Got soy milk? Maine does.

Earlier this year Heiwa Soy Beanery in Belfast started distributing Maine’s only commercially available soy milk through the Crown O’Maine Organic Cooperative. Recently, the fresh soy milk began showing up in Greater Portland.

Thick and creamy with an earthy, beany flavor, Heiwa soy milk reminds me of my first tastes of the beverage in the late 1970s.

This isn’t like the sweetened and flavored supermarket soy milks you can buy today. Instead, it’s a more nuanced milk that works well in granola and breakfast cereal, but it isn’t the sort of drink most folks can handle straight up. It also holds its own in pancakes and baked goods. I look forward to trying it in chowders, mashed potatoes and other savory dishes.

The unsweetened soy milk packs 11 grams of protein into an 8-ounce glass and is made primarily from Maine-grown organic soybeans. It’s available in 1/2-gallon milk jugs and sells for around $5.

Look for it at health food stores and a handful of local restaurants. Whole Foods Market in Portland intends to stock it later this spring.

Heiwa (pronounced “hey-wa”) owner Jeff Wolovitz said the creamy quality of his fresh soy milk is a result of the simple ingredients.

“A lot of soy milks have other ingredients,” Wolovitz said. “We just have soybeans and water. By adding more or less water, you can make a thin or thick soy milk.”

He works with Maine farmers each season to source the organically grown soybeans. During the past two years, Heiwa has managed to buy 95 percent of its soybeans from Maine farmers, with the other 5 percent coming from farmers in Vermont.

On Mondays and Tuesdays, when Wolovitz makes soymilk and tofu, he begins by grinding beans that soaked overnight into a mash resembling hummus.

The ground soybeans are cooked with more water. Once the liquid is separated from the solids, it is fresh soy milk.

If he wants to make tofu, Wolovitz then adds a coagulant and the soy milk separates into curds and whey. The curds become the tofu.

Heiwa’s core business is making and selling bulk tofu to restaurants and to retailers willing to repackage it or sell it deli-style out of buckets.

Now that the soy milk has hit the market, Wolovitz wants to figure out how to sell packaged 1 pound blocks of tofu. That would expand his market, as more stores would carry it if the blocks were a uniform size and packaged individually. But it also would involve buying more equipment to cut and package the tofu.

And as he learned from his expansion into soy milk, even things that should be simple never seem to stay that way.

One of Wolovitz’s biggest challenges was finding a way to bottle the soy milk. Heiwa is located at Coastal Farms and Foods in Belfast, so Wolovitz first tried to use shared equipment available at the processing center.

When that didn’t work, he ordered a bottling machine called an overflow filler. It took three months to get the machine, but now he can bottle 40 half-gallon jugs in about 10 minutes.

With distribution just rolling out, Wolovitz is bottling around 160 gallons each week. This will likely increase once Whole Foods begins stocking the soy milk at its Portland store.

“We can always make more,” Wolovitz said. “We’re not production limited.”

Nor is Wolovitz limited when it comes to expansion ideas.

In addition to wanting to package the tofu, Wolovitz sees an opportunity to bottle the soy milk in smaller bottles and create flavored soy milks – such as maple and blueberry.

But don’t look for these in the near future.

As Wolovitz said, “There’s only so much we can do at once.”

 

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelancer who lives in Portland, where she writes about health food and cooks with soy milk. She can be reached at [email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila