At Fuzzy Udder Creamery in Whitefield, there is a special focus on being local.
The sheep, whose milk is turned into yogurt and cheese, can be found outside next to the goats who provide the milk for cheese. Cow's milk for Swiss and mozzarella cheese comes from nearby Two Loons Farms' cows in South China.
The cheese is only shipped around Maine. It’s used at restaurants in Portland, showcased at Treats in Wiscasset, and sold at farmers markets around the state.
But, for owner Jessie Dowling, staying local isn't just a part of making cheese — it's Fuzzy Udder's reason for existing.
Dowling said the movement to “know your farmer” and to eat local spurred the former Washington, D.C.-area native to make cheese in Maine.
“I knew I wanted to be a farmer for a long time,” she said. “I've been involved since I was 20 when I started at a community garden. I started with vegetables, but I wasn't super into vegetables. Doing eight hours pulling weeds, on my knees picking vegetables didn't appeal to me.
“Making cheese requires more upper body strength, which is better for me. And I like animals.”
From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 11, the public will have a chance to watch the Dowling and Fuzzy Udder's process, and meet some of those animals, during Maine Cheese Guild's annual open creamery day.
The open creamery day is a day set aside to allow the public a glimpse of Maine's artisan cheese makers. Fuzzy Udder and Imagine Dairy, which are both located across the road from the Whitefield Town Office, are the only two creameries featured in Lincoln County.
Dowling began making cheese at Appleton Creamery in 2007 before Fuzzy Udder became a licensed creamery in 2012. In 2013 the farm in Whitefield was opened.
Now the farm has nine sheep and 10 goats (Dowling said her goal is to eventually have 13 or 14 of each next year). The farm makes a variety of cheeses, including hand-stretched mozzarella, Gouda, washed rind, windswept and Swiss, among others.
Dowling said taking food production back from large corporations and returning it to the local level is what has always interested her. When she makes cheese she knows that there are no hormones or other additives added.
“Our actions affect everything — buying locally is like voting,” she said. “When you buy something grown locally, you're not putting money in the pockets of corporations that use pesticides that kill bees, or use GMOs.
“(Buying locally-made food) isn't just the right thing to do, it's the delicious thing to do, too.”
Eric Rector has been with the Cheese Guild since the beginning. In an email interview, Rector said the guild was formed by 10 Maine cheese makers in 2003. He helped organize a festival of Maine cheese at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association 2004 fair.
Rector then became licensed in 2006 as a commercial cheese maker, which made him the 17th licensed cheese maker in the state, according to Rector.
“Now there are at least 80 licensed cheese makers in Maine, according to the Department of Agriculture,” Rector said. “According to a 2014 study by Jeffrey Roberts at the University of Vermont, Maine is the fastest growing artisan cheese making state in the U.S.”
Rector said open creamery day is just the latest way to show off those cheeses and showcase where they are made.
“Early on, the guild focused on organizing cheese festivals around the state; we held one in Unity, then Portland, then at the Samoset resort in Rockport,” he said. “But the feedback we received at the time indicated that as delighted as the public was in tasting all the Maine cheeses available, it was also frustrating to learn how few of them might be made and/or sold near where they lived.
“Therefore we transitioned to holding our Open Creamery Day (starting in 2007) to give cheese lovers a chance to visit the cheese makers at their farms, learn about who made and sold cheese in their community, and/or travel to new areas of the state to discover new cheese makers.”
Dowling said her decision to make cheese in Maine was no accident: the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association makes it easy for new cheese makers to find an apprenticeship and a start.
“It was easy to find a creamery — I just read a description of the creameries and chose one that fit me,” she said. “Maine has become a hot-spot for cheese makers and I think the reason why is because it's easy to find an apprenticeship and you don't have to be rich to become a cheese maker.”
Dowling said that has allowed her to open up her own creamery; and she even rents out some of her space to Imagine Dairy, which creates spreadable, herb-infused cheese (and will also have people on hand during open creamery day).
Dowling said she has also been able to expand, but said she didn't expect Fuzzy Udder to become too big, or change its core mission.
“Eventually I could see us having 29, 30 head, but I don't think I want to milk more than that,” she said. “I want to be able to pay my workers a decent wage, take care of my animals and make enough to keep doing what I've been doing.”