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September 8, 2017
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Looking Glass Creamery begins construction of new facility

Photo courtesy of Looking Glass Creamery
A DAIRY DESTINATION — As Looking Glass Creamery expands into Polk County, North Carolina, the company aims to grow into a long-term, sustainable business that becomes an agritourism destination, says Jennifer Perkins, co-owner. Pictured, from left to right, are Alan Harmon, Harmon Dairy; Andy Perkins, co-owner, Looking Glass Creamery; Max Perkins, son of Andy and Jennifer Perkins; Jennifer Perkins; and Doug Harmon, Harmon Dairy.

Photo courtesy of Looking Glass Creamery

A FULL CHEESE LINEUP — Looking Glass Creamery’s washed-rind cheese, called “Chocolate Lab” (pictured above), is one of a range of cheeses offered by the company. It also carries Fromage Blanc in plain, garlic and dill, and coconut flavors, and Cheddar curds, a washed curd, Feta, Cheddar-style and Alpine-style cheeses.

By Stephanie Awe

COLUMBUS, N.C. — Construction on a second facility for Looking Glass Creamery, owned by husband-and-wife team Andy and Jennifer Perkins, has commenced. The facility will be located in Columbus, North Carolina — in the “agricultural heart” of Polk County — where it will fit well alongside numerous vineyards, wineries, vegetable operations and livestock farms in the area, according to Looking Glass Creamery.

The new facility will include a 2,100-square-foot production area and 1,600 square feet of aging caves, which will have areas for Cheddar and brining in addition to two other small rooms, Jennifer Perkins says.

The new facility will be located on Harmon Dairy, a second-generation cow dairy run by brothers Doug and Alan Harmon, according to Looking Glass Creamery.

Harmon Dairy is a 226-acre farm originally purchased in three parcels by Doug and Alan’s father in 1947. In 2013, the brothers placed the farm, as a whole, under an agricultural conservation easement to keep it intact so that it could not be subdivided and would be protected from development in perpetuity.

The Harmon brothers were committed to seeing the farm continue as a working farm after their retirement and felt that adding on-farm processing of the milk into cheese was a viable way to accomplish that goal, Looking Glass Creamery says. Meanwhile, Looking Glass Creamery had been looking at expansion options for two years, trying to find the right location for their vision and growth.

During construction, the Harmons have agreed to mentor the Perkins on the farm, training them on daily operations of the milking parlor and in pasture and herd management. They will continue to own and operate the dairy until the creamery is operational; once the construction is complete and cheesemaking at the new facility has commenced, Looking Glass Creamery will take over all dairy operations.


“We feel so fortunate that the Harmons have the vision, patience and commitment to the land and their broader
community to protect this farm and find a way for it to grow with respect for the past but with an eye
to the future.”

Andy Perkins
LOOKING GLASS CREAMERY


“We feel so fortunate that the Harmons have the vision, patience and commitment to the land and their broader community to protect this farm and find a way for it to grow with respect for the past but with an eye to the future,” Andy Perkins says.

Natural Capital Investment Fund — a business loan fund that provides debt financing to small and emerging businesses — is providing the funds for the construction of the new cheesemaking facility, according to Looking Glass Creamery.

The new facility will help the creamery expand production and improve its affinage. Currently, the company, which first opened in 2009 with a facility in Fairview, North Carolina, offers cow’s milk cheeses such as Cheddar, Alpine-style and washed rind, as well as a cow’s milk-based caramel sauce. With the expansion, the company plans to produce ice cream and refine its cheese offerings, Jennifer Perkins says.

The company, while currently producing a softer, creamy Blue cheese — Green River Blue — on a “very” small scale, also plans to expand Blue production for wholesale and add a new, more crumbly Blue variety to its lineup.

“Bloomy rinds and Blues are my favorite cheeses,” Jennifer Perkins says, noting that the company plans to dedicate one cave to Blue production at the new facility.

In addition, the creamery expects to offer three rotating varieties of ice cream, including vanilla, chocolate and one flavored option that would change seasonally based on the fruits and ingredients available locally.

“We are going to keep ice cream really simple to start,” Jennifer Perkins says, noting that it would only be available at its retail locations.

Currently, Looking Glass Creamery is utilizing milk from Harmon Dairy for its products and will continue to use this milk once the new facility is complete. In the future, the company may add a goat’s milk supplier as well, although it is still uncertain as the creamery currently is focusing on refining and expanding its cow milk production, Jennifer Perkins says.

Looking Glass Creamery started out making only goat’s milk cheeses — some of which previously received accolades at the Good Food Awards as well as the American Cheese Society Competition. The company transitioned to cow’s milk due in part to purchasing Harmon Dairy, but Jennifer Perkins adds that the creamery had some challenges sourcing goat’s milk reliably at an affordable cost.


“Our goal is to build a great company with
longevity that is a
responsible steward of the land and can share the experience of dairy farming and cheesemaking with their community and visitors.”

Jennifer Perkins
LOOKING GLASS CREAMERY


“If and when we return to goat milk production ... it would only be on a very small scale and not go into the distribution chain but sold direct,” she says. “We would do this by starting our own small herd or encouraging a small dairy to get started up near us that we could buy goat milk from.”

With the expansion, the company also plans to host culinary events and dinners that are centered around the farm, the dairy and the cheese made on the property, and visitors will be able to see the production floor through a plate glass window. It also will help the company tell the story of the farm and its cheeses from the cow to customer, the Perkins say.

Renovations have begun at the creamery’s existing location in Fairview as well, which will offer more retail and foodservice options as well as improved parking. Once construction of the new facility is complete, production will move from the original facility to the new facility, and the original facility will offer expanded hours of operation with an enlarged retail area, additional seating, light foodservice and a small classroom space.

Perkins says the company is looking at options to connect the original facility to the new facility, such as offering classes and incorporating video streaming so that visitors can see into production at the new facility. She notes that she hopes to see a farm store eventually added to the new facility and that Looking Glass Creamery will become an agritourism destination.

“Our goal is to build a great company with longevity that is a responsible steward of the land and can share the experience of dairy farming and cheesemaking with their community and visitors,” Perkins says. “We want to build a company where people love to work and they believe in the vision of the farm and our products as much as we do.”

The company, which plans to hire eight new positions in the next few years, is aiming to complete the new facility by the end of the year.

“We have been blessed with this opportunity, but with that blessing comes a lot of uncertainty and new responsibilities,” Perkins says. “It is our customers, independent restaurants and retailers that have made us successful over the past nine years. As we grow new roots in Polk County, we look forward to sharing the farm and the cheesemaking process with our long-time supporters and develop new ones in Polk County, Greenville and Charlotte.”

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