While many in Camden may wonder what happened to the community’s manufacturing base, one Lincolnville couple has started a business making a basic food product in a garage bay at the former Knox Mill. Jeff Wolovitz said Jan. 11 that Heiwa Tofu is Maine’s only tofu manufacturer.

Wolovitz and his partner Maho Hisakawa began manufacturing tofu – bean curd made by coagulating and pressing soy milk – at the Camden location in September 2008, and in the intervening months Heiwa Tofu has expanded its distribution network to reach customers in locations as far as Portsmouth, N.H., and Bar Harbor. In addition to being sold by food cooperatives and buying clubs, Heiwa Tofu can be found in the kitchens of restaurants such as Chase’s Daily and Darby’s in Belfast.

Wolovitz makes eight batches of tofu on each of the days he works at his factory in Camden. Each batch takes about 50 minutes to prepare and Wolovitz spends most of that time running between workstations and machines in a steam-filled environment, hoping to shave a few minutes off his workday so that he can spend more relaxed time with his growing family.

He starts the process by soaking Maine-grown organic soybeans and then putting them through a special grinder. He pours the ground soaked beans into a cooker where they simmer for 20 minutes before being strained to separate out the soy milk from a waste product called okara that is used for compost or fed to livestock. Wolovitz said he is looking for gardeners and farmers to take some of the excess byproduct.

Calcium sulfate, an additive used in some food supplements, is added to the soy milk to accelerate the separation of curds from whey, a process similar to the way dairy cheese is made. Wolovitz said he sometimes makes a snack from the fresh curds. The warm soft curds are a delicacy in Japan where they are called oboro.

Once the curds have formed, Wolovitz places them in three rectangular presses where excess water is removed and they achieve their final consistency. The slabs are rinsed and cooled before Hisakawa cuts them into the familiar blocks that customers find in stores and restaurants.

When it comes time to clean the small factory, Wolovitz and Hisakawa’s daughter Ina helps out.

“It’s a classroom for her,” Wolovitz said. “She finds play everywhere. Okara castles and pies. Watching a whirlpool form as the water drains out of the giant cooling tank. Poking enormous bubbles in the discarded whey. She observes all the slight changes I am constantly making in the shop and always asks me about them.”

Wolovitz and Hisakawa said they received a lot of help in starting their business, especially from area resident Rob Lovell, who sold them the equipment from a tofu business he had in the 1980s.

They said it took some time to find a location for their business because of the large amount of water used to make tofu and the need for adequate drainage. Wolovitz said the Knox Mill complex was a perfect solution for them.

“The crew at the Knox Mill is great,” Wolovitz said. “They are so hardworking and friendly. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to set up shop. I open my garage doors in the summer and people from the Camden Farmers Market wander down and buy tofu. It’s the freshest way to get it. On Wednesdays, it’s still warm.”

It takes two days each week to fill Heiwa Tofu’s orders and Wolovitz said he expects to add another day to his tofu-making schedule once warmer weather returns to the Midcoast.

Hisakawa said the company has about 42 regular accounts and provides tofu to approximately 20 restaurants.

In addition to making oboro, which the whole family enjoys, Wolovitz said he likes to cut tofu in half-inch slabs and fry it on each side until it’s crispy.

“It takes a while until all the water cooks off,” he said. Once it’s crispy, he lets the pan cool a bit, sprinkles some tamari soy sauce on it and shakes it all around.

“Then, I’ll put the┬áslabs on buttered toast with sauerkraut on top of it all,” he said. He said Hisakawa, who is expecting their second child, came up with the recipe when she experienced morning sickness during her first pregnancy.

Heiwa Tofu is distributed by Crown O’Maine Organic Cooperative in Gardiner and is sold locally at Good Tern Natural Foods in Rockland, the Megunticook Market in Camden, the Belfast Co-op Store and other locations. For a complete list of outlets for the product, visit the Web site at heiwatofu.com, write to heiwatofu@gmail.com or call 763-2707.

The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by e-mail at sauciello@villagesoup.com.