Thursday, May 1, 2014

Shawn Saindon in Portland, Maine

Shawn Saindon
Shawn Saindon is one of those people who manages to accomplish more with his life than seems possible.  He works a full time job, goes to college, apprentices at a cheese company and makes music (he's a singer-songwriter).  

He is well on the whey to achieving his goal - of being a professional cheese maker with his own business.

We first heard from Shawn when he entered out 35th Anniversary Essay Contest last fall.

He had just taken one of our technical advisor, Jim Wallace's Advanced Cheesemaking classes.  He had brought samples of his cheddar to the class for an evaluation by Jim and the others in the class.  Shawn told us,

"I attended the two day French Cheese making class at Jim's home last October. It was a great experience to learn from the master himself! We got valuable insight in to the very complex world of Alpine cheeses and heard many wonderful stories from Jim.

We also had time to do a tasting of cheeses created by any of the students who attended the class, so, I brought a few different flavors of my first few batches of cheddar which I had been working on over the past few months. 

I brought samples of farmhouse cheddar, sage infused, rosemary infused and a garlic & chive.  I was pretty nervous because Jim is such a Pro and here I am with a year of cheddar making experience…. I thought for sure he would just pat me on the head and say “Nice try, kid”… But he ended up really liking them! Everyone who sat around the table, including me, looked around in amazement at each other. I could hear them thinking “He liked it! He liked it!” I was very proud of myself after that.

Jim’s comment was that he could really taste the milk which is such an important thing. I did use organic, raw milk from the family farm (Rocky Ridge Organic Dairy Farm, Litchfield, Me.) and that’s flavor you don’t want to lose. Too often a cheddar will be over-salted or over-flavored and this distracts from the natural flavors coming from the milk."

Jim cutting Shawn's cheese to sample

Other samples of Shawn's cheese

After everyone tried Shawn's cheeses

Shawn Saindon with his mozzarella
Shawn's Essay

I've been making cheese for about a year now but I've been talking about making cheese forever. I finally started after last Christmas when my wife bought me my first cheese-making supply kits and recipe books from New England Cheese Making Supply Company. I'm guessing she got sick of hearing me talking about it all the time!

For years, I'm sure the security guards at the local grocery store had me on some kind of watch list for years. They'd routinely clock me as I would get drawn, like a moth to a flame, towards the cheese section. I could almost hear them say on their radios, "There he is, boys! Keep your eye on that weird cheese guy…"

I've loved the look, the smell and the flavor of a well-crafted hard cheese.

I've adored the texture of a bloomy rind goat's cheese, the elegance of Stilton Blue and the stately stature of six-month old cheddar. And I have quietly thrown the idea around in my head for years. Why not just come on out and be straight with myself:  I should make cheese. 

It all begins with the milk

What has held me back for so long? The answer is simple: Time. Or lack thereof. With a full-time job, college and musical ambitions, time was always of the essence.  For many in this busy modern world, starting the ancient craft of artisan cheese making seems too big of a mountain to climb.

Shawn's press
His cave

Up to this point, I've made many mozzarellas, ricotta and the stirred curd cheddar cheeses and I have even learned how to infuse flavors into my cheeses. I have been using the cow's milk from our family's organic dairy farm in Maine and this foray into cheese making has inspired us to start planning a creamery for the farm in the near future. Makes sense!

Feta in brine

In the beginning, there were lots of emotional ups and downs, existential internal dramas, and lessons learned throughout my trial-and-error period. Surprisingly, they all ended in certain successes. I believe fully that I am indeed becoming one with the curd.

Shaun's first cheddar

Bourbon soaked cheddar

So far, I've loved the making of pressed cheddar cheeses the most. I don't know why this it because I get an intense feeling that I'm making something…important? Something akin to a piece of art? Something that when people walk into a room, as soon as they see the cheese wheel, you can hear them say to each other: Now, there's some fine craftsmanship.

Brew soaked curds

Brew soaked curds pressed

Finished brew soaked cheese

I feel that a good hard cheese travels through time whilst undergoing an amazing physical and chemical change. At the end of its long journey, the aromas and flavors do victory dances through your senses as it tells your palette the tale of its epic adventure through the ages. Or maybe it's me. It's simply really cool to look in the cheese cave and see these wheels on the shelves. Like trophies. There's a certain level of self-fulfillment and pride when you step back and say, "I made that....I nurtured those."

Final press of garlic-chive cheddar

Garlic-chive air drying

Two cheddars

What's new since you wrote the essay?

I started making cheese with a kit my wife bought me last year and it's spiraled into this passion for making cheese. So much so that I started taking classes and now I'm working with Winterhill Farm in Freeport, Maine that makes cheese with milk from a rare breed of cows called Randalls. We are making Blues, Camemberts, Feta, Tommes, etc...

This fall, I'm heading to Italy for a few months for classes and (hopefully-figures crossed) an internship with a cheese maker to learn old world styles on a first hand basis.  When I get back, along with my wife, we plan on opening a small scale cheese production room and try our hand at selling at farmers markets.

Seriously, I never knew that the cheese making kits she bought me as a Christmas gift would open so many other doors.

Flipping Camemberts at his internship

How's your internship going?

The internship is going well!  I get to wash dishes and clean A LOT! haha!  But I guess that goes with the game.

But, I really do get a chance to be involved with so many cheese making processes for many styles of cheese.

I'm learning a lot about what it takes to work and operate a small scale creamery in Maine, too.

The cheese cave is getting quite full with amazing blues, raw milk tommes and manchego style cheeses.  I find myself in awe of their beauty every time I open the door and see these moldy works of art on the shelves.  The cheese maker, Sarah, and I have been doing 30-40 gallon batches of hard and soft cheeses.  The soft cheeses have included Feta, Ricotta, Brie, Blue Brie, Camembert style and a Ashed bloomy rind.

Piercing blue cheeses at internship

I also have been involved with the general maintenance of the cheeses such as flipping the bloomy rinds, piercing the blues, washing the washed rind cheeses, and hand rubbing the hard cheeses with olive oil.

It's been a great privilege to be involved in the processes of these cheeses - to see them through from start to finish. When I'm working on a cheese, I still think back to the first cheese kit I received as a gift (30 Minute Mozzarella Kit) and I cannot believe that it's taken me into the whole world of cheese making.

What else are you doing besides making cheese?

I still have a year left in my business degree of which I should be finished with next spring. I still work full time at my job at a lobster company in Portland, Me.

I work for a seafood company called Maine Lobster Direct ( and I am the Wholesale Sales Director. I supply lobster, fish, shellfish and other seafood to Maine chefs, seafood markets and caterers. Buying direct from the fishermen and selling direct to the customer. I also manage the crew and delivery drivers. It's a very different world to cheese making, that is for sure.

I haven't really dabbled in making beer yet but my wife has started making wine at home. I've been using her wine in my wine soaked cheddar cheese (lucky me!).

Cheddar soaking in wine that his wife made at home.

Final wine soaked cheddar

I am also a singer-songwriter, too, and enjoy writing pop music. I have a little project studio at home that I record my ideas. Here's a link to one of my past projects -

What are your goals?

Well, this fall my wife is teaching in Perugia, Italy and while we are there, I want to find a few cheese makers in the region to learn from.  After that I hope to start producing my own line of cheeses back here in Maine using the organic milk produced at our family's dairy farm.

Visit Shawn's new Facebook page- Of Songs & Cheese

5 comments: said...

Great story. I have a farm in Italy and have lived there for 23 years. I had a farmstead goat cheese kitchen for 12 years (just sold in Sept...still in mourning) If you would like to get in touch with me for any help I may be able to give for your Italian trip, please get in touch. Buona Fortuna!!

Shawn Saindon said...

Ciao e grazie!

That is very nice of you! I will email you as our plans for the trip develops. I am very interested in seeing your farm!


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story! Best to you and your wife in all of your endeavors. You are filling your life with such joyful things, my heart sings for you. Best.


Ruth Miller said...

Hi Shawn! I have done a couple of beer & cheese pairing events in the Portland area utilizing several ME artisanal cheeses, including Winter Hill. Live in VT and do the same here as well. Looking forward to working with WH again this season on some events with local brewers there. Met Sarah last fall and really enjoyed her cheeses. Would love to feature some of your beer-washed stuff. Look for me on Facebook for more info - Ruth Miller, The Beer & Cheese Maven.

Shawn Saindon said...

Thank you for the kind words, Terri!

Ruth- Sarah is the best! I know they are very involved with the brew scene here in Maine. Maybe I will meet you at one of their events sometime soon?