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LAMOINE — Maho Yano reaches down deep into a stainless steel vat filled with frothy, cream-colored liquid. The petite Japanese woman scoops up cheese curds, draining the whey in colanders and pressing the fluffy-white mass into awaiting red plastic tubs.
Maho, whose family raises 160 Holstein cows in Japan’s mountainous Kochi province, is learning about raising goats and the art of cheese making at Seal Cove Farm. This particular afternoon, the 25-year-old Japanese apprentice is getting a lesson in mixing goat’s milk from the Lamoine farm’s herd and fresh cow’s milk supplied that same day by the University of Maine’s dairy herd in Orono. She’ll learn how to craft that semi-hard, aged cheese, other mixed-milk cheeses, as well as fresh and aged goat cheeses flavored with myriad ingredients ranging from blueberry and ash-coated to rosemary and pink peppercorn. Her apprenticeship was arranged through the Japanese Agricultural Exchange Council formed after World War II.
Seal Cove Farm’s co-owner, Barbara Brooks, acquired her first goat, a Saanen doe named Jill, in 1976. Her goatherd swiftly grew and Brooks decided to try her hand at making cheese. She credits then-New Sharon goat farmers Camilla Stege, Doris Walker and Penny Dunkin as her mentors and teachers. Over the years, she has steadily honed her knowledge and techniques learning how to make tommes (small, aged disks), pyramides (both natural and ash-covered) and bricks (both aged and fresh) from a French cheese maker in Provence. Seal Cove Farm gradually grew from a kitchen operation to a licensed Grade A dairy. The goatherd, too, grew from 20 to 125.
Now, Brooks and her partner Lynn Ahblad produce more than 700 pounds of cheese per week and many cheeses from pesto and peppercorn chevre to a bloomy rind cheese, similar to a French chaource, called Pearl. The mixed-milk Tomme is among their latest creations.
“When you eat it, you get all the creaminess of the cow’s milk,” noted Brooks, adding the Tome ages for several weeks in the cheese room. “It finishes with the nutty and sweet flavor of the goat’s milk.”
Former French brigadier-general Charles de Gaulle once quipped to Winston Churchill, “How can anyone be expected to govern a country with 324 cheeses?” in 1962. Since then, the number of French artisan cheeses has soared to close to 800. Many more American farmers have become cheese makers and some Maine-made chevres figure among the best winning awards annually at the American Cheese Society.
Hancock County alone boasts three commercial goat’s cheese producers including Seal Cove Farm, Mariaville’s Garden Lore, Howling Hill Dairy Farm in Amherst and Sunset Acres Farm in Brooksville. From Washington County, Steuben’s Painted Pepper Farm and Udder View farm in Columbia are well known as well. The producers’ respective goatherds differ in breed and size. Their products vary widely too. Some produce yogurt, ice cream and gelato made from goat’s milk. What the goat farmers all share, though, is a strong work ethic and devotion to their critters. Their job never lets up and is physically demanding.
Raising goats going on three decades now, Brooks takes pride in her products and enjoys the challenge of creating new ones.
“Frankly, there is a lot of bad cheese in this world,” she observed, noting much gets thrown away in her own dairy unless it meets her personal standards. She remembered something New Sharon goat farmer Penny Dunkin once said: “If all of us little cheese makers hadn’t been very good, it wouldn’t be happening today.”
Broccoli with Seal Cove Farm Feta
Steam 1 bunch of broccoli until tender, yet still crisp and bright green (approx. 4 minutes). Refresh broccoli in cold water, then drain and place in bowl. Mix 4 Tbsp. olive oil with 3 Tbsp. lemon juice and 1-2 cloves minced garlic, pour over broccoli. Before serving add: 2 diced tomatoes and ½ cup feta and ½ tsp. black pepper.
Other Goat’s Cheese Makers in Hancock County
Garden Lore, 40 Blueberry Lane, Mariaville, 537-5673,
Howling Hill Farm, 45 Smith Road, Amherst, 584-3450,
Sunset Acres Farm & Dairy, 769 Bagaduce Road, brooksville. 326-4741,
Painted Pepper Farm, 55 Goods Point Road, Steuben, 546-9777,
Udder View Farm, 256 Sacarap Rd, Columbia Falls, 483 2611,
What: Cheese tasting
When: 2-4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Dec. 12-13
Where: Seal Cove Farm, 202 Partridge Cove Road, Lamoine