One of the general sessions this year was about cheesemaking in the Northeast. Clark Wolf who has a NYC based company that does restaurant and hospitality consulting was our moderator and did a great job of synthesizing information from the three presentations and posing broader questions to us all at the end. Louis Aird of Saputo in Montreal shared the history of cheese production in Canada with us and Jeff Roberts, author of the Atlas of American Artisan Cheese shared some facts and statistics about cheesemakers in the Northeast that he’d collected during his research for the book.
My ten minute talk was based on findings from our tour last summer. Below is a basic outline of my talk with audio pieces laid in where I played them. Have a read and a listen.
The Cheese by Hand lens: Our project only looked at producers making cheese by hand. We made every effort to cover the major milk types- cow, sheep, goat- and to represent the density of cheesemaking in certain regions (i.e. we saw more dairies in Wisconsin, Vermont, and California than anywhere else).
In the Northeast we visited the following farms in this order: Jasper Hill Farm, Twig Farm, Vermont Butter & Cheese, Willow Hill Farm, Appleton Creamery, Westfield Farm, and Cato Corner Farm. All are first generation cheesemakers, two are farmstead, three use milk from their own herds and buy in milk to supplement, and two are purchasing all of their milk.
These producers are, in many ways, representative of those we visited around the country- they come from diverse background and face many of the same issues as their colleagues in the Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and even the South. I’ll cover three larger topics that came up everywhere and explain to you how the Northeasterners had a unique perspective on each.
First: The loss of landscape. This includes not only the land but all the services that support farms- large animal vets, mechanics, and slaughterhouses). The audio clip below features Michael Lee (Twig Farm), and Willow Smart and David Phinney (Willow Hill Farm).
Loss of Farms
The terminology- working landscape- is something we only heard in the Northeast. Maybe their connection to the landscape comes from an awareness of the rich history of dairying and farming in the region? Ultimately on this issue we felt that the producers in this area were ‘on message’ meaning that everyone had similar thoughts and desires to see the land back in use for agriculture.
Second: An eye towards their competition (Europe). Cost of Business clip starts with Allison Hooper (Vermont Butter & Cheese), Caitlin Hunter (Appleton Creamery), Michael lee (Twig Farm). Educating the public starts with Caitlin (AC), Debbie Stetson (Westfield Farm), Mateo Kehler (Jasper Hill Farm), Michael Lee (TF).
Cost of Business Educating the public
Cheesemaking is expensive everywhere but the reference point for NE cheesemakers is always Europe- whether they are discussing healthcare, cost of infrastructure, or subsidies. This may happen because the two big markets are NYC and Boston, both of which have a bounty of imported cheeses. One stinging factor is that there is a perception that most European cheeses are made by hand- Michael Lee pointed out in another part of our interview that EU cheeses that are made in the way he makes his cheeses in Vermont would not be cheaper. There is a serious educational component for these cheesemakers- not just about cheese but about the state of agriculture in our own country.
Third: The concept of local. This word is as loose as “natural” or “artisan”- listen to how differently it is used by these producers. Some call their products local when all the inputs are local and some use the term local to define the inputs and the market where it is sold. In this audio clip you will hear Michael Lee (TF), Mateo Kehler (JHF), and Mark Gillman (Cato Corner Farm).
The NE region is going to push the word local and possibly force it to be defined. Again, this has a lot to do with the two big metropolitan markets within (NY, Boston) because clientele there can support the reclaimation of the working landscape. NE was the only place where we heard producers talking about AOC cheeses- about products that must be created in a specific place- maybe also a result of the proximity and comparison to European products in the market.
In closing- some thoughts from NE producers about unifies them and what they imagine is in store for the future of artisan cheesemaking… You will hear Willow Smart (WHF) and Michael Lee (TF).
August 9th, 2007
So audio takes a while to parse through… that is why we are just now getting to Appleton Creamery! These were all recorded while Caitlin made cheese (the metal noise is her stiring the heated curd). Each is around 1 minute.
Why they sell local
June 21st, 2006
Name: Appleton Creamery
Owners: Caitlin, Brad and Fiona Hunter
Location: Appleton, Maine
Animals: 32 American Alpine goats. She also buys sheep (Dorset Freisian cross/Freisian) and cow’s (Jersey/Holstein cross) milk from neighbors
Cheeses/Products: Chevre, Feta, Chevre in olive oil (YUM), Crofter’s Cheese, Sheep Milk Yogurt, Caprino di Vino, St. George Blue, Brebrie, George’s Highland… really you just need to catch her at the farmer’s market because she changes it up often. We hear a new Camdenbert is on the horizon.
More Info: www.appletoncreamery.com
Farmers’ Markets where you can find Appleton’s cheeses:
Orono, Belfast, Camden, Rockland, Damariscotta, Bath (check the Maine Organic Farmers and Grower’s Association- MOFGA- for days and hours of each market)
We pulled into Appleton Creamery around 4pm and cheesemaker Caitlin Hunter’s husband Brad greeted us. He walked down from his sail-making workshop (New England is almost irritatingly rife with craftspeople), which occupies the structure next to their home. Brad walked us through their 5 acres which are aesthetically pleasing and, more importantly, laden with incredible projects. As we headed down the stone path, flanked on either side by a thriving flower garden, toward the barn Brad pointed out the micro-vineyard behind the house, now in its fifth year of growth. There is a lot of cheese being made on the farm and he feels obligated to develop a variety of washes for them so he is grafting some rare cider apple species onto older root stock on one end of their land and growing hops up the side of his workshop for home brewed beer later this season. They are preparing to seed their fruit and vegetable garden and we will do our best to get back for the harvest as they focus on heirloom varieties.
After seeing the spread of active projects happening on their farm we should have expected to discover a cheesemaker producing a crazy variety of goods but based on the size of the cheesemaking room we thought otherwise… Brad described it accurately when he said, “it is like making cheese on a boat”. The cheesemaking room is one section of the barn (which was built by Brad for Caitlin’s five goats years ago), making up about 20% of the overall space. The room is a long rectangle, maybe 6 feet wide and 20 feet long. Everything has its place and Caitlin moves around fluidly in this space, she has been making cheese her for over a decade.
When we wandered over to the barn, Caitlin was finishing up cheesemaking with her first apprentice of the season. Now- let me just say that if I worked in a “cozy” make room and was at the end of my day and already deep in the throes of teaching one person, I am not sure that I would have invited two people inside to hover over me for a couple hours. Lucky for us, this is precisely what Caitlin did. Once we began talking to her about how she became a cheesemaker this magnanimous behavior made sense and also made us some of her biggest fans.
Caitlin is a back-to-lander who became interested in goats and cheesemaking in the late 70’s. She is largely self-taught as there wasn’t anyone to learn from in cheesemaking or goat rearing. As a result of going it on her own and growing her business slowly, she keeps her equipment low-tech, “if I can’t fix it myself, I don’t really want to use it”. Another interesting outcome of her own path of development is her commitment to new cheesemakers having access to better information than she had. She has learned so much in her years of cheesemaking and has a lot of knowledge to share and every year she does just that by bringing on not one but often two apprentices. I know from experience at both Murray’s and Artisanal (in NYC) that having interns is both an enormous help and also a big commitment of time and energy. Teaching in the cheesemaking room requires a special kind of patience and Caitlin has endless amounts of it.
It is clear that the goats were her entry into the cheese world; making cheese was a way to keep the goats around. After years of larger and smaller herds, she has settled on a number that is manageable for her to care for (also keep in mind their land base of only 5 acres) and leave enough time for all the cheese she needs to make and sell at farmer’s markets. She has the great fortune of being surrounded by neighbors who were looking for outlets for their own milk. One neighbor sells her cows milk and another who wanted to be a shepherd but wasn’t quite ready to get into cheesemaking herself so she found Caitlin as an outlet for her sheep’s milk. This is a cheesemaker’s dream- you get to have a herd size you can manage and you have great sources for additional milk so you can produce a more reasonable volume of cheese (not to mention the fun of working with a variety of milk types).
If you are wondering why you have not seen many Maine cheeses in your local cheese shop that is because there is something unique happening in the state of Maine right now: cheesemakers are selling out locally. After tasting Caitlin’s cheeses this makes me feel both bummed (selfish me who wants to eat Maine cheeses wherever I am) and psyched that the products are consumed where they are made. Appleton Creamery is ideally situated to serve four farmer’s markets in the mid-coast region which is chock full of tourists at the height of milking season. Caitlin is the president of the Maine Cheese Guild (I know- we can’t believe it either- and she still has an off-farm job twenty hours each week in the local school system) and explained that as a group, the cheesemakers are focusing their attention on training more cheesemakers in the state rather than marketing their cheeses nationally. We appreciate this because every time we look at the beautiful Maine Cheese Guild poster our mouths water and our tummies grumble for all those cheeses we have to venture to Vacationland to get!
(If you are looking for some good cheese décor I highly recommend the posters- they are for sale on the Maine Cheese Guild website)
May 15th, 2006