BANGOR – It ain’t easy being cheesy … unless you work at Pineland Farms Dairy Company in Bangor where they are all about making cheese.
WVII/WFVX spent Thursday making a wheel of cheddar at Pineland Farms similar to the one that was used to give away a year of cheese on Sunday during Open Creamery Day.
“It’s a day we’ll open up the doors to the public and allow them to come in see everything thing that we do as far as making cheese and processing milk here and really give people a hands-on opportunity to check out what we do and sample the flavors of cheese that we make,” said Mark Whitney, president of Pineland Farms Dairy.
The gathering was set up to look like a farmer’s market with several games for young and old. One included guessing how many cheese curds are in a bag and another featured a prize that will last all year.
“We’ll have a wheel [of cheddar]. Guess the weight of the cheese. The person who gets the closest to the weight will win a year supply of cheese,” Whitney said.
Pineland was started in 2006 by the nonprofit Libra Foundation. After consolidating three locations, the company began making cheese at the former Grant’s Dairy on Hildreth Street North last August.
All the milk comes from local dairy farmers and the whey removed in the cheese-making process is used to feed farm animals.
To make the cheddar for the wheel, the cheesemakers began by heating milk, then adding culture. After cooking for around two hours, rennet was added and the mixture was cooled, which is when the curds began to form. After the whey was drained, the curds were flipped every 15 minutes for several hours, before they were put under pressure for some 13 or so hours to create the blocks.
Then the aging process begins. It takes about six months for mild cheddar and one to two years for sharp, said Dennis Mcdonald, an assistant cheesemaker.
Unlike many other commercial cheesemakers, a lot of the work at Pineland is done by hand.
“It’s a more traditional method and I think, in my opinion, it creates a more unique flavor,” Whitney said.
“Physically, it’s a pretty hard process, but scientifically it’s really not that hard,” said Brandon Lawler, an assistant cheesemaker. “You have our cultures, our rennet, our flavorings. It’s more of a kind of hurry up and wait game.”
He added later, “I love it. I love every second of this job.”
Almost all of the original employees are still working at the plant and production manager Larry Wintle said the team works well together.
“When I started working here I knew nothing,” said Mcdonald, who grew up in Boston and moved to Bangor for the job. “Since being here, I’ve learned so much and I’m continuing to learn every day. No matter how long I work here, I will still continue to learn. There is always something new to learn about making cheese.
“It is an art form,” he said.
Pineland is one of 18 creameries that opened its doors on Sunday. Hundreds of people toured the 77,000-square foot facility in Bangor.
The company now employs 36 people and in the last few months have developed two new types of cheese curds – ranch and buffalo flavored.
In addition to the feta, Monterrey jack, baby Swiss, cheddar and three types of cheese curds, attendees also will get a chance to try a broccoli and cheese soup made with Pineland cheese.
“We’re really excited to share what we do,” Whitney said.