Monroe Cheese: A Delectable Memory

Cheese Skipper, or BlowflyThe following is from a story written for the Monroe, Maine town archives describing the Monroe Cheese Factory, which operated for at least 50 years in the center of Monroe, near the falls, until 1936. It includes a description of a very particular product — Skipper Cheese — that they specialized in “before the days of food laws.”

You may remember the “Good Old Days” when you could walk into any grocery store around [Maine] and order a slab of Monroe cheese.

Though the age of automation has brought to humanity untold comfort and pleasure, the days of horses and hard hand work had their compensations. Monroe cheese was one of them.

Like the nine mills that once flanked Monroe Stream, the cheese factory was of an era that saw Monroe become a prosperous center of activity. It was the age when people worked from dawn to dusk, wood was sawed by hand, and a farmer milked by hand and drove the milk by horse team to market.
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Workshops 2013: Magical Microbiolgical Mystery Tour

This is a lecture
May 6 (Monday), 2013 from 11am to 3pm
Location: Pineland Farms Creamery, New Gloucester, ME

DIRECTIONS (link to PDF document):

Building # 19 on the map.

Have you ever wondered what turns a bland lump of salty curd into the amazing diversity of flavors, aromas, and appearances exhibited by the hundreds (if not thousands) of cheese varieties? More often than not these characteristics are initiated and controlled by organisms populating the surfaces of each cheese. Given that, how much do we know about what is happening on the cheese rind? Not much, it turns out. Cheesemakers *think* they know what happens when this mold is added, or a cheese is put into that cave, but microbiologists at Harvard’s FAS Center of Systems Biology have been testing these assumptions and finding that the cheese surface is a much more diverse environment than we could ever have imagined, involving some “usual suspects” as well as utterly alien influences.

This year the Guild has been able to schedule a member of the FAS lab, Benjamine Wolfe (who has worked with the Cheese Nun to figure out the secret lives of Geotrichum candidum) to visit Maine and update us on their research and findings as part of our May meeting to help us better understand our own aging situation, causes, and effects.

COST: This lecture is FREE to Maine Cheese Guild members. Non-members will pay $25 at the door, and their lecture fee will include membership in the Maine Cheese Guild.

The Mystery of Microbial Mixes

As I reported to the Guild last year, there is a lab at Harvard that is taking an unprecedented look into the microbial communities that make up the rind on aging cheese and they are finding astonishing interactions as well as residents that all help to create the local identity of our local foods. Now Dr. Rachel Dutton, a Bauer fellow at the FAS Center of Systems Biology, has piqued the interest of many gastronomists by studying the cheese rinds at The Cellers At Jasper Hill’s aging caves, and then opening up her appreciation of microbiological societies to look at other food fermentation processes like sourdough and yogurt. Her efforts have now been noticed by the New York Times Dining Pages quoting chefs that believe she is unlocking the mysteries of what makes the taste of place — what is terroir.