In what might be a first for Maine, Lakin’s Gorges Cheese in Waldoboro won the Best of Class award in the flavored, soft-ripened cheese category at the prestigious World Championship Cheese Contest this month.

The Waldoboro cheese maker took top honors with its Rockweed cheese, a creamy, square-shaped wheel flavored with seaweed. Rockweed was the only winner from Maine in this year’s World Championship, which drew nearly 3,000 entries for its 141 competition categories. Winners were announced March 3.

Allison Lakin, who founded Lakin’s Gorges Cheese in 2011, shrugged off being the state’s sole medalist, saying other Maine cheese makers may simply have chosen to enter other competitions this year, or not at all. “There are so many great cheese makers in this state, and that number is growing all the time,” she said.

Rockweed, the seaweed-lined cheese from Lakin’s Gorges Cheese in Waldoboro, won Best of Class in the 2022 World Championship Cheese Contest this month. Allison Lakin

Even more impressive, a spokesperson for the Maine Cheese Guild said Lakin’s cheese may be the first World Championship winner ever from Maine. “I’ve been a member of the Maine Cheese Guild from the start, and I’m not aware of another Maine cheesemaker who has won an award at the World Champion Cheese Contest,” said Eric Rector, owner of Monroe Cheese Studio. “It’s quite an achievement for Allison.”

A spokesperson from the competition was unable to confirm Maine’s medal count on Tuesday.

In its flavored, soft-ripened class, Rockweed edged out second-place finisher Jasper Hill Farm from Vermont, an established powerhouse and winner of 15 Best-in-Class awards at the World Championship since 2012.

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“I’m a one-woman cheese maker, and I have no employees. I don’t have the resources behind me that a place like Jasper Hill does,” Lakin said. “Winning this award really kind of knocked my socks off.”

Lakin stopped entering her cheeses in competitions a few years back, because she wasn’t getting the “useful feedback” she’d hoped for from judges and her peers at the contests. But she said when she first developed Rockweed, “I realized it had something special, and that it was worth trying to see how it stood up in competitions.”

Rockweed has been honored previously by regional magazines, and took a silver medal at the Big E New England fair in 2019. But in terms of prestige, the World Championship Cheese Contest is another order of magnitude. Hosted every two years by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, the contest bills itself as “the world’s premier technical cheese, butter and yogurt competition.”

“Chefs and restaurants have the James Beard Awards, and (the World Championship Cheese Contest) is like the James Beard Awards for cheese makers, our Oscars,” Lakin said.

Lakin’s Rockweed cheese blends milk from Jersey cows at her East Forty Farm in Waldoboro with seaweed she gets from Maine Coast Sea Vegetables in Hancock. “It’s not like eating nori, with that intense ocean taste,” Lakin said, noting that the creaminess of the cheese balances the briny, meaty, umami flavor of the seaweed.

She also infuses the milk itself with seaweed flavor by feeding some seaweed to her cows. “It’s incredibly nutritious for them, and they eat it like candy,” she said.

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As word spread of the Rockweed win, demand for Lakin’s cheese has exploded. Last Saturday, she sold 40 wheels in one hour. “I could have literally sold four times as much cheese as we had ripe last weekend,” she said. “Now there’s an incredible demand for cheese that hasn’t been made yet.”

Lakin’s Gorges Cheese website lists stores where their cheese is sold, and customers can also order her cheese online through the site.

Maine chef and author Erin French and Food Network star Ina Garten on the set of Garten’s new show “Be My Guest.” Photo courtesy Orlando Stuart

Erin French on new Ina Garten show

Star Maine chef Erin French, owner of The Lost Kitchen in Freedom, will appear on Ina Garten’s new Food Network show “Be My Guest” in early April.

The episode with French as the featured guest airs April 2 at 12 p.m. on the Food Network, as well as on Discovery Plus, an on-demand streaming service. The Discovery Plus version of the episode runs a full 60 minutes, while the Food Network version has been streamlined to 30 minutes, a format the series will use for all four episodes in its first season, according to show producers.

French has long been a fan of Garten, who also has hosted the Daytime Emmy-winning “Barefoot Contessa” cooking show for 28 seasons. In February 2021, French was amazed to find the feeling was mutual when Garten emailed her out of nowhere.

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French recalled that Garten’s email said, “It’s my birthday, and all I did was sit and binge-watch your show,” in reference to “The Lost Kitchen,” the Magnolia Network’s hit series featuring French and her restaurant. French replied to Garten, and the two started a correspondence.

“I thought, wow, this is crazy – I’m pen pals with Ina Garten,” French said.

French came to find they shared not only the same cookbook publisher and memoir editor, but a similar approach to food and cooking as well. “We immediately hit it off. We cook from a similar place,” French said. “It’s not just about the food, it’s about the way you make people feel around the table.”

This past fall, Garten asked French if she’d be interested in appearing on her new “Be My Guest” show. “I didn’t realize at first that I’d be the guest for the whole show,” French said.

French spent three days at Garten’s home in East Hampton, New York, for the taping. They cook for each other in the episode. Garten made French banana crunch muffins and French whipped up her dad’s meat loaf.

“It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life so far,” French said. “Ina is so authentic. She’s really that person you see on TV. I wouldn’t be where I am today without people like her.”

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The “Be My Guest” series premieres Saturday, when Garten meets up with actress Julianna Margulies. The remaining two episodes in the series feature television journalist Willie Geist and Hollywood power couple Rob Marshall and John DeLuca.

HB Provisions for sale

The 1865 building that houses HB Provisions in Kennebunk has been listed for sale at $3.8 million.

Investcomm Commercial Group listed the 15 Western Ave. property in early January. General store and unofficial town meeting place HB Provisions anchors the building, which also includes a 2,642-square-foot, two-story apartment above the store. The store covers nearly 3,000 square feet on the ground floor.

Former President George H. W. Bush was often quoted saying that HB Provisions is the place “where everyone comes to meet and greet.” Owners Helen Thorgalsen and Bonnie Clement purchased the property in 2002. At the time, the store was known as Meserve’s Market.

“We’re not interested in selling to developers who’d come in and change it to condos,” Clement said. “But we’ve been doing this for 20 years, and we feel like it’s time to move on and pass things along to someone else.”

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Clement said HB Provisions stayed open for business every day since it first opened in 2002, even through the worst of the pandemic. “We made sure we kept staff and customers safe, but we were open. We’re the hub of the community,” she said.

Clement and Thorgalsen haven’t finalized their next steps once HB Provisions sells. “But the first thing we’re going to do is travel for about a year,” Clement said.

Fork Food Lab nears move to South Portland

Fork Food Lab, Portland’s shared commercial kitchen and food business incubator, came one step closer to realizing its goal of moving to a larger space in South Portland last week when a state agency approved 90 percent pro rata insurance on the Lab’s $3.6 million commercial loan to buy the property.

The Finance Authority of Maine approved the funding at its monthly meeting last week. “Greater Portland’s food industry has experienced significant growth over the past decade and Fork Food Labs provides a critical starting point for many businesses seeking to launch their operations without investing large amounts of capital upfront,” David Daigler, chair of the Finance Authority of Maine board, said in an announcement this week.

Fork Food Lab’s current 5,200-square-foot facility in the Bayside neighborhood can’t accommodate the operation’s growth. It aims to expand into a 42,000-square-foot space in South Portland at 95-97 Darling Ave. near the Maine Mall. Fork Food Lab would occupy up to 25,000 square feet at the new location, with plenty of room left for other food producers to join them, creating a food production hub.

Since its inception in 2016, Fork Food Lab has helped about 120 southern Maine food businesses to launch and scale up, including  Cape WhoopiesParlor Ice Cream Co. and Plucked Fresh Salsa. The company lost half of its members at the start of the pandemic, but doubled its membership in just four months last year. Food Fork Lab now has 57 members, and a waiting list for newcomers, and the new space would let them accommodate as many as 90 members, the Finance Authority of Maine said.

Fork Food Lab Executive Director Bill Seretta told the Portland Press Herald last fall that the new spike in membership came primarily from new immigrants – who jumped from 10 to 20 percent of the total membership – along with recently relocated entrepreneurs from places like Boston and New York.


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