One of the things that I most like about a the slow season in Maine is the opportunity to stretch out a little and consider learning something new. So, with a bit of time on my hands this winter I spoke with Allison Lakin of Lakin’s Gorges Cheese. She’s the creator of cheeses that I know and learned to love at many of the finer dining establishments around the area. Working presently out of a leased space in the State of Maine Cheese building on Route 1 in Rockport, she turns out lovely fresh basket molded ricotta as well as some aged beauties such as Opus 42, Morgan, Medallion, a smaller aged cheese with a bloomy rind, and my personal favorite, Prix De Diane.
Explaining that I had little experience cheese making, I asked whether she’d like an occasional helper. She said yes and what fun it was! I have made plenty of tofu in times past, and turns out that it’s not so different. Especially from Ricotta cheese making, only I never used molding baskets “back in the day.”
Cleanliness is of the utmost importance in this process. You want to cultivate certain cultures, but not others. There are shoe dips, hand washing and hairnets involved. No fuzzy sweaters allowed either I learned.
It all begins with organic Jersey milk from Tide Mill Farm in Edmunds. Jersey milk is noted for its high butterfat content.
For ricotta cheese this high quality milk is warmed in a special jacketed piece of equipment then vinegar is added to create the curds and whey. Lots of whey is a by product of cheese and forethought must be given to it’s disposal. When the curds form, it’s like magic. Warm, sweet, steamy milky magic. It reminded me of Junket rennet custard, which those of us “of a certain age” got fed as children. Initially the curds are silky, then tighten up to very cohesive curds, which mold quickly to the basket, then are turned out after draining.
The aged cheeses are a little more mysterious. The curds have a different quality and are ladled carefully, by hand into their distinctive draining molds.The largest wheels, the 6 pound Opus 42 and the half pound Morgan , both mold ripened cheeses, age for up to three months. The smaller softer bloomy rind cheeses require 4-6 weeks.
All these aged cheeses rest comfortably in their temperature controlled vaults doing what beautiful handmade cheeses do….ripen to perfection under the watchful eye of Ms. Lakin, a master cheese maker.
These artisanal cheeses are available widely in better shops and restaurants or on line at www.lakinsgorgescheese.com