The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Division of Quality Assurance and Regulations reported record interest on the part of Maine farms to obtain licenses to sell retail dairy products. Recent requests for inspections and inquiries clearly points to a substantial increase in the number of licenses to sell dairy products from the current number of 134.
The recent interest comes on the heels of explosive growth in the number of operations producing artisanal cheese and raw milk products. Department officials report that seventeen (17) farms have expressed enough interest in obtaining a license to contact dairy inspectors and have an inspection done. An additional twenty (20) have made inquiries, but have not yet scheduled an inspection. The retail dairy licenses involve cow, goat, sheep and water buffalo milk.
Commissioner Walt Whitcomb highlighted Department support of the growth in the number of artisanal cheese and raw milk facilities. “The DACF supports the growth of Maine’s dairy industry with techical assistance, marketing, and regulatory support,” said Whitcomb. “While the Department does play a vital public health role, our technical assistance also is supporting the rural economic growth that is signified by the increasing number of artisanal cheese and raw milk facilities in Maine.”
Benefits of Maine’s modest annual license fee:
For a $25.00 annual license fee the DACF provides:
• Initial consult with dairy inspector with facility and set up advice
• Large packet of information mailed with copies of all information needed
• Monthly analysis and reports of all products made
• Multiple facility inspections every year
• Equipment inspections for those who heat-treat or pasteurize
• Water testing
• Free lab testing to identify sanitation problems or quality issues (in addition to monthly product testing)
• Access to Maine Cooperative Extension Specialists and State veterinarians for additional assistance
• Unlimited phone assistance from dairy inspectors and laboratory
• In 2006, there were 15 licensed facilities that offered raw milk for sale. Today there are 54 licensed raw milk businesses in Maine.
• In Maine, a consumer may purchase “not pasteurized milk” and cheeses from a farm, a farmers market or a retail establishment – a freedom that only Maine and 11 other states provide.
• The number of cheese businesses has tripled in the past six years to a current total of 73 businesses offering various cheeses for sale. According to a University of Vermont study, Maine is the fastest growing artisan cheese producing state in the country, trailing only New York in terms of the number of licensed artisan cheese makers.
• Maine dairy goat farms increased from 17 in 2008, to 46 in 2014.
• This is in addition to fluid milk sales from 300 dairy farms to producers totaled $140 million.