Friday, March 7, 2014
For some Mainers it’s particularly easy to follow a regimen of eating, for the most part, locally sourced foods. From meats, dairy, fish, and the like it’s all right here.
That doesn’t mean you should go to the extremes of Maine’s strictest locavore, Chef David Levi (Vinland), who excludes any food or product not derived from Maine soil and sources.
But what's so impressive in particular is the artisanal quality from our local dairy farmers who are giving us incredible raw milk, cream, buttermilk, butter, yogurts and cheeses.
While the milk industry is always in a state of flux from price swings and the vagaries of government subsidies, local organic producers of raw cream and milk products have a slight edge because of pricing power and the rarity of their product. In Maine the demand is steady, and it’s legal to sell raw milk products in stores statewide whereas other states have strict laws governing such sales.
I’ve been drinking raw milk and its derivatives exclusively for over 10 years. While there are excellent small-herd milk producers like Straw Farm (in partnership wtih Dandelion Spring Farm), Winter Hill, Balfour Farm Dairy, Swallowtail Farm and Creamery and others, my favorite producer for milk still remains Balfour from their farmstead in Pittsfield, which I once visited. The milk has that slight yellow tinge because the cows roam on pasture and it has a nice amount of top cream. Swallowtail's and the others are also excellent and often sold in big glass Mason jars.
Here’s a list of some of my other favorite local dairy products. I’ve not included yogurts and cheese but highlighted sources for cream, milk, butter and buttermilk.
Maine Country Butter is made by a small local farm called Pleasant Acres in Livermore Falls. The butter is churned in small batches and the cream is from naturally produced local milk. The cream is pasteurized and the butter is very lightly salted with sea salt. I’ve started to use it in baking and the results have been wonderful. It’s available at a few Hannaford stores in Central Maine, some natural food stores around the state and is sold at Whole Foods Market in Portland. See their website for full details.
Sold in pound packages there are 4 squares wrapped in paper, each weighing 4 ounces
The butter is deeply yellow and has great texure and flavor
Bisson’s also makes a very rich and creamy high butterfat butter using the cream from its own herd of cows. The cream is not pasteurized, and the butter is available salted or unsalted. Unsalted raw-cream butter, however, doesn’t have a long shelf life whereas the salted version does. Bisson’s butter is very lightly salted and can be used for all cooking needs, including baking. The butter is available at L &P Bisson’s & Sons Meat Market and Farm in Topsham ( 112 Meadow Rd. off Route 201 ) and sold at Rosemont Market.
Two other farms butters that are excellent include Swallowtail Farm and Balfour.
Dairy farmers shy away from full production of heavy cream, especially from raw cream, because it’s more profitable to use the whole milk in milk production or cheese-making. Still there are some farmers who sell wonderfully rich and thick raw cream. Once you have it you’ll never go back.
The notable taste difference with raw cream is that it doesn't have the "cooked" taste that pasteurized and ultra-pasteurized cream have
Bisson’s makes the best heavy cream--a very thick, high butterfat content cream, which whips in minutes. Whether for baking, cooking or ice cream it’s the best there is. It’s available at their Topsham shop, and Rosemont carries it too. Other natural food stores have begun to sell it.
Other small-batch raw creams are available from such farms as Misty Meadows Creamery, Clinton, Maine, which Rosemont’s Munjoy Hill shop carries and Palmer Hill, from a creamery in the Unity-Thorndike region. Their cream—and butter—is as good as Bisson’s. In fact, it’s so thick you need to spoon it out of its glass jar. It has been available at the Belfast farmer’s market and is sold at the Blue Hill Co-op. If you come across it buy it. Another one to look for is the cream from White Orchard Farms, from their farm in Frankfort. It’s available at the Belfast Co-op, the Blue Hill Co-op, the Frankfort’s Family Country Store in Frankfort and the Natural Living Center in Bangor.
Regarding the shelf life of raw cream, the standard dating is for 7 days. But the staff at Bisson’s say unofficially that it can last up to 10 days, though there’s no guarantee. Unopened, however, it can sometimes last over two weeks. The smell test is your best bet
In the last couple of years “real” buttermilk has become all the rage with trendy cooks everywhere. In Maine it’s been widely available for years. Smiling Hill Farm makes a very good cultured buttermilk--very, thick and rich--and it’s’ available at some Hannaford markets but mostly in places like Rosemont, some farm stores like Spring Brook Farm (Greely Rd.) in Cumberland and other specialty food markets.
Swallowtail's buttermilk is made from raw cream and cultured; it's thick and delicious
Small farms like Balfour and Swallowtail produce terrific buttermilk. Balfour’s is widely available at farmer’s markets, natural food stores and shops like Rosemont. Swallowtail is available by special request at their stand at the Portland farmer’s market.
Balfour's buttermilk is made from pasteurized cream and cultured
Buttermilk has a long shelf life. It's generally date stamped for 2 to 4 weeks, but according to many farm producers it’s lasts much longer than specified. It may become more acidic and sourer but it’s not spoiled. In fact, with some age it gets even thicker. I’ve kept buttermilk for months without spoilage problems. Be sure to shake it before using because the buttermilk will separate. Note that these creams and milks should be stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator towards the rear.
John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.
In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.