While sampling the delicious offerings at Balfour Farm one Saturday morning at the Farmer’s Market, I noticed a postcard for “The Maine Cheese Festival”. “You’ve got to go,” said Heather Donahue, farmer, cheese maker, and booth tender. Fast forward a few weeks and who was the first vendor we saw inside the barn at Wolf’s Neck Farm but Balfour Farm. We had obviously heeded her advice and thanked her for it. Balfour was, in fact, one of four vendors from the Brunswick Farmer’s Market to be at the Cheese Festival. As my daughter Phoebe said, it was “fun to taste, but a little overwhelming!” There were thirty cheese makers all offering tastings as well as several other vendors offering samples of everything from sauerkraut to blueberry jam. It was a delight to come across familiar places and faces in spotting Copper Tail Farm, Spring Day Creamery and Winter Hill Farm. The event was put on by the Maine Cheese Guild and was an impressive display of the variety of cheeses produced in our state. From teeny tooth picked cubes of aged Gouda and cheddars to hunks of bread dripping with olive oily goat cheese, we sampled with gusto.
Several years ago, I took a cheese making class through the Merrymeeting Adult Education Association. As you well know from this blog, I am a kitchen tinkerer and love to experiment with different ingredients. I thought I might come away eager to make my own cheeses. What I really came away with was a profound appreciation for the skill and patience it takes to produce good cheese. I decided I could handle trying the fresh cheeses – ricotta and feta – that could be made at home with a few simple ingredients. I’d had a bit of a head with ricotta after living in Italy when I asked a local farmer and cheese maker what I needed to make it and he came back with a still-warm bottle of rennet from the stomach of a recently slaughtered sheep. But, the hard cheeses have to be strained and wrapped and waxed and then you’ve got to wait, sometimes for more than a year! Or, I could go buy some delicious cheese at the farmer’s market.
I’ll share with you a simple way to make ricotta using lemon juice rather than rennet (although you can buy rennet online or at natural food stores). However, And, I’ve also included two other recipes for two of my favorite cheeses – Winter Hill Farm’s cow’s milk Feta, which is full of flavor and not too salty; and Balfour Farm’s Summit Cheese, which is a sharp French-style cheese according to their description. The last one has a cajeta drizzle, a caramel-like sauce made from goat’s milk that you can find at Copper Tail Farm.
1 quart fresh milk (raw milk if you can get it is best)
¼ t kosher salt
2 T lemon juice
Bring milk and salt to a gentle boil.
Add lemon juice and reduce to a simmer until milk curdles.
Strain through cheesecloth (I put mine inside a strainer) and let it drain 1 hour.
Chill and serve – or serve warm with fruit and honey as a dessert.
Beet Salad with Feta (Serves 4)
2-3 large beets
6 oz Feta
Fresh herbs (dill or fennel fronds are tasty)
Preheat oven to 400.
Wrap beets (unpeeled) in foil and put them on a cookie sheet.
Roast for 40-60min until tender.
When cool, unwrap, slide skins off and slice.
Crumble feta over the top and drizzle with olive oil.
Sprinkle salt and fresh herbs over the top and serve.
Apples and Cheddar with Cajeta
2-3 Crisp Maine apples
1 wedge of Sharp Cheddar or other hard cheese
Crisp crackers (like Carrs)
Cajeta for drizzling
Thinly slice apples and cheese and serve on a crisp cracker.