Unless you're on your way to Tallahassee, you probably have to go out of your way to get to Thomasville. It's a little town just north of Georgia's border with Florida, about 40 miles due west of Valdosta and I-75. And even though it was a bit out of my way when I was driving home from Florida with my family in early January, I knew I wanted to make my way to Thomasville for one reason: Sweet Grass Dairy.
You've probably heard of Sweet Grass Dairy's cheeses, but there's a good chance you didn't know that they operate a cute little cheese shop/wine shop/cafe in the historic heart of Thomasville. I had heard about the shop, but didn't know what to expect as we drove into town. The road from Valdosta is an immediate jump from the interstate into agriculture country, ringed by fields and farms, then mills and farm supply shops as you get closer to Thomasville. There's a brief stretch that makes clear that the area has seen better days, but then you hit Broad Street and the quaintness factor kicks in.
Call it preservation, call it gentrification, but whatever Thomasville is doing in its historic downtown is working. There are businesses that have survived through the decades, and newcomers that clearly came about in the past few years - a cool little coffee shop that roasts their beans on site, a boutique full of funky gifts attached to a trendy outdoor clothing store. And there's the Sweet Grass Dairy Cheese Shop at the heart of it all.
I expected plenty of cheese at Sweet Grass's shop, both local and not-so-local, but I wasn't prepared for the array of interesting wines from around the world by the bottle, or the nice selection of craft beers from around the country on tap, or even the wonderfully rustic but perfectly of-the-Southern-moment decor. It all makes you happy that you took that 40 mile drive off the highway onto a rural road.
After we chowed down on a platter of cheeses and charcuterie, my family and I briefly explored more of Thomasville's Broad Street. A funky gallery of local artists' work drew us in with colorful paintings and curious pottery. My wife and kids browsed a few shops while I headed down the street for an espresso and a bag of house-roasted coffee beans ("Bean Me Up Scotty Blend") from Grassroots Coffee, where a crowd of people much younger than me consumed large amounts of WiFi bandwidth along with their coffee. On my walk back to find my family, I hesitated in front of Billiard Academy Hot Dogs, pondering the pros and cons of downing a chili dog or two. Since 1949! It must be good, right? Had I had the time for a game of billiards and a beer in the smoky barroom, I just might have had two or three chili dogs.
Instead, we hopped in the car and headed up the road a good ten miles or so to Sweet Grass Dairy's cheese making facilities. It's not quite tourist-ready - the cows live on another farm down the road a bit, and the operation itself is basically a collection of small refrigerated rooms housing cheese in various stages of development from fresh milk to fresh cheese to aged cheese. I should warn you: if you want to actually purchase and taste anything, you need do that in town at the cheese shop. Out where they make the cheese, the main things you'll pick up are the extreme aromas of rooms packed with cheese and the healthy mold that makes it all happen.
After our impromptu cheese tour, we got back in our car, ready for the ride home to Atlanta along another stretch of country road. It seemed right to crack open a wheel of Sweet Grass Green Hill and a slice of Thomasville Tomme to enjoy on the trip. Our car was suddenly graced with the smell of south Georgia. And we were happy to be on a road less taken.
For your enjoyment, here are some "postcards" from Sweet Grass Dairy and Thomasville, Georgia:
Love pork belly.
Some food just doesn't photograph well, even if it is tasty.
Nothing wrong with grease on the walls if the burger is tasty.
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