AUBURN, Maine — Artisanal food is on everyone’s lips, literally, these days. But the makers of farmhouse cheeses and craft breads in the rural areas of Maine must get it to the people who want these goods.
One artisan calls the area a doughnut, meaning that breadmakers and cheesemakers live in the center of a ring surrounded by locals, but the people who want the goods are in the periphery beyond the ring. Local residents are not typically customers because those goods can be expensive and often not to their taste. So artisans look to Portland, Boston, and other gastronomic enclaves for buyers and rely on transport companies to get their products there.
Dara Reimers hardly has time to leave her Auburn bakery, The Bread Shack. Last summer she could not attend the annual Kneading Conference in Skowhegan, but sent staff while she stayed behind to work the dough. When a visitor praises her croissants as better than any on a recent trip to Paris, Reimers explains that one factor may be that Parisian bakers no longer exclusively use French butter — it has been replaced with a European-style butter blend. Reimers’s flaky, buttery croissants have won national and international awards, including one from the prestigious Coup du Monde de la Boulangerie, an invitational baking competition held in Paris.
Reimers is one of many food artisans who take their craft seriously in this part of central Maine. You can find all kinds of unusual breads, some made with flour grown in the state, along with goat cheeses, even goat sausage, and prosciutto produced from heritage pigs raised on the same land.
In order for Reimers and others to get their products distributed, they rely on FedEx and UPS. And there is a market. Food from Maine, especially handmade products, has a certain cachet. Central Maine, the area north of Portland and west of Bangor, is known for its wooded landscapes and modest farms. What people eat is scarcely the cuisine of Portland’s energetic food scene. It’s more like the alarmingly red hot dogs available in gas stations and covered dishes at church suppers.
In fact, locals might consider Italian charcuterie alarming. On their land in Avon, Kathy and Liam Trodden of Longfellow’s Creamery at Second Chance Farm have long been involved in cheese making, winning American Cheese Society awards. In 2005 the Troddens were among eight cheese makers in the state; there are now 62. Though they sell their cheese to fine restaurants and shops in Portland and other coastal towns, their new venture — making delicacies such as prosciutto, pancetta, and home-cured bacon — is a hard sell in Avon. Without national delivery services, the pair would have no business.
For customers outside the region who receive deliveries from Maine, the life here may be romanticized by images of pine forests and stately moose nibbling by the side of the road. But the food crafters who choose to live here work hard and surmount geographical challenges.
One is Jim Amaral, who learned to bake as a boy at Sally Ann’s in Concord, Mass. He now owns three Borealis Bakeries in Maine and plans to sell beyond the doughnut. He is known for his breads: beer and bacon, pumpkin raisin, and cardamom spice. His favorite job in the bakeries is shaping and slashing the loaves. “Bread has to look good to taste good,” he says. In 1996, Amaral and Matt Williams of Aurora Mills in Aroostook County began a project that finally resulted in the blend of grain from several local farmers that his bakery uses. Amaral believes he was the first baker in more than 100 years to mix dough with Maine-grown and milled flour.
Others attempting to re-create a rural economy include Ken and Janice Spaulding, who started Goat School, where you can learn to raise the animals. At Stony Knolls Farm in St. Albans, the couple raise Sables, Alpines, and Nubians and sell goat sausage and cheese, and their primer, “Goat School: The Manual.”
Food regulation is a challenge for these small producers, who must deal with a myriad of bureaucratic details. Kathy Trodden says, “I am one of the most regulated people in this state. I have 13 licenses.”
But with the Troddens’ recent emphasis on pigs and fresh and cured meats rather than dairy, everything is much simpler. “We may even be able to take a vacation,” she says. “With cheese, we never could.”
Borealis Breads 182 Ocean Ave., Portland, Maine, 207-541-9600; US Route 1, Waldoboro, Maine, 207-832-0655; US Route 1, Wells, Maine, 207-641-8800, www.borealisbreads.com
Second Chance Farm, Avon, Maine,
Stony Knolls Farm 49 Maple Lane, St. Albans, Maine, 207-938-3714, www.mainegoats.com
The Bread Shack 1056 Center St., Auburn, Maine, 207-376-3090