By Jenn Dobransky, Maine Centers for Women, Work, and Community
Just imagine a plate of beautiful cheese: five artisanal varieties.
Fresh ricotta made with organic whole milk, scented with sweet grass and clover, then transformed and hand-ladled and molded into individual baskets 24 hours before arriving on your plate.
The other varieties are aged. “Medallion” is a soft-ripened cheese that has notes of fresh mushroom and citrus and is aged for two weeks. “Prix de Diane” is a soft ripened cheese that has a big, creamy and buttery flavor that is aged for four weeks. “Opus 42? is a semi-firm cheese that is mold-ripened to produce a natural rind, with a sharp and nutty flavor that takes three months to develop. Fourth on the plate is the “Morgan,” also aged 3 months and a firm cheese that is salty and grassy with a long finish.
Seven days a week, Allison Lakin makes these five distinct cheeses by hand. She is the owner and cheesemaker of Lakin’s Gorges Cheese LLC located in Rockport, Maine.
Half the week, the days can be as long as 15 hours. But make no mistake about it; Lakin loves every minute of her work. “The daily challenges are an integral and satisfying part of this adventure,” she says. “Even the cheeses themselves are not static. I make all the cheese by hand, and each and every batch is subject to varying conditions which require adaptation.”
Lakin’s Gorges Cheese ships everywhere in the United States. One day per week, however, Lakin delivers cheese to retail and wholesale customers in Maine. She utilizes the road time to identify and meet with potential customers, as she delivers her products up and down the Route 1 corridor from Belfast to Kennebunkport.
“Without question, my greatest joy is making cheese that people love to eat,” Lakin remarks. Not surprisingly, the care with which she creates her cheese mirrors how she operates her business and interfaces with her customers. That extended effort and attention to detail ensures a superior and highly memorable product.
Lakin has always recognized the value in utilizing existing resources. When she decided to return to cheesemaking, after a brief hiatus, and without having her own dairy farm or equipment, there were two rather obvious necessities: cow’s milk and a facility, a creamery, in which to make the cheese.
“I would only start the enterprise if I could find a source for Maine organic milk provided by a single dairy,” she says.
That tall order was filled by Tide Mill Organic Farm in Aroostook County. In addition, Lakin’s facility needs were met by negotiating a lease with Cathe Morrill of State of Maine Cheese Company in Rockport.
And Lakin is full of praise for the group of people who are eager to assist a new venture in Maine. “The incredible resource of people who are welcoming and helpful to new business owners is vital and heartening,” she says. “I highly value working collaboratively with many local and state businesses, other entrepreneurs, members of the cheesemaking community, the Maine Cheese Guild*, and the cheese-loving public, without whom my business would not have advanced so quickly.”
The way that Lakin describes the start of her business does sound like things just fell into place. However, Lakin is quick to point out that she came to her current work with the benefit of a fine liberal arts education and a lot of life experience — experience that she utilizes every single day. And yet, the decision to go out on her own required a leap of faith and trust in her own abilities and the strength of resources in Maine.
The payoff is big, living her life as she intended: To experience days filled with both joy and purpose, and of course, delicious cheese.
*The Maine Cheese Guild represents more than 60 registered cheesemakers in Maine. Its mission is to promote and support Maine’s cheesemaking community.