By Mike Steely
There are lots of things to see and do within a short drive from Knoxville with historic sites, museums, parks, lakes and mountain scenery aplenty. There are also lots of places to eat and some very special places that not only have tasty fare but are also interesting and even historic.
Leaving Knoxville you can easily drive down Kingston Pike or take I-75 to Loudon and drop in at the Tic Toc restaurant on the corner downtown. After that you can follow Lee Highway southwest and spend time at Sweetwater Valley Farm, where they make their variety of cheeses in view of visitors, and now they even have a cafe featuring different cheese sandwiches.
You can take a tour and see how their cows are milked using the latest technology where eight robots milk 500 cows. Only 20 people are allowed on each tour which generally lasts one hour.
The farm was part of a Revolutionary War land grant to General William Ballard Lenoir, for whom Lenoir City is named. It became a dairy farm in 1917 and John and Celia Harrison purchased an interest in the dairy farm in 1987 and modernized the farm, opening the business to public visits. Don’t forget to ask if they have freshly-made cheese curd—that’s something special if you’ve never tried it.
Sweetwater Valley Farm has a nice website, sweetwatervalley.com, where tours can be booked online. It’s located in Philadelphia along Highway 11, Lee Highway, between Loudon and Sweetwater.
Mayfield Dairy Farms is located just off Highway 11 along Highway 305 in Athens. The Mayfield Dairy Visitor Center offers 90-minute tours and the center also has lots of Mayfield dairy products in its old-fashioned ice cream parlor. It’s a favorite destination of school children and tour groups.
Founded by the Mayfield family in 1910, the dairy is now owned by the Dairy Farmers of America cooperative. You can find Mayfield’s online at www.mayfielddairy.com.
If you have room for some sweet tasty treats on your drive you can hop on I-75 and drive south from Athens to the Ooltewah exit, take Highway 317 east to the junction of Highway 321, and visit the Little Debbie Bakery Store. If it’s something sweet you prefer then Little Debbie products, produced locally there by McKee Foods, would be a great family stop.
It’s one of four outlets around the nation featuring a variety of McKee Food products. The firm has 6,400 employees and the Ooltewah-Collegedale site has fresh treats and is interesting to visit. You can find them also on the web at www.mckeefoods.com.
From there you can loop back up I-75 to Cleveland, Tn., and take 74 east to Highway 411.
Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams will be on the south side of the highway just before you reach Vonore. The ham and bacon produced there are known nationwide and a favorite of restaurants and gourmet cooks.
Founded in 1947 by Albert H. Hicks, a dairy farmer who began curing and selling country hams, the operation under Allan Benton and his employees honed the dry curing of hams and bacon to an art. Hickory smoking is done in a small stove smokehouse for its distinct flavor.
Benton’s Country Hams has a good website, bentonscountryhams2.com, and can also be contacted at (423) 442-5003.
Visiting all these delicious places in one day is a bit much so you may want to take in a couple on a day’s outing and save the others for another family adventure.