Less Traveled 2010

Tracy Pou

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

Split Creek Farm: The world’s best in our own backyard

Posted 8/31/2010 11:39:00 AM

Good goat cheese is one thing. The world’s best? Well, that’s another. Yet, world-renowned goat cheese is exactly what’s being produced right here in South Carolina. Who knew? I sure didn’t, not until I visited Split Creek Farm during a recent trip to the Upstate.

Split Creek is located off Interstate 85 not far from Clemson. Tucked away in the woods of Anderson, it’s the kind of place that you might stumble upon if you’re lost, or totally miss if you’re not on a mission to find it.

As we turned onto the winding gravel driveway that leads to the farm, it wasn’t long before we saw a herd of goats lying lazily under a shade tree. Naturally, I was curious. What type of goat produces the world’s best cheese? What was it about these goats, in particular, that made them so special? After meeting Split Creek Farm co-owner Evin J. Evans, I realized the answer to that question had just as much to do with her as the goats.

Evans, a Clemson University graduate with degrees in animal science and nutrition, runs Split Creek Farm with Patricia Bell, an educator and folk artist. Evans began the farm about 30 years ago on just a few acres of land with three goats and a 1971 Datsun pickup truck that she used for everything from clearing the driveway to setting up fences on the property. Bell later joined the operation. Over the years, the two poured their hearts into the farm -- adding pastures, barns and animals. Their hard work paid off. Split Creek is now one of the largest farmstead operations on the east coast and the oldest Grade A dairy in the area. At its peak, the farm had more than 750 dairy goats. Today, Split Creek’s herd, which consists of seven different goat breeds, averages about 350.

During our visit, Evans and a staff member took us on an abbreviated tour and shared the history of the place. Split Creek became a commercial Grade A dairy in 1985. Three years later, they started a small-scale cheese operation. As demand for domestic goat cheese grew, so did Split Creek’s production. By 1990, the farm had progressed from the original 4-gallon vat batches to the current 150-gallon vat operation.

Good goat milk comes from healthy, well-cared for goats. As we toured, it was obvious that Evans and the Split Creek staff are committed to taking care of their herd and producing natural dairy products. Each animal receives individual attention on a daily basis without the use of hormones to enhance milk production or the use of herbicides and pesticides in the goat pastures.

While there aren’t chemicals in the pastures, there’s definitely plenty of security there. The goats at Split Creek are protected around the clock by livestock guardian dogs. The dogs, Great Pyrenees, are beautiful, large and in charge. They make sure that unwanted visitors like coyotes, bears and even humans, stay out. They aren’t aggressive, but can be extremely protective when they think their goats are threatened.

In addition to the guardian dogs, three herding dogs also help out on the farm. Border Collies Peat, Twig and Boon take the goats in to be milked and move them from pen to pen. Then there’s Carolyn. I’m not sure what her job is on the farm, but the pot-bellied pig is certainly one of the biggest I’ve ever seen. During our visit, we found her sprawled out taking a sweet summer nap near the Hen House -- the gift shop that houses Bell’s beautiful folk art.

After poking around and checking out the farm animals, it was time to head into the main barn and gift shop to sample the cheese. I have to admit: I’m not a big cheese eater. But there was no way I was going to leave the farm without tasting the stuff that has made Split Creek famous.

First up on our taste test menu? Raw goat milk. Refreshingly cold, sweet and with no after taste, I couldn’t help but wonder why I hadn’t been drinking it all along. After the goat milk, we tried the moist and creamy Chevre logs, a light Fromage Blanc, flavorful Feta, rich goat milk fudge and goat milk yogurt. The dairy sampling left me with little wonder as to how Split Creek won top place for their Feta in the 2010 World Championship Cheese Contest, a competition that drew in more than 2,300 entries from 20 different nations. Their cheese is good stuff!

The cheese tasting was the last stop on our Split Creek tour. As we gathered our things and paid for the artwork that we picked up in the Hen House, several other visitors trickled into the barn. As Evans glanced their way, she told us that she still couldn’t believe how far her farm has come.

“I never thought I’d live long enough to see people coming down my driveway wanting goat cheese,” she said. Given the quality of their products and their devotion to farming and caring for their goat herd, I’d say Split Creek’s driveway will be filled with many visitors for years to come.

And if you can’t make it to Split Creek, their cheese is available at many gourmet markets and specialty grocers statewide, including Whole Foods and Earth Fare. You also can order from the website.


If You Go

Visitors are welcome at Split Creek Farm’s two shops. The retail store sells cheese, fudge, soap milk and other locally produced items. The Hen House offers folk art and other gifts and collectibles. Both shops are open Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Tours of the farm are available by appointment. They cost $5 per person and last between 1 to 2 hours. A minimum of 10 people is required to schedule a tour. Call (864) 287-3921 for more information or see www.splitcreek.com .

Split Creek Farm is located at 3806 Centerville Road, Anderson.