Gourmet Cheeses: Maine-made Cheeses
Driving through the Maine countryside affords you an up-close and personal view of sloping pastures buffeted by maples and oaks and dotted with roaming, idling cows. It's an agrarian idyll responsible for one of Maine's best-kept secrets — its artisanal cheese industry, a farm-to-table market that has blossomed in recent years. There are now over 80 licensed cheese makers in the Maine Cheese Guild: shop a unique selection from clothbound cheddars to creamy Camemberts to blooming rinds at local farmers markets, specialty stores and grocery chains. Here are four creameries worth visiting on a cheese tour of Maine.
Balfour Farm: The 12 Normande cows at Balfour Farm, an organic dairy in the hills of Pittsfield, yield milk rich in butterfat and protein, key ingredients for cheese making. Balfour is renowned for its aged cheddars, like their crisp Smokey Ghost, a mild to medium sharp English-style hard cheddar with a snappy kick from ground chipotle peppers and ghost pepper salt. They also have a variety of silky, whole milk cheeses and a distinctive bloomy rind.
Silvery Moon Creamery: Known for its popular curds, like the award-winning Tuscan Herbed selection, the Silvery Moon Creamery at Smiling Hill Farm is a must-see on your cheese tour. Their Holstein cows graze outdoors seven months out of the year and eat haylage from the farm’s pesticide-free pastures in the winter. Specialty cheeses are crafted by hand by their two cheese makers. Standouts include the lush, buttery Camembert, whose flavor develops as it matures, from sharp and fresh when young to creamy and rounded as it ages. All of the cheeses are made on-site in the big red barn in Westbrook. Silvery Moon also has an in-house ice cream maestro who creates some of Maine's best frozen dairy desserts.
State of Maine Cheese Company: Cheese aficionados interested in taking their fromage appreciation to the next level should stop by State of Maine Cheese Company in Rockport. On production days, gourmands can witness first-hand the art of cheese crafting. State of Maine, in the heart of Maine's popular mid-coast region, is a small business that has been handcrafting fine cheeses since 1983. Taste their sweet and salty cheddars and modified, creamy jack varieties, or sample some of their more unexpected delicacies, like their Cocoa-Rubbed Dry Jack or Mt. Kineo Caerphilly, a moist Welsh cheese with a hint of tanginess that lingers late on the palate.
Pineland Farms: Finally, every Maine cheese tour should include a stop at the family-friendly Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, a 5,000-acre working farm and business campus. Pineland is a fully immersive recreation and educational experience. In addition to farm-made cheeses, visitors can shop a vast selection of natural meats, organic eggs, maple syrups, jams, and locally sourced produce at their market and then picnic at the on-campus pond and gardens. Other activities may include strolling beside pristine pastures, touring their state-of-the-art creamery or exploring the poultry barns and Education Center. Pineland also offers seasonal recreational opportunities for the whole family, from disc golf to cross-country skiing, hiking to snowshoeing.
In October 2016, the Maine Cheese Festival returns to Union after a 10-year hiatus to showcase some of our state's most unique and flavorful delicacies. It’s an opportunity for people to buy, taste and learn about cheese making in Maine. Visit the Maine Cheese Guild to learn more and use their handy interactive map to create your own Maine cheese tour.