Maine Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources Director Nancy McBrady, left, presented the 2023 Commissioner’s Distinguished Service Award to Caitlin Hunter of Appleton, center. Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Commissioner Amanda Beal at right.

AUGUSTA — The Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Commissioner Amanda Beal named Caitlin Hunter of Appleton the recipient of the 2023 Commissioner’s Distinguished Service Award.

Hunter invested more than 40 years in raising goats and making cheese and has been called the “Bedrock of the Maine Cheese Guild” and “cheesemaker extraordinaire.”

The Commissioner’s Distinguished Service Award is presented to individuals who have significantly contributed to Maine agriculture. The award was presented at the DACF’s Maine Agricultural Trades Show Commissioner’s Luncheon on Jan. 10, in front of representatives of all four Congressional offices, state legislators, past DACF Commissioners and more than 300 friends of Maine agriculture.

“I am honored to present Caitlin Hunter with the Distinguished Service Award. She has earned this recognition because of her pioneering vision, determination, and ongoing mentorship and support of newer cheesemakers that has helped to foster innovation and creativity, as well as growth in the number of creameries in Maine,” Beal said, according to a news release from the department. “Cheesemakers across Maine applaud Caitlin today for inspiring an industry with her remarkable skill and leadership.”

Hunter’s cheese making started more than three decades ago when she began selling her soft goat cheeses at a local farmers market. In a little more than a decade, she acquired more goats, built a barn and a brand, and received state licensing for Appleton Creamery. Her products reached consumers through sales at the Belfast and Camden farmers markets. With support from Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, she and other cheesemakers formed the Maine Cheese Guild in 2003. Through guild classes, the skill set of Maine cheese makers expanded, and the Maine artisan cheese sector was launched. Today, after retiring from cheesemaking to enjoy life with her husband, Brad, she offers her knowledge to the industry through her consulting business, Capercaillie Consulting.

Two Commissioner’s Distinguished Service Awards were presented through online ceremonies while the show was staged virtually. Penelope “Penny” Jordan, a fourth-generation farmer in Cape Elizabeth and local community organizer, earned the 2021 award. The founders and owners of Four Season Farm in Harborside, Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman, earned the 2022 award.