WHITEFIELD — Bret Medbury leaned over his wife’s shoulder Sunday and urged her to get the blue cheese.

Standing in the knot of people in the Barred Owl Creamery farm store on the Hamilton Farm, Medbury, a confessed lover of blue cheese, said he was persuaded by the sample he’d just tried.

“It’s best on a cracker,” Medbury said. “A mild one, like the plain, original Triscuit or a Ritz cracker.”

The Medburys have come at the right time. With any luck, Patti Hamilton, the cheesemaker behind Barred Owl Creamery, will be out of cheese by the end of the month, and that’s how she likes it.

“This is very satisfying and I love it,” Hamilton said. She makes farmstead cheese, which means she uses only the milk that her herd produces.

“I don’t want to be huge or be in the creamery five days a week,” she said, standing in her creamery early Sunday afternoon as the drizzle outside was committing itself to be a slow-dripping rain.

“I like shearing the sheep and trimming their hooves and making soap and making cheese,” she said. And when she’s not doing those things, she’s doing a host of others — gardening, hosting guests in the farm’s cabin, catering and any other thing she wishes.

“Since this is my life,” she said, stretching her arms out to indicate the farm around her, “I’m going to go ahead and do it.”

This is the second year that she has taken part in Open Creamery Day, the Maine Cheese Guild’s annual celebration of cheese-making when many of its members open their doors for farm tours.

Because of the limited scale of her operation her cheeses aren’t found at farmers markets, other than the Common Ground Country Fair. She sells her cheeses to restaurants like Portland’s Fore Street and Vinland. She also supplies cheese for two community sustained agriculture operations that serve Brunswick, and she sells from her store in Whitefield, which is open seasonally.

The allure of cheese-making took root years ago, when she first made cheese at a friend’s house and found it fascinating. But the opportunity to try it on her own wouldn’t happen for a number of years until she and her family moved to Maine from Vermont.

“We kept chickens and turkeys and pigs,” she said of the family’s limited farming operation. She was home schooling her children, and that was a way of teaching them about agriculture.

Hamilton was not quite satisfied.

“I wanted to milk something,” she said.

Around that time, she got a call from a woman who was going to be having a baby and taking a midwifery course, and she was looking for someone to take care of her goat for about a year. Hamilton figured that would be the perfect solution: She would have one goat for a limited period of time and if she didn’t like it or it didn’t work out, she could always give the goat back.

Hamilton didn’t give the goat back.

“I loved it,” she said. “All of a sudden, we had goats and the kids loved it.”

After looking for a permanent place for four years, the Hamiltons found the small farm in Whitefield by accident. She had driven up from Phippsburg to see a place in Alna, which she loved, and she decided to check out the Whitefield property.

“It was meant to be,” she said. On the same day the Hamiltons offered for the property, three other offers came in. Theirs was not the highest, but theirs was the one the sellers accepted. It’s now the base of their operations and the focus on living simply and sustainably.

“The idea was always sheep,” she said. They produce milk as well as meat and fiber. “I couldn’t see doing a lot with goats, other than milk.”

But Hamilton couldn’t resist the goats, or the call of cheese-making.

A decade ago, she got her creamery license, and with her herd of five Nubian cross goats and 6 Friesian sheep she has carved out a niche for herself, developing her nationally award-winning cheeses. In 2015, her organic feta took first place in the American Cheese Society Judging and Competition, the largest cheese competition in America, and her hot pepper jelly chevre took second place.

“She was dancing when she heard that,” her husband, Chris Hamilton said. On Sunday, he guided visitors through the farm’s milking shed, Whitefield’s former blacksmith shop. The chimney and the nails in the beams tell the story of the building’s early years. On the back is the milking room where the goats and sheep come during the six months of the year they are milked.

“They hop right up here,” he said, pointing to the platforms on either side of the aisle in the center of a small room. “They know which order they are milked in, and when they’re done, they go out to the field.”

They are, he said, creatures of habit.

Twice-a-day milkings keep the Hamiltons close to home for half the year. Chris Hamilton said Patti can milk faster by hand than he can by machine. They also have some help from neighborhood children when they need it.

After the cheese sells out, things will be quiet until about February or even January when next year’s lambs and kids will make their appearance and milking will start again.

“You know, it’s magic. You take this and this and this and you get this,” she said. “I’m not a scientist. Making cheese, it’s a metaphor for life. You are waiting for the whey to become clear.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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