Thursday October 10, 2013 | 06:39 PM

During the month of October (American Cheese Month!), The Root is embarking on a short series celebrating Maine cheese makers who have the attention of cheese lovers from near and far. The first piece in the series, featuring Spring Day Creamery, may be found here

For this series, The Root is collaborating with Shannon Tallman, American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional (one of two in Maine) and Specialty Cheese Buyer for Whole Foods Market.

Cheese cave at Hahn's End.

Cheese could well be Deb Hahn’s identity, and eating her Bleu Velvet a revelation. Deb and Drew Hahn of Hahn’s End in Phippsburg, Maine produce aged cheese made from cow’s milk purchased from Bisson’s Farm in Topsham and Pineland Farms in New Gloucester.

Deb became certified as a cheesemaker 14 years ago after having attended a weekend cheesemaking workshop with her husband in Western, Massachusetts. She had never played around making yogurt or cheese before, but thought it would be fun. Deb and Drew had a blast and ate tons of cheese. When they came home, Deb started playing with cheesemaking and people were fascinated. “I could have been saying I’m making gold out of straw, they had the same look on their face, like wow,” Deb said.

At the same time Deb was starting to make cheese, Russell Libby of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), had identified cheesemaking as one way to help save Maine’s dairy farms. MOFGA hosted meetings and workshops with the idea of organizing Maine’s cheesemaking community. Eventually, the Maine Cheese Guild http://www.mainecheeseguild.org was formed.

‘The Rind Queen’
Hahn’s End cheese is made by hand in small batches and comes to full flavor in an aging cellar with conditions of high humidity and cool temperature. These conditions produce a natural growth of mold, which is also encouraged by the flora and fauna in the cheese itself. As the cheeses age they are carefully brushed and turned to ensure consistent rind development. Depending on the cheese the aging process takes from two months to a year. (description from Maine Cheese Guild)

Deb’s husband, Drew, built the cheese cave where Hahn’s End ages their cheese. It is located in a separate room in the basement, cut into the rock and ledge, which helps keep the room naturally cool and humidity high. Drew also created a prep room, which one must go through to enter the cave, to help with temperature and moisture control.

When Deb first started doing farmers’ markets, she made soft cheeses (Virginia of Sagadahoc (semi soft, buttery finish) Cloud 9 ( soft, thick creamy texture), because they were easy to make and could sell quickly. Eventually, she started doing hard cheeses (Olde Shiretowne (semi-hard), Eleanor Buttercup (semi hard, mild, smooth), City of Ships (hard, alpine style), Ragged Island (hard, aromatic), then bloomy rinds (Golden Ridge (bloomy rind), Petit Poulet (ashed with bloomy rind), some washed rinds (St Davids), and a blue (Bleu Velvet (aged blue). Hahn’s End also produces a Feta aged in brine. Never, however, has Hahn’s End produced a cheddar. “I remembered this one class in California, where the instructor said “We are a nation of cheddar lovers” and that’s so true because people equate a lot of cheese with cheddar,” Deb said. “I didn’t do cheddar, because I think there’s a lot of really great cheddar in this country. If I did a cheddar, I really wanted to do a traditional cheddar, and that’s back breaking work. In the end, is it really going to make people happy. A lot of the cheddars now, they’re putting so many adjunct cultures or cultures to enhance the flavor they’re not really even tasting like cheddar anymore. People get confused. Old fashioned cheddar it’s hard to find now.”

The names of her cheese have their own stories. Deb is from Houlton, Maine, which is known as the shire town of Aroostook County, and “shire town” is also old English term for county seat…hence Olde Shiretowne. “Eleanor Buttercup was the name my great grandmother gave to her daughter (my wonderful grandmother),” Hahn explained. “She was in labor and looked out the window to a field of buttercups. Hence Eleanor Buttercup.”

Hahn’s End currently produces ten handmade cheeses. At the height of the season, they produce as many as 14.

Q&A with Deb Hahn
ST: Well, you’re emotionally attached to them too, aren’t you? I love this one…

DH: It’s more like my customers get really emotionally attached to cheeses. People have their favorites, and it’s funny too…because summer people or tourists come up here every summer to the farmers’ market and they expect to see Eleanor Buttercup. They are very loyal.

ST: What would you say is the most popular? The Buttercup or the Bleu?

DH: I sell so much of the Bleu and the Eleanor Buttercup and City of Ships all together. Sometimes I think it’s City of Ships, but I make so much of these two in the summertime. I think it’s really close. I could sell a lot more than I do. I’ll usually take one wheel of the Bleu to the market, I could take two.

SK: What has surprised or fascinated you during cheesemaking?

DH: Affinage (practice of ripening cheese) is pretty interesting, so much happens, almost like its own little microcosm…

Tasting Notes by Shannon Tallman
Eleanor Buttercup—This is what I call a “good, sturdy cheese.” The body and structure of it is firm, but not overly aged or dry. ‘Buttercup’ is an apropos descriptor for this cheese because there is a bit of sweet and salt to the profile and the mouth feel (i.e., texture) is very creamy. Finishing the bite with the rind included adds a nice nutty finish.

Bleu Velvet—In a blind taste test, it would be hard to call out bleu velvet if it were put next to a wedge of Gorgonzola Dolce (sweet). The only difference, I’ve found between the two is that her strain of blue does not attack my tongue the way that Gorgonzolas tend to (it’s something with the cheese that’s always perplexed me). It’s sweet and smooth, with a respectable dose of pepper to remind you that you are eating a blue. Definitely one of the best in New England.

Golden Ridge—The wedge we had stands up as one of the most flavorful bloomy rinds in Maine. Over her years of cheese making, DH has definitely learned to have a balanced hand when it comes to salting and she, instead of relying on it, uses it to bring out more of the natural sweetness found in the milk that she uses. The paste was extremely buttery and finished with a subtle tanginess, similar to that found in crème fraiche.

Hahn’s End cheeses can occasionally be found in specialty shops including Treats in Wiscasset and Aurora Provisions in Portland. For farmers’ market information go here

Celebration of Cheese
The Maine Cheese Guild Presents Open Creamery Day 2013 on Sunday, October 13 from 11a.m. to 3p.m. As the hardwood foliage bursts in a blaze of colors on Columbus Day weekend, take in the spectacular sights and taste some award-winning cheese during the Maine Cheese Guild's annual Open Creamery Day. Visit many of Maine's cheese makers in their creameries, meet the animals, and learn the stories behind Maine's more than 150 artisan cheeses. For maps and an updated list of participating cheese makers, go here.

October 19, from 1 to 3 p.m. Whole Foods Market at 2 Somerset St. in Portland, Maine will host their annual American Cheese Month Celebration--with vendors ranging from the Cellars at Jasper Hill to Consider Bardwell (both Vermont cheese makers). There will be storewide vendor and team member demos, with each team showcasing their favorite American produced cheese. The store will be raffling off a $100 cheese centric gift basket to one lucky customer by the end of the day. Because, we all know wine pairs well with cheese, there will be a wine tasting from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.

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About the Author

Sharon Kitchens is a neo-homesteader learning the ins and outs of country living by luck and pluck and a lot of expert advice. She writes about bees for The Huffington Post and stuff she loves on her personal blog, deliciousmusings.com.

When she is not writing, she enjoys edible gardening, reading books on food and/or thinking about food, hanging out by her beehives and patiently tracking down her chickens in the woods behind her old farmhouse.

In her blog, Sharon profiles farm families, reports on farm-based education and internships, conducts Q&A's with master beekeepers, offers tips on picking a CSA, and much more.

Sharon can be contacted at kitchens.sharon@gmail.com or on Twitter @deliciousmusing.

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