Last weekend, my wife and I took a trip to Boothbay Harbor, Maine. We love traveling to Maine at least once a year and we wanted to make sure to get in one last small trip for ourselves before the baby comes. Nothing fancy--just an opportunity to take small day trips up and down the Maine coast during one of the quieter and prettier times of the year.
Thanks to a little research on the Interwebs prior to the trip, my wife found a new place for us to stop at this year called The State of Maine Cheese Factory. It's a small-batch local cheese producer and their cheesemaking facility and retail store happens to be on scenic Route 1 between downtown Rockport and the picturesque town of Camden.
I love visiting small artisan food producers whenever we're traveling. A few years ago, we were in Grafton, Vermont and had a similar opportunity to visit the Grafton Village Cheese company. It's great when you can sample a fantastic product and speak to the people who make it at the same time. They're always so passionate about what they do. They weren't making cheese the day we visited, but the woman manning the store was eager to answer any questions we had about the product and the process.
Even more fantastic is that stops like these are often a great time to get outrageous discounts. You see, most cheesemakers form the cheese into large blocks and then cut the blocks to make the familiar 8 or 12-oz packages you see on store shelves. Since a block never divides evenly, they end-up with ends and trimmings. These ends, they often package in a vacuum-pack bag and sell at a deep discount. It's not uncommon to find $10/pound cheese at 30 to 50% off. You just have to slice it a little more creatively to fit on your cracker (or better yet...cook with it).
We ended-up walking away with a large package of their Katahdin Cheddar (named for Mount Katahdin, of course) and a container of their popular snacking curds (unaged chunks of cheese with a mild sweet, almost mozzarella flavor). I absolutely love the cheddar. It's made in the traditional style of a Vermont sharp cheddar, without being overly bitter. It has a nice creamy finish that goes great with just about anything. I've been eating it on Ritz crackers with a glass of apple cider. I'm also hoping to use some of it to make Homemade Mac & Cheese.
Do you ever stop at local food producers when traveling?