Pineland Farms
      Making Cheese
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Unique Maine Farms had the opportunity to spend some time in the Creamery at Pineland Farms. It is the largest creamery in the state of Maine and world-renowned for its award-winning cheeses. It  specializes in handcrafting Cheddar, Sharp Cheddar, Smoked Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Onion & Garlic Jack, Salsa Jack, Three Pepper Jack, Smoked Monterey Jack, Baby Swiss, Smoked Baby Swiss, and Farmhouse Feta. Their spreadable cheese is available in five flavors:  Salsa Jack, Onion & Garlic, Baby Swiss, Bacon Swiss, Cheddar, and Horseradish Cheddar.  They also offer Fresh Cheese Curd and Farmhouse Feta Crumbles.

There is an internationally-acclaimed herd of Holstein cows that reside at Pineland Farms.  Milk for the cheese made at the Creamery at Pineland Farms is acquired from area farms to assure freshness and to support local agriculture.  The milk has no rBST

(recombinant bovine somatotropin) or rGBH (recombinant bovine growth hormone). It is placed in stainless steel holding tanks that can store up to three thousand gallons of milk until the cheese is ready to be made.

Perhaps the biggest surprise when Unique Maine Farms had the opportunity to spend some time in the Creamery, thanks to Mark, Kevin, Kenny and the staff, was learning how making cheese involves significantly more steps than ever originally imagined. A considerable amount of hard work and muscle power is required!  On the day of the visit, the Production crew was making Onion Garlic Monterey Jack cheese.

The cold fresh locally-sourced milk that was used to make the cheese had been pasteurized to eradicate any harmful bacteria.  It then filled one of the vats which can hold one thousand gallons of milk.  Kenny Hartwell, the Lead Cheese Maker,  added cultures to the milk which resulted in the milk thickening into curds.  Mechanized knives called “harps” cut through the curd and enables the liquid whey to separate from the curd.  During the entire process the crew shoveled and turned the curd.  It takes great strength and endurance to continue with these repetitive motions for such an extended period of time and there was no idle time for Kenny, Ryan, Trevor, Duane, or Adam.

The temperature, ph, and titratable acidity were constantly monitored throughout the process.

When a sufficient amount of whey had been extracted, the remaining curd was filled into metal containers called hoops. Each hoop was weighed so that it was approximately sixty-two pounds.  The hoops were stacked on top of each other and with the hydraulic press any remaining whey was squeezed out. The whey does not go to waste.  It is collected in storage tanks and sprayed on pastures and hayfields to enrich the grass and hay that are fed to the cows.

Pineland Farms prides itself on making cheese by hand unlike other large cheese companies that rely on large amounts of automated equipment to prepare and mix the cheese.  For mechanization, they only incorporate the use of harps (knives that cut through the curds) and a press to extract the excess whey.  Kevin explained that in their hands-on approach the cheese maker and the crew are fully engaged in the process and are able to directly monitor the texture, seasonings, and flavor. 

After the production of the cheese is completed several other steps take place.  The ensuing process depends on the specific variety of the cheese.  The curd of Swiss and Feta cheese is soaked in tanks of salt water until the correct amount of salt is absorbed. Many cheeses need to age.  Cheese that ages for longer periods of time translate into stronger cheese. Some of the sharpest cheddars made by Pineland Farms age for a few years.  The mild Monterey Jack cheese can complete its aging process in just two months.  When the cheese is ready to be sold, it is brought to the packaging room where it is cut into

appropriate sizes and wrapped.  The final step before heading to market involves labeling the cheese.

Pineland Farms cheese is sold in thirty-eight states and in the District of Columbia.  It is available in many stores, restaurants, and military commissaries. If you access the Creamery’s Awards webpage you will see an impressive listing of all the awards that their cheeses have earned.  Pineland Farms has been recognized at the American Cheese Society’s competitions in Wisconsin, the Los Angeles International Dairy Competition, and the Big E Gold Medal Cheese Competition.

Visitors to Pineland Farms who wish to learn more about the Creamery are welcome to view the operation through the self-guided tour that is displayed near the observation windows.

Mark Whitney Creamery Manager and

Cheese Maker  (courtesy photo)

Cheese Maker Kevin Burnsteel

Cheese Maker Kenny Hartwell