Hunter came to get back to the land, stayed to make cheese
Appleton — Back in the 1970s, Caitlin Hunter came to Maine, like many of her generation, seeking to get back to the land for a simpler, more wholesome way of life. Unlike many of them, she stayed.
Hunter and her husband, Brad, own a farm on Gurneytown Road, where she runs Appleton Creamery, making goat and other kinds of cheeses. She breeds and raises a variety of Alpine and Nubian goats, some of which have been crossed for genetic diversity. She has more than 60 goats, of which she milks 45, as well as kids born this spring and a buck or two.
Hunter learned to make cheese from reading books and visiting other cheesemakers, she said. Now she shares her knowledge with two or three apprentices from November through March each year, whom she gets through the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.
“I wish there had been somebody like me to learn from,” she said.
She lived on Matinicus and made cheese from 1976 to 1986, and got her creamery license in Appleton in 1994. Besides goats, the Hunters raise chickens, ducks and turkeys for meat and eggs. The birds eat the grain the goats waste, Hunter explained. A vegetable garden is Brad's domain, along with about 50 apple trees and 100 grapevines. Most of what they produce is for their own use; the only product they sell is cheese, Caitlin said.
There are several varieties of cheese made from goat's milk, as well as cow's milk purchased from Springdale Farm in Waldo. For several years, she also made sheep cheese, but she lost her source of sheep's milk. The goat cheeses are chevre, a French-style, fresh cheese that is pasteurized. It is sold in a variety of flavors, for example rolled in lime pepper or herbs. The most popular variety is packed in a little olive oil with red, green and black peppercorns, herbs, garlic and bay leaf, Hunter said. She also makes cheese tortes, with layers of chevre alternating with chutney. In addition, Hunter makes goat's milk feta.
Her cow cheeses include a Camembert-style cheese she calls Camdenbert, as well as mozzarella, Gouda and tomme, all aged cheeses.
Since the goats stop giving milk by late December, Hunter makes only cow cheeses in the winter. With the farm less busy, she gives cheesemaking workshops in the winter as well.
Except for winter, most of the creamery's sales are at farmer's markets, and Hunter spends Thursday through Saturday of each week during market season attending markets in Belfast, Camden, Rockland, Union, Bath and Damariscotta. She also offers a cheese add-on to the community supported agriculture (CSA) offerings of a couple of area farms during the summer, as well as the Oyster River Winery's winter CSA.
Appleton Creamery's cheeses can also be found at the Belfast Coop, Good Tern Coop in Rockland, Fresh Off the Farm in Rockport, and a few seasonal outlets, Hunter said. In addition, they can be ordered from her website at appletoncreamery.com.
While pasteurized cheese can be sold more or less as soon as it is made, raw milk cheese must be aged at least 60 days, she explained. Each day, she has some cheese at each stage of production, and she starts some new cheese every day.
Hunter said Maine is a good state for cheesemaking, because it is not overburdened with regulation and the Maine Department of Agriculture is “very dairy-friendly.” In addition, it is easy to start out small, since, with more than 150 farmer's markets, there is ready access to a local outlet. Consequently, Maine has more artisan cheesemakers than any other state except New York, Hunter said.
Contrary to what many people think, goats are not indiscriminate in their eating habits, Hunter said.
“They're very picky about what they eat,” she said.
She feeds hers grain and hay, and occasionally beet pulp or sunflower seeds, although they are not above nibbling on a tasty reporter's notebook when they can get it.
Hunter likes the goats' different colors and personalities, she said. The adult females are bred around October, so they will deliver five months later, in March. Each year, she has a different naming theme for the kids: this year's is Downton Abbey, with kids named Edith, Sybil, Mary, Mrs. Hughes and so on. There is even a Branson. Previous naming themes have included Harry Potter, herbs and hurricanes.
“I love having animals,” Hunter said. She added that she also likes having a farm-to-table product that helps keep local dollars in the the Midcoast.