By Brian Adornetto

Tucked away in the heart of Orange County’s old dairy country, is Chapel Hill Creamery. It is part dairy farm, part cheese making facility, and part sustainable business model. Oh, and the product? Totally delicious.

What began nine years ago as just a dream and a love of cheese has turned into a successful, yet unpretentious agricultural operation. Portia McKnight and Flo Hawley’s business partnership is the result of their coincident employment at Wellspring Grocery, and later, Whole Foods.  Their positions at these fine retailers fostered a deep appreciation for great cheese and cheese making. They delved into the bovine world in order to determine which breeds’ milk made the best cheese. They also studied the dietary necessities of the cows, how they were raised, and which climates best suited them. Finally, they studied the processes used to make the cheeses they loved, and in 2001, Portia and Flo were ready to “set up shop”. They purchased 37 acres of land in Chapel Hill’s “dairy land” and put their new knowledge to use.  

Today, there are 26 Jersey Cows (chosen based on their reputation for rich milk and ability to withstand North Carolina’s climate) to provide the milk for all of Chapel Hill Creamery’s cheeses. Unlike many businesses these days, they never outsource milk. These renowned cows feed on a rotation of 30 paddocks featuring a special blend of grass that is planted just for them. They graze twice a day, each time in a different pasture. This allows the cows to eat the most nutritious part of the grass while enabling the grass to regenerate before the pasture is needed again. Portia and Flo developed this intensive rotational grazing system to ensure that the cows have access to high-quality grass during their March-December milking season. And yes, the cows do provide the grass with the natural fertilizer that is spread out on the pastures.

Chickens and pigs are also raised on the farm. The chickens offer a natural way to keep the fly population in check as well as provide the owners with fresh eggs. The pigs feed on whey, the byproduct of cheese making. There is no waste at this farm! Additionally, Flo and Portia have been adding solar panels to provide green energy for the cheese making facility, furthering their goal of keeping their carbon footprint to a minimum.

One of the Creamery’s most popular cheeses is its fresh mozzarella which comes in half pound balls, one pound logs, and cherry sized “Ciliegine”. Other popular choices are New Moon (a buttery, semi ripened cheese with a bloomy rind), Asiago (a hard, aged cheese), Hickory Grove (the raw milk, washed rind, aged, meltable cheese), Farmer’s Cheese (a refreshingly tangy, salt brined cheese), and Carolina Moon (a spreadable, French style cheese). They also produce wonderful feta and camembert.

The farmstead’s fundamental principal is summed up with a single question: What is your proudest accomplishment over these last nine years? Their answer is simple; “Raising cows that are healthy and happy while improving the quality of our land.”

You can support their admirable mission by purchasing Chapel Hill Creamery Cheeses at Whole Foods Markets nationwide.

Want to try making your own cheese? Click here.

About Chef Brian Adornetto

Brian Adornetto is a professional chef, culinary instructor, freelance food writer, and food editor for the Raleigh Downtowner. For more information on Brian, please visit his website,