12 days of cheesemas, cheese advent calendar, cheesemas, goat cheese, maine cheese, Sea Smoke, Sunset Acres

12 Days of Cheesemas–Day 3

(photo from Cook’s Cache)

We’re keeping it very local for this one with Sunset Acres ash veined, bloomy rind: Sea Smoke from Sunset Acres in Brooksville, ME. Ash and cheese together is a centuries old tradition. But it wasn’t until Humboldt Fog came out, some 20 years ago, that it became popular state side.

But, the Sea Smoke is markedly different from Humboldt Fog. For one thing, the paste stays firm enough to slice and never gets loose or threaten to pull away from the rind. It’s also less salty and more crisp than ‘the Fog,’ finishing on a bright mineral note. 

12 days of cheesemas, bucheron, cheese advent calendar, counting down my favorite holiday cheeses, goats milk cheese, holiday cheese plate, maine cheese, york hill farm maine

12 Days of Cheesemas–Day 8

(photo from Stacy Camp Photography)

I will openly come out now and say that York Hill Farm, from New Sharon, ME, is one of my absolute favorite goat cheese makers in New England. They were recently featured in a Culture Magazine article on Maine cheese makers and were big winners this past year at The Big E. And the accolades are well deserved. The two cheeses above, their ‘Bucheron‘ and Capriano are two of my favorites. The Capriano is aged about 6 months and the paste imparts a very distinct nutty, sweetness, without the tanginess that goes along with so many goat cheeses. The Bucheron, aged much younger, embraces the tanginess and all its glory. The cream line of the cheese–the one that gets gooier and gooier as the cheese ages–never really gets a lot of body. But, it does loosen up enough to give you that wonderful dual texture and, therefore, dual flavor that makes so many people love this style of cheese.
One thing, though, that strikes me about just about every one of York Hill’s cheeses is a mineral note in the milk that cuts a bit into the acidity, which is most prominent in their plain chevre.

If you’re looking to track down York Hill’s cheeses, I’d do so soon as their milking season is coming to an end. After that, you’re waiting 4 long months until the next batch of cheese is made.

american cheese society, appleton creamery, maine cheese, maine cheese guild, pineland farms

Maine Cheeses at 2010 American Cheese Society Awards

While it wasn’t as fancy as the Emmy’s, though I’m sure the food and drinks were better, the American Cheese Society held it’s awards this past weekend in Seattle, WA. Because I’m obsessive turophile that I am, I’ve been waiting for the past 24 hours for the results to be posted.
The big winners this year were from Wisconsin and Vermont in the ‘Best in Show’ Category (Uplands Cheese Company’s ‘Pleasant Ridge Reserve’ placed 1st; ‘Bonne Bouche’ from Vermont Butter and Cheese Company 2nd; and Farm for City Kids Springbrook Farm’s Tarentaise’took 3rd), Maine did have a small representation.
Winners from the state were:

  • Appleton Creamery’s ‘Camella’ took first place, while besting Cypress Grove Creamery’s ‘Truffle Tremor’ in the “Soft Ripened, flavor added” Goat’s Cheese category.
  • Appleton also topped the “Feta from Sheep or Mixed Milk” category for their ‘Sophia’ Feta.
  • Pineland Farms Feta won 3rd in the “Feta from Cow’s Milk” category.
  • Pineland also garnered 3rd for their Salsa Jack in the “Flavor Added–Monterey Jack” category.
  • Pineland’s Salsa Jack, this time in spreadable form, placed second in the interestingly titled “Cold Pack Cheese Food and Cheese Spreads With Flavor Added.”

Both are repeat winners from last year but Maine still hasn’t repeated the showing it had back in 2007, when 17 Maine cheeses took home awards. But, as it goes with award ceremonies, there’s always next year.

maine cheese, sad departures, silverymoon creamery

Good Night, Moon.

Just about three weeks ago the cheese making community in Maine lost one of it’s biggest contributors as Jennifer Betancourt, founder and co-owner of Silvery Moon Creamery, quietly walked away from the cheesevat that she manned for the past seven years.

Last December, Jen was featured in Liam Crotty’s updated “Freedom From Want”, based on the original from Norman Rockwell, photo that showed many of us, for the first time, some of the best of Maine’s food community.

Before Pineland Farms, now the biggest cow’s milk cheese producer in the state, there was Silvery Moon Creamery to lead the pack. Jen and her staff gained 5 American Cheese Society Awards–the Oscars of cheese for the geeks out there–and had recently published a 56 page study she conducted on aging options for cheese makers.

While she started with the basics, brie/camembert, cheddar and curds, she had recently moved on to lavender, vegetable ash(like an aged Morbier) and had even produced an aged raw milk cheese washed with Allagash beer. And then, what seemed to be overnight, it was all done.

I can sit here and speculate a million different theories or rumors as to why she left but my grandmother would remind me that it’s not my place, so I won’t. I know that Smiling Hill is suppose to be making their own cheese, though of the more mass produced variety and may or may not be doing so under the Silvery Moon label, but it won’t be the same. Luckily, though, you can still find some of the aged cheeses, that Jen had a hand in making, around at Whole Foods, Rosemont and K hortons.
Hopefully, as it’s been told to me, she won’t be keeping herself from the cheese vat for long. Here’s to hoping she decides to fill the void of a Maine produced sheep’s milk cheese.

maine cheese, maine cheese guild, maine creameries, open creamery

Open Creamery Day 2009

For the past few years the Maine Cheese Guild has organized “Open Creamery Day” as a way for Maine turophiles to meet their local artisan cheese makers and to tour the farms that support the growing artisan cheese community. This year, unlike last, there was little to no press regarding the event and turnout at the farms I visited were nonexistent. While I felt bad for those that opened up their doors to us, it did create a unique opportunity to speak at length with the cheese makers about their passion, the growing politics of dairy farmers and to have some nibbles in a relaxed setting.
Maine is unique to me because of the sheer number of goat cheese producers in the state and last year I spent a good amount of time at Liberty Field Farms in Saco–who received local press, prior to Open Creamery Day, for beating out the much lauded Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog Mini’s at the American Cheese Society Awards. This year, we spent time visiting some local cows milk cheese makers and while we had an agenda of four creameries to get to in four hours, we only made it to half of them.

Our first visit brought us to Spring Day Creamery in Durham. Sarah, the solo cheese maker and local french language teacher, welcomed us late in the morning to give us a quick tour of her small facilities. Like many, she told us how she started making cheese in her kitchen until production threatened to overtake it and she decided to build a small room inside her garage for her growing ‘hobby’. Because she has no dairy animals on site, she outsources her milk locally and dabbles in both goat and cow milk cheeses.
Because I am admittedly burned out on goats milk cheeses, both her blue and washed rind cheeses were pleasantly welcomed. Her Spring Day Blues, aged 60 days+, seemed very fitting with her love of french cheeses as it instantly reminded me of Bleu D’Auvergne. Slightly salty and creamy with a hint of mushroom, this was easily one of the best locally produced blue cheeses I’ve had.
Her washed rind, Basket Case, had a mild nose to it but instantly melted into a creamy paste with a slight bitter bite. Easily it could be compared to a more subdued younger sibling to California’s Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk, who placed second this year overall at the ACS in Austin, TX. Both cheeses are currently residing in the fridge for a Maine cheese plate for later tonight.

Spring Day Blues and Basket Case

Spring Day Cheese Room

Because the community is small and,like most of Maine, everyone knows everyone else she asked if we were stopping down to Winter Hill just six miles down the road in Freeport. Unfortunately, the MCG website had last years info for Winter Hill and I hadn’t planned on making it because it listed a different day. Lucky for us, Sarah called them up and confirmed that they were open and would love to have us stop by. So, after some long chats with Sarah and her wonderful family, we packed up our purchases and headed down the road.

Now, Winter Hill is truly a hidden gem in Maine as they are one of eight dairies in the US that breed Randall Lineback Cattle. These are easily some of the most stunning breed of cattle and the owners, Jim and Kate, sought to rescue this breed from obscurity and we are so lucky to have them in our backyards. While they are only producing one cheese at the moment, a cheddar, Jim knows the value of time when it comes to cheese making. Too many makers are quick to get their products to market, creating a more mild cheddar, but Jim ages his wheels at least 8 months before offering it up to their customers–you can find their raw milk, yogurt and cheese at Rosemont in Portland or, better yet, become a regular customer and pick up directly from them–and you can tell the difference. Not only is it raw, the color is absolutely striking in it’s deep golden yellow paste. Easily, the flavor was sweeter and richer than any local cheddar and, honestly, better than just about any from New England that I’ve tasted…even those from Vermont. After nearly an hour and a half of chatting we left with nearly a pound of cheddar and a pint of their milk.

Mixed Randalls

Gorgeous Randall face with trademark markings

While many of us are spoiled by getting to know our farmers on a first name basis, not many of us know our cheese makers as well. If you have a free weekend day, I cannot implore people enough to visit the Maine Cheese Guild site for the list of local makers and plan a visit to one of the many creameries that are within a hour or less drive from Portland. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.