Maine has been on my mind recently and Alex’s mention of Clayton Spinney shows that his is as well. Clayton was a true character and we enjoyed dealing with him on a regular basis. He was an older farmer born and bred in Maine, opinionated and crusty, generous and open-handed. His wife made a wonderful cheese that they marketed as Bovre. Clayton had a distaste for goat’s milk so his wife decided to make chevre with cow’s milk. It was a huge success and we were happy to purchase it up until they shut down their operation. Regulations had closed in on them and they were unable and unwilling to keep up with the necessary improvements to their kitchen and work areas to keep the local inspectors appeased. So they basically said to hell with it and shut down the dairy aspect of their operations.
Fortunately Clayton also raised pigs. People would request them in the spring and come late fall Clayton would take them to the slaughterhouse and deliver the pig to your doorstep. He would name them after people he knew and it was somewhat disconcerting to get progress reports throughout the summer on how “Alex” was doing. Clayton didn’t discriminate though, he named one of the pigs after his daughter and it was equally strange to hear him casually discussing when he would be taking her to slaughter as well. “Alex” turned out to be a beautiful and extremely large (in my opinion) pig, and we made many wonderful things out of him.
Clayton was definitely the kind of person referred to as the salt of the earth. He and his wife were very straightforward. In the beginning he was friendly but not too much so. He knocked on our door one day to inform us that we should be using his cheese and left us with a bundle of samples to play with. He never hesitated to let us know what we were doing wrong, compliments came much more slowly and with a greater sense of satisfaction. It took some time to warm him up but when we did he was full of stories and tall tales. As time went by we would get the news from all the other stops on his delivery trail. I don’t care what anybody says, men do gossip with the best of them, they just call it passing the news or shooting the breeze or some other innocuous colloquialism. The, ahem, older gentlemen are the worst. They are like little birds buzzing around, commenting on everyone and everything that crosses their path. Clayton gave us a glimpse into a culture that we never could have broken into and the stories he told us kept us entertained for hours. His wife sent us recipes and let taste her cheddar, a special cheese that she made in small batches to be given only to the people she actually approved of. On one momentous occasion they actually came to dinner with their kids, we were definitely one of the more expensive restaurants in the area, if not the most, and we were touched that for their special night out they came to us. Afterwards Clayton allowed as how the food wasn’t bad for fancy stuff. I don’t think we could have asked for a finer compliment.
He was one of many small producers in the area who enriched our larder with friendship and provisions and made Maine begin to feel like home. There’s something special about New England that just can’t be found anywhere else. We both had ties to Maine from our separate childhoods, summer camps and trips to Freeport. What we didn’t know then was the number of small producers that take pride in quality products that exist there. We found those later when we were ready to appreciate them. We haven’t been back since we moved away, our time on the East Coast is so fleeting and we’re always based out of New York. We talk about it though and I’m sure that one day soon we’ll be walking along that rocky coast discovering new tastes and flavors and the people that created them.
On another note, we're going to play around with cheese-making this coming week. One of the things we're planning is to try and recreate the Bovre, if it works you'll be seeing it soon.