trying new and different foods. There are some amazing people on the front lines at places like Greenlife who are passionate about using and promoting local cheese and cheese makers.
We have gotten incredible support from local chefs who made it possible for us to survive our first year of business by ordering from us every week. The farmers and producers in this area have been a great support to us as well. Farms like Hickory Nut Gap and Highlander Far in Fairview really helped us get on our feet, welcomed us and encouraged us along the way.
It is exciting to be a part of Asheville’s food and farming scene because it is vibrant and growing. It is connected by people who are passionate about the land. They are interested in the source of their food and are willing to support and invest in their communities by buying locally. The Asheville community is also willing to pay a fair price for ethically raised meats, fruits, vegetables, and handcrafted cheese, breads, preserves and more.