Allison Lakin, artisan cheesemaker

Allison Lakin, artisan cheesemaker

Allison Lakin started her career of making cheese after a 15-year stint in maritime and art museum education.

She graduated from Cornell University in 1991 with a degree in anthropology, not dreaming that, several years later, she would be making and selling a variety of artisan cheeses throughout New England, as well as in Georgia, Ohio and California.

Her handcrafted cheeses, made with cow’s milk from Tide Mill Organic Farm in Edmunds, a remote Washington County township, can be purchased and eaten at several restaurants and co-ops throughout the state, including nearby Downeast Wine Imports in Kennebunk, Atlantic Baking Co. in Rockland, Black Tie Market in Portland, and many more.

“Food, and cheese, was a logical evolution in my work path because it combines all of the skills that I have with a passion for art and science. And with delicious results,” said Lakin, 45, who lives in Rockland.

Originally from upstate New York, Lakin is the owner of Lakin’s Gorges Cheeses, located at the State of Maine Cheese Co. in Rockport, where she crafts seven types of cheese, including Basket Molded Ricotta, Prix de Diane, Medallion, Opus 42, Morgan, Cascadilla Bleu, and her newest creation, Grandiflora. Aside from the fresh ricotta cheese, which is made with whole milk and scented with sweet grass and clover, all of Lakin’s cheeses are aged in a 10-by-10-square-foot aging cave. Each wheel of ricotta is hand-ladled and molded into individual baskets, a process that takes about a day.

Her other cheeses require more aging. Opus 42, for example, is a semi-firm cheese that is aged three to six months. While “the natural rind is a mottled white and tan with earthy notes,” her website says, “the interior is a pale yellow with a taste that is slightly sharp and nutty.”

In 2002, Lakin began making cheese at a farm in New York, and attended the University of Wisconsin Cheese Short Course and workshops with renowned cheesemakers Peter Dixon, Kathy Biss and Margaret Morris, who taught her the art and chemistry of cheesemaking.

While she continues to seek out opportunities to become a better cheesemaker, “Nothing teaches you better than doing it on a daily basis because it is a very sensory experience,” said Lakin. “As you make cheese, you learn about how seasonal changes in milk can impact the final product.”

She is the company’s only cheesemaker. Three days of the week she spends actually making the cheese, and the remaining four days are dedicated to cheese aging, salting and turning the wheels, washing equipment and delivering the cheese.

According to Lakin, “a lot of attention is paid to each and every cheese,” all made with organic cow’s milk. Cheesemaking involves pasteurizing milk and adding culture, a bacteria that transforms lactose to lactic acid and gives milk the desired flavors in the finished product. Then Lakin adds rennet, a coagulant that turns the milk from a liquid to a product with Jell-O consistency. Next, she separates the curds (the solids) from the whey (the liquid), she explained.

And, she said, each batch is made by hand.

“The curds are then ladled into forms, or molds, that shape the cheese into a wheel,” said Lakin. “I love the fact that I get to share what I make with a whole bunch of people and they enjoy eating it. It’s one of the great combinations of art and science that you can do on a daily basis.”

Despite the fact that cheesemaking is a demanding job, “it doesn’t feel like work,” she added. “I love what I do everyday and working with the chefs and retailers who sell my cheese. Attention to detail, a sense of humor, and flexibility are essential to making this happen.”

Lakin said that she’s most excited about the fact that cheese “offers almost endless possibilities” in terms of the way it’s created. When she’s not at the helm, however, Lakin enjoys gardening, kayaking and playing traditional Irish percussion instruments.

Last year, Lakin made 7,000 pounds of cheese, though she hopes to double that amount in the future. While she has plans to expand her market, her overall goal is simple.

“To make beautiful cheese,” said Lakin.

A Closer Look:

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Allison Lakin, 45, has been a cheesemaker since 2002, beginning in her home state of New York. She started her business, Lakin’s Gorges Cheese, in Rockport in 2011. Courtesy photosAllison Lakin, of Lakin’s Gorges Cheese in Rockport, creates a variety of specialty cheeses, including Basket Molded Ricotta, Medallion, Prix de Diane, Opus 42, Morgan, and Cascadilla Bleu.

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