In Maine, there has been a lot of hoopla over the past couple of years about the regulations involved with selling farm products. People, communities, and towns have taken it upon themselves to develop local ordinances or operate outside of the state's food safety laws. This is definitely a heated issue, and as dairy farmers, we'd like to take a moment to share our thoughts on the issue.
When we decided to venture into the world of goat dairying, we had no idea what we were getting into. I spent a significant amount of time online, looking at the state dairy regulations, calling the Maine Micro Dairy Cooperative (unfortunately, no longer in existence), and trying to figure out what we actually had to do in order to meet the state's regulations to sell our product at the Sanford Farmers' Market in 2009. We also did a significant amount of complaining about the regulations. We were already making cheese in our kitchen and giving it to friends and family, designing labels, figuring out packaging, etc. It was sometimes a little frustrating to wait for inspection or lab results or whatever it was that we were waiting for before we could legally sell our product.
Having said all of that, our dairy inspector was awesome (Audrey, our inspector, just retired this year, and we haven't met our new one yet.), and the person who came out to license our kitchen and validate our mobile vendor's license was great, too. These people are a wealth of information, and ready to answer questions and offer advice pretty much whenever needed. We learned a lot about dairy safety and food safety in general though the process. Our products and our milk are tested at least monthly by the state. Our dairy license costs $25.00 per year, and our mobile vendor for selling at farmers' markets, another $25.00. Our build for our milking parlor and cheese making facility was a bit of an investment, but compared to what other states require, Maine is extremely flexible and easy to work with.
Which brings me to the topic of "raw" product and "not pasteurized" product. To begin with, it is completely incorrect that Maine does not allow the sale of raw milk products. Maine is one of ten states where the sale of raw milk is legal. Anything else anyone says is hogwash. You must be a licensed milk producer in order to legally sell raw milk or any other dairy product, but raw milk sales are perfectly legal.
Maine also allows the sale of "not pasteurized" dairy products. If you ever have a look at a Flying Goat Cheese label, you will see, clearly printed, that our products are not pasteurized. When we were designing our labels, I even had Audrey look at the Photoshop file and ask if it was ok before we had them printed! She said to make the "not pasteurized" part a little bigger, so I did.
Ok, so our products are not pasteurized, what does that mean, and what is the difference between that and raw milk? The legal definition of pasteurization is that every particle of milk is heated to the specified temperature (varying depending on the type of pasteurizing you are doing), for the specified time. Legal pasteurization requires a heated vat with an agitator, two thermometers, temperature recording chart, and airspace heater. A small scale, brand new legal pasteurizer can cost from $10-$30,000 or more. Needless to say, that kind of investment is daunting for a farm only milking a few animals. Our products are labeled not pasteurized, because we go through the same process as pasteurization (heating to the appropriate temperature for the appropriate amount of time), but we do not have the ability to monitor every particle of milk as accurately as a legal pasteurizer can. We take temperatures at the beginning of the time period, and at the end to ensure, to the best of our ability, that the milk has been treated properly. This is also sometimes referred to as "heat-treated milk." When the state picks up milk, cheese and yogurt for testing, we send not only our finished product, but the raw milk starting material to make sure that we are properly and safely handling our milk from start to finish. The fact that Maine allows retail and wholesale sales of not pasteurized product made it possible for Flying Goat Farm to get started.
With the growing of our herd, the increasing number of milking does, and increased milk volume, Flying Goat Farm is hoping to expand to legal pasteurization within the next year in order to be able to sell our product outside of Maine.
The long and short of it is that while the process of becoming a licensed dairy was sometimes frustrating, took way longer than we expected, and did involve a not insignificant monetary investment, we feel that the knowledge and understanding we gained through the process helped us produce a higher quality, and most importantly safe product to share with cheese fans new and old.