Fall (autumn, that is) of the cheese makers

Posted Oct. 12, 2008, at 8:12 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 5:55 a.m.

ORONO, Maine — The White family dropped by Olde Oak Farm on Forest Avenue on Sunday afternoon to meet face to face the Nubian goats that give their favorite cheese spread its tangy flavor.

Elizabeth White, 15, left with some newly made mozzarella — made from organic cow’s milk purchased from an organic dairy farm — that she planned to use to top off her next pizza. Her parents, Deb and Tim White, usually buy cheese from farm owners Scott Belanger and Jennifer Maeverde at the Orono Farmers Market.

The White family and about 50 other visitors came by the 3-acre farm, which was open to the public for Open Creamery Day. This was the second year the open farm day was sponsored by the Maine Cheese Guild.

“We really like their products,” Deb White said after a tour of the 12-foot-by-32-foot mobile cheese plant. “This gave us an opportunity to meet the goats and to support buying locally. We wanted to the let them know we appreciate their being here.”

The number of cheese makers is increasing annually, according to the Maine Cheese Guild. At a national competition in Vermont in the summer of 2007, guild cheese makers won 17 ribbons for excellence, including six blue ribbons for first place, according to an article published last year in the Bangor Daily News.

Belanger and Maeverde began their cheese-making operation three years ago after trying their hands at vegetable farming and raising animals for meat.

“We dabbled in a lot of things,” said Maeverde, 40, who works full time at the University of Maine as an early childhood and mental health consultant. “Growing vegetables wasn’t our thing and we didn’t like killing things. We wanted something that would replenish itself.”

Belanger, 38, left a full-time career in health care to work the farm full time. A bout with cancer early this year left him unable to work much. A lot of cheese making fell to his apprentice, Nate Mietkiewicz, 24, who is majoring in geology at the University of Maine.

A native of Worcester, Mass., Mietkiewicz surmised Sunday that his work at Olde Oak Farm grew out of his love for cooking.

“I always thought I would do something with cooking,” he said. “Here, I’m not exactly cooking but I’m working with food. I see this whole process of where cheese comes from — from the milking to creating the product to marketing it. I want to continue in this vein and stay here for four and five years.”

The cheese-making operation shuts down from November until March, when goat kids are born, Maeverde said.

During the winter, Belanger and Mietkiewicz teach home-brewing classes in the cheese-making facility.

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