My wife Kate and I recently took a long weekend to enjoy some of the local food that Maine has to offer and to relax a bit before the farming season begins in earnest. We started off in Portland (which I forget is only 1 hour away) and then went as far north as Rockland before turning around and heading back. Here are some highlights from our trip.
Unfortunately we didn’t get to see as many microbreweries as we would have liked because of some scheduling glitches. One of the brewers we had hoped to visit couldn’t meet with us because his son was giving a presentation for 4-H that day. However, we did get to try Sebago Brewing Co’s Frye’s Leap IPA which was quite good as well as Gritty McDuffs Scottish Ale (of which we brought home a 12 pack) and their Best Bitter. We also brought back a variety of local 22 ounce bottles to share with our neighbors.
While we didn’t make it to Cold River Vodka in Freeport, we did stop by Sweetgrass Winery & Distillery in Union, ME. Sweetgrass is located at the top of a beautiful hill and provides quite the view. I think we were the only customer they’d had in a week but they still gamely took the time to provide a tasting of all of their fruit wines as well as their gin. The fruit wines, not usually my favorite, were all nuanced, interesting, and not overly sweet. Fortunately for them, but unfortunately for us, they were sold out of the apple cranberry wine, made from local fruit. Finally we made it to the Back River Gin, which is why we had come. I must say, it was certainly a bit better than the Gordon’s that I normally drink, and it’s made with Maine blueberries to complement the juniper berries and other aromatics. We most certainly brought a bottle home. Sweetgrass also makes vanilla extract and is hoping to begin producing rum and vermouth next year, to which I can only say “Maine-made martinis, hurrah!”.
Oh, the cheese! To find creameries to visit, we consulted Jeffrey Roberts’ Atlas of American Artisan Cheese. Our first stop for cheese (after calling ahead, of course) was Town House Farm in Whitefield. Town House makes ‘ewe’gurt and sheep’s milk cheese as well as ‘moo’gurt and cow’s milk cheese. Upon our arrival Beth immediately invited us in for Chai and was eager to discuss her operation as well as the local food movement. She later cooked us up a couple of slices of Haloumi, a Cypriot cheese which can be fried without melting and tasted quite good. She gave us a tour of her cheese room, offered us a taste of a cheese she was still working to perfect and introduced us to a couple of her sheep. We left with some maple moogurt that we later ate for lunch. All in all, a great visit.
Our next stop was Mystique Goat Cheese in Waldoboro. There was no cheese-making happening in March, but we did get to see the lovely (if odd) Nubian goats that supply the milk. Such long, floppy ears! And of course we left with a couple of containers of spreadable goat cheese. Mystique makes a number of other types of cheese as well, but was sold out (definitely a good sign). From there we went to State of Maine in Rockport. The store was just being cleaned up after the winter farmers’ market they had hosted that morning. After perusing a store full of Maine-made food (and some goods) we also received a tour of the kitchen where the cheese maker does his work. After spending the night in Rockland we visited Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. Pineland includes a non-profit educational facility as well as numerous cross country skiing and snow shoeing trails. There weren’t any tours that day, but we did bring home a nice Monterey Jack.
We finished our trip with a visit to one of our favorite creameries, Silvery Moon in Westbrook at Smiling Hill Farm. Silvery Moon is one of the cheeses offered through my wife’s CSA to her members. The cheddar curd makes me happy to be alive. Jen, the cheese maker, took time on her day off to show us where she has been making her cheese as well as the partially finished space where she will soon be working. She gave us the full tour, talked to us about the cheese making community in Maine, and happily answered any and all of our questions. We left with 2 delicious rounds of Camembert.
It’s time to end this unusually long-winded post but I would be remiss if I didn’t briefly mention seafood. In Rockland we ate dinner in a sushi restaurant called Suzuki’s where we ate delicious local shrimp and benefited from excellent service. The next morning while I ate my grilled biscuit, haddock cake, scrambled eggs, and hollandaise sauce we overhead 2 fishermen discussing whether or not their boat would be going out later that day, which was pretty neat.