Consider this plan for your next South Carolina vacation: Eat your way across the state. Stop at a rice or tea farm. Buy a warm bag of boiled peanuts at one of the many stands dotting our scenic backroads. Plan to pick your own juicy strawberries or stroll through a fragrant peach orchard.
Savor the piquant flavor of blue cheese made onsite at Clemson University or treat yourself to a wedge of manchego or Gouda from one of South Carolina’s acclaimed cheese producers. Feast on shrimp or fish fresh from our coastal waters or add ready-to-cook crabcakes to your cooler to prepare at home. And don’t you dare leave without snagging a bag of stone-ground heirloom grits, meal or flour straight from a mill.
Here are some suggestions to get you started on an “Eat Your Way Across the State” adventure:
Happy Cow Creamery
At Happy Cow Creamery in Pelzer, farmer Tom Trantham said top sellers are milk, butter and cheeses. His customers love his whole milk, strawberry and chocolate milk, and buttermilk. In addition to all pure cream butter, Happy Cow sells more than 70 varieties of cheese, and recently added sour cream and cottage cheese.
He said it's what his cows are fed that make them happy.
"It starts at the soil, and here's a little saying we like: ‘Don't worry as much about what you eat as what you eat eats.’ We haven't used any chemicals or chemical fertilizer on our farm in over 21 years."
The store on his farm also carries products from neighboring farms: free-range chickens and eggs, lamb, pork, as well as ground chuck and sirloin. And don’t miss the ice cream that comes in tons of flavors, including banana pudding, blueberry cheesecake and peach. Dairy tours are offered on select days from late March through November, weather permitting.
Just outside Columbia, country-style hams, bacon and sausage are the specialty of Fork Oaks Farm Country Store. The Mathias family has been in the farm business for about 80 years, Fred Mathias said, and orders are shipped to every state. Visitors to the country store can get a taste – literally – of the way life used to be.
"We think we have something a little bit unique, the old-style products that we process the old-time way," Mathias said.
The store also carries jams, jellies and candies, as well as in-season produce from nearby farms.
At McLeod Farms in McBee, sweet, fat strawberries draw the crowds each spring. During the season, you can pick your own or buy them pre-picked.
But the peach is the queen of this farm, where the fruit is grown on 1,000 sweeping acres. In fact, South Carolina grows about one-fourth of the country's fresh peaches, according to the S.C. Peach Council. The season runs from late May through August.
McLeod Farms operates a bustling roadside market year-round. In addition to produce in season, shelves are filled with jarred products such as peach salsa and preserves, homemade peanut butter and sweets. The aroma of breads, pies, cookies and other sweets made fresh in its bakery fills the air. For the perfect accompaniment, add a scoop of homemade peach ice cream on the side.
Like several other farms in the state, McLeod also offers seasonal festivals throughout the year, including a strawberry festival in May, a peach festival in July and a fall festival in October. An antique museum is open daily except holidays and features antique farm equipment and cars.
Carolina Plantation Rice
In the 1700s and 1800s, rice was South Carolina’s No. 1 crop. But war, the end of slavery and a series of hurricanes marked the end of a dark chapter in our history as well commercial rice production. In 1997, rice cultivation made a comeback on a Darlington County farm near the banks of the Great Pee Dee River. That’s where farmer Campbell Coxe produces the Carolina Plantation brand of rice in varieties like jasmine, brown, Charleston Gold, and the renowned Carolina Gold, the original heirloom rice that once flourished in the Lowcountry.
Plumfield’s comptroller, Harold Kelly, described the plantation's "farm gate-to-dinner plate" approach to farming.
"We plant it, we nurture and water it, we raise it, we harvest it and dry it down, mill it, bag it, and it's ready for sale," he said. "No third-party people allowed. It's all done on the farm."
Some Carolina Plantation varieties are prized not only for taste and texture, but for the smell factor as well.
"Our aromatic rice smells and tastes like popcorn or roasted nuts," Kelly said. "We have a lot of folks who call it the ‘popcorn rice.’"
Also grown on the farm are corn, which is ground into grits and cornmeal, and cowpeas, perfect for traditional SC dishes like hoppin' john.
While the farm is not staffed for tours, people do stop in at the office to buy the Carolina Plantation products. Call (843) 393-1812 to make sure the office is open. Carolina Plantation products also can be found at retailers across the state, or you can order directly on the Carolina Plantation website.
Charleston Tea Garden
Drive the mossy oak lanes of Wadmalaw Island (20 miles south of Charleston) to find the Charleston Tea Garden. Here, Camellia sinensis plants are grown to produce two brands: Charleston Tea Garden and American Classic Tea – the official tea of the White House. The teas are carried by retailers in 17 states and online and can be purchased onsite at the garden’s gift shop.
Visitors to the 127-acre farm are treated to all-you-can-drink cups of hot or iced tea and a self-guided tour of the factory to learn about the history of tea agriculture in this country. As it happens, that history began right here in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. Go deeper into the experience by purchasing tickets for a trolley tour of the fields.
In the gift shop, you will find all nine of the operation’s tea flavors, including Charleston Breakfast, Peachy Peach, Carolina Mint, Charleston Breakfast and Rockville Raspberry. Pick out a cup or pot for a pretty but functional souvenir of your visit.
Share the flavor
Once you’ve completed your eating tour and returned home with your finds, plan a gathering to showcase the state’s rich bounty and impress your friends with an unforgettable, all-South Carolina dinner!