MAXFIELD, Maine — The dairy goats at Olde Oak Farm seemed right at home Sunday, munching on pasture grass and hobnobbing with the curious visitors who came to stroke their floppy ears, giggle at their capricious ways and sample the many tasty cheeses made from their milk.
From the animals’ happy and relaxed demeanors, visitors never would have guessed the goats only recently were transplanted to the Maxfield farm from their former home in Orono.
The third annual Open Creamery Day, sponsored by the Maine Cheese Guild, attracted a steady stream of visitors to the historic property now owned by farmers Jennifer Maeverde and Scott Belanger. The couple moved themselves, their herd of about 30 Nubian goats and their cheese-making operation from Orono in August.
Belanger and Maeverde sell their popular organic dairy products at farmers markets in Orono and Brewer.
For the past six years, Olde Oak Farm has been bursting at the seams on its small rural lot on Forest Avenue in Orono, Maeverde said. The new location is a big improvement.
“We tried growing seedlings, gardens, chickens, pigs, goats — just trying to figure out what the niche is, and I guess it’s goats,” she said. “But we realized in short order that 2.8 acres wasn’t going to be enough.”
That’s not a problem on the new farm — a 93-acre spread formerly given over primarily to growing potatoes and apples. About 17 acres are overgrown fields waiting to be reclaimed, the rest are mixed hard- and softwood forest.
The goats dine happily on scrub growth and will make short work of clearing the fields, Belanger said. Already the herd has opened up a couple of acres near the house, which only a few weeks ago were shoulder-deep in overgrowth, he said.
Among the visitors Sunday was 83-year-old Charlotte “Pat” Michaud of Maxfield, whose grandparents Lester and Harriet Sawyer originally cleared the fields, raised a barn and built a house on the sunny, south-sloping hillside near the Piscataquis River just west of Howland.
Michaud, who remembers spending happy summers at the family farm when she was a child, said seeing the old place put back into production after years of neglect was satisfying.
“It’s very amazing for our little town,” she said. “My grandparents would be very pleased with what [Belanger] has done.”
Other visitors included Valerie and Thurlow Harper of Maxfield, who live just up the road.
“It’s nice to see the old farm going back to the way it used to be,” Thurlow Harper said. The goat cheese he sampled, he said, was “very good, very smooth. I figured it would be like cottage cheese, but as soon as it goes in your mouth it’s very creamy and smooth.”
The couple’s 9-year-old daughter, Josephine, was there with her friend Beverly Simpson of West Enfield. The girls said they were partial to the stringy mozzarella cheese, made with organic cow’s milk purchased from a farm in Charleston and seasoned with apple wood smoke in the Olde Oak Farm smoker.
“It’s really good,” said Beverly, “and it feels like gum in your mouth.”
They also had a fine time playing with the goats.
“I like Foxglove,” Josephine said, pointing out a diminutive black-and-white doe nibbling at an aster. “She’s very sweet and soft.”
Beginning next spring, Belanger said, the goats will be moved from place to place around the farm so they can mow down and fertilize the remaining fields. An additional 20 acres, now in oversized Christmas trees, will be converted to open fields, he said.
Belanger said the old farmhouse, built in the late 1850s, was in sad disrepair when he bought the place. He asked permission from Michaud before he tore it down, but kept many materials, including some massive beams and the boards from the side of the house.
A new house, true in many details to the original Cape, now stands on the hillside awaiting finishing touches. It, too, was open for viewing Sunday, along with the goat barn and the sparkling-clean building where the cheese is made.
Belanger said Sunday evening that about 50 people found their way to the new location of Olde Oak Farm despite its remoteness. In addition to curious new neighbors, many of the visitors came from the Bangor area, he said.
There are 32 state-licensed creameries in Maine that sell dairy products made from the milk of cows, goats and sheep. Nineteen of them participated in this year’s Open Creamery Day.
On the Web: www.mainecheeseguild.org.