May 15th, 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)