If you’ve ever been on a farm with goats and noticed when they all stand at attention at the same time, it’s probably because they’ve spotted something that you can’t see. That’s because goats have eyesight that is seven times better than humans, says Caitlin Hunter, owner of Appleton Creamery in Appleton. “They also know the sound of my car driving away and will inevitably go into labor when I’m not home!”
If anyone knows goats, it’s Caitlin Hunter. She has been raising them since 1979, and, two years later, she decided to start dabbling in cheese- making, too. She taught herself, from books and lots of trial and error.
“I started my own farmers market on Matinicus Island, where I’d sell my cheese and garden produce,” says Hunter. “Once I discovered that I liked making cheese, the goats became the biggest part of my farm.”
Eventually Hunter moved her operation to the small midcoast town of Appleton, where her business officially became Appleton Creamery in 1994, and she sells her cheeses at her own farmstand.
The creamery today has one Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) apprentice, a full-time employee and two part-time employees, which Hunter admits isn’t quite enough. Her husband, Brad, is an integral part of the business, and their daughter, Fiona, helps out. Her sister, Megan Cafferata, manages soap production and marketing.
The creamery is home to 60 goats that Hunter and her staff are milking, plus three mature bucks, two bucklings, eight replacement kids and a couple of retired ladies. This isn’t a traditional farm with hundreds of sprawling acres. Instead, the goats have open access to the woods and are brought in to feed, since they don’t have open pasture.
“We will cull down in the fall for fewer numbers for the winter, and then welcome many new kids in March,” Hunter says.
This year the creamery partnered with the ME Water Buffalo Co., a water buffalo meat and dairy farm also located in Appleton, and created the Appleton Cheese Trail. The collaboration encourages visitors to visit both creameries to learn about goats, water buffalo and the farms (and sample some unique cheeses, too). The creameries are open every Saturday from June through October, and they have a farm stand that’s open on weekends.
Hunter is proud to be a part of a state where food production is plentiful. “Maine is ideally suited for small-scale farms that sell locally. There is still a lot of education to be done to challenge people to eat locally,” she says. “Maine is one of the few states that could and should feed itself. Not only do we have incredible dairy and produce, but we have wheat and other grains, salt, wine and beer and spirits, maple syrup and honey and so much fruit. We don’t need to look any farther to feed ourselves.”
And Hunter is determined to educate the next generation of cheesemakers. Each year the creamery has apprentices through MOFGA. She’s also been teaching cheesemaking courses since 2006. “I really like teaching— it’s a way to help the next generation of cheesemakers,” she says. “I usually offer six or so classes, with Goat Cheese 101 being the most popular.”
So what is the secret to making a really great chevre? For Hunter, the answer is simple. It’s a mix of hygiene, good water and great hay. And, of course, a really nice life.
You can visit Appleton Creamery Farmstand on Saturdays through October. They are also participating in Open Creamery Day on Oct. 9.Laura Serino has been writing for national and regional magazines for the past 10 years and is the co-author of “Twentysomething Girl.” She lives on North Haven island with her husband, dog and two cats.