In a strip of stores on Highway 61, a family of three spends hours each week working with curds and whey, making batches of blooming rind brie, raw milk cheddar, burrata and pimento cheese by hand.
It might not have been exactly what Heather and Pete Holmes were planning when they moved here nearly five years ago from Manhattan with their son Declan, but they were looking for a different life, and they say they've certainly found it.
In New York, the two were working in the retail and fashion world, living in a small apartment and feeling like they were missing out on a certain quality of life. They chose Charleston for its smaller scale. "But it's still a great city with culture, art and food," says Heather Holmes.
They soon connected with friends in Charleston and ended up partnering with Greg Tatis to purchase Charleston Artisan Cheesehouse from Jared Jones, who had set up a viable business with branding and cheese molds.
"It was a phenomenal place to step off from," says Pete Holmes, the primary cheese maker, who also works a full-time job so his family can afford health insurance.
Unfortunately, by the time the new partners took over, cheese production had stopped and the existing client base had wilted, so they had to build it back up. Eventually, the partnership ended unhappily, and the Holmes kept the cheeses, Tatis says.
While Pete mostly makes the cheese with the occasional help of his 13-year-old son, Heather does most of the selling, traveling to farmers markets and Junior League parties and delivering to restaurants and retailers.
In the past year, to recover from the partnership dissolving, the Holmes family has focused on making a lot of cream cheese. "Because we can make it today and sell it tomorrow," Pete says.
Cheddar and brie require longer aging in order to develop flavor.
They also started marketing their Fromage Frais to chefs like Nico Romo at NICO and Travis Grimes at Husk. "It's like chevre," Pete says. "It's light and airy with a nice tang."
For the holidays, they've been selling Le Creuset crocks with flavored baked brie — cranberry and pecans, sun-dried tomato and pesto — and are working on ways to get fresh curds into chefs' hands for poutine and other creative applications.
"In the next six months, I hope to be able to make cheese full time," says Pete, who says they have room to double, even triple their current cheesemaking capacity.
When that time comes, they'll be ready to transform the front of the shop into an actual Charleston Artisan Cheesehouse retail store with a variety of locally made artisanal products for sale, not just cheese. Until then, you can purchase their products online or at your favorite farmers market.