An Ashe County Christmas  

Travel

November 29, 2021



West Jefferson is the place to go for a choose-and-cut tree. Here’s how to make a full day of your tree-cutting excursion. 

by Page Leggett 

When I shared on Facebook a few weeks ago that I was in West Jefferson, a friend posted, “I’ve always wondered what that town looked like.” It was then that I realized, as many times as I’d passed the exit — a little past Blowing Rock and Boone on the road from Charlotte — I’d never wondered. 

I should have.

West Jefferson, formerly part of the “Creeper Trail” railroad line, packs a lot of charm into its 2.1 square miles. The Ashe County hamlet, incorporated in 1909, has a walkable downtown with shops, restaurants and bars and a cheese factory that can’t be missed.  

Ashe County is also the biggest Christmas-tree producing county in the United States, which is a good reason to get acquainted with West Jefferson this time of year. About 12,000 acres in the county are devoted to growing the ubiquitous holiday accessory. 

According to the Ashe County Christmas Tree Association, every Christmas tree sold in the county is produced on a family farm, so your purchase supports a family business. And since the average 8-foot tree takes more than a decade to reach that height, this is not a get-rich-quick scheme for farmers. But you don’t have to take Ashe County’s word for the caliber of its trees. Look to Washington, D.C., for confirmation: Eight of the White House Christmas trees, including this year’s 18.5-foot Fraser fir from Peak Farms in nearby Jefferson, have come from Ashe County, making it the biggest supplier of presidential Christmas trees in the U.S. 

The county’s tree website, ashecountychristmastrees.com, is the place to start your search. You can filter by tree type — Fraser firs are native to North Carolina and especially plentiful — and choose from among 10 cut-your-own farms. 

Plenty of Ashe County trees end up at retail lots in the Carolinas, but if you’re a DIYer, head straight for the source. 

If Ashe County is known for one thing, it’s Christmas trees. But if it’s known for two things, the second would have to be cheese. At its downtown factory on Main Street, Ashe County Cheese has been helping milk reach its higher calling since 1930. And while it is considered a can’t-miss stop on any West Jefferson itinerary, it literally cannot be missed: Three giant dairy cows — actually large milk tanks in the shape of giant Holsteins  — stand sentinel behind a split-rail fence and indicate you’re in the right place. 

Watch as cheese is made, and then cross the street to visit the shop for all manner of take-home cheeses. The usual suspects — your cheddars, your Parmesans — are there, but so are some specialty cheeses, including Mountain Gouda and Juusto with Jalapeno, described as a buttery-flavored cheese originally made in Scandinavia.

On Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the cheese truck is out and ready to fulfill all your dreams — if your dreams involve poutine, BLT melts and fried cheese curds. The shop also offers butter, meats (sausage, country ham, jerky), crackers, local honey and fantastic fudge made in-house.

Should you find yourself not in the mood for cheese (what?!), there’s a surprisingly good seafood place in West Jefferson, just a little off the beaten path. 

High Country Seafood’s motto is “Because you live above sea level doesn’t mean your food has to.” The specialty of the blink-and-you-could-miss-it seafood counter — lobster rolls (both Maine and Connecticut versions are offered) and lobster tacos — are served only on Fridays. 

Crab bites, po’boys and a scrumptious wood-smoked salmon sandwich are on the menu anytime. This is truly a seafood counter, so anything you order will be to-go. When I was there, several people were eating in their cars. I went ahead and joined them. When in West Jefferson …

High Country Seafood is just across the street from St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. Stop by the sanctuary of this early 20th-century church for a look at Ben Long’s artistry. Long grew up in Statesville, went to UNC Chapel Hill and apprenticed to an Italian fresco painter after a stint in the U.S. Marines. If his work looks familiar, you may have seen his murals inside Bank of America Corporate Center in uptown Charlotte. He painted his church frescoes — “Mary, Great with Child,” “John the Baptist” and “The Mystery of Faith” — in 1974, 18 years before the Bank of America commission. 

You won’t have to forgo good coffee (or tea, hot cocoa or hot cider) just because you’re in a small town. Bohemia Coffee offers an impressive array of coffee and tea drinks. Sweetness in a Cup brings together espresso, steamed half and half, cinnamon and raw sugar for an energy boost that’ll keep you going all afternoon. Seasonal drinks might include a turmeric chai latte, a frozen pumpkin concoction with salted caramel mousse, or a coconut macaron latte. The coffee shop also has a lovely selection of locally made pottery. 

Should you crave an adult beverage, head to Carolina Country Wines & Craft Beer for a selection of over 600 wines and 300 beers, with 20 taps.

Antique stores, boutiques, and art and craft galleries are plentiful downtown, and there’s not a chain store in sight. Downtown has, so far, managed to avoid becoming a Main Street filled with stores you can find anywhere.

West Jefferson is a “cut above” for Christmas trees. But if you go just for the tree, you’ll miss out on all the other charms. If you’ve ever wondered what West Jefferson looked like, December is the time to go.  SP

Over the river and through the woods: Actually, it’s just up Interstate 77 and a little over two hours from uptown Charlotte. Start the search for your perfect tree at ashecountychristmastrees.com. Check the cheese-making schedule at ashecountycheese.com. And find out what else is happening in town at visitwestjefferson.org. 

Intel of Your Wildest Dreams!

 

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