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DOWN EAST CHEESE. From rural Maine, a new stock of cheeses

MAINE lobster. Maine blueberries. Maine potatoes. Maine cheese? The nation's northeast corner is beginning to make a name for itself in Cheddars, goat cheese, and other varieties produced by the state's small farmers.

At least half a dozen of these farmers make their cheeses available by mail order or at specialty stores, and the prices range from $4.50 to $6 a pound for the goat cheeses and $3 for Cheddar. This includes Aroostook Jack, similar to California's Monterey Jack; Aroostook Jack with Caraway; Queso Blanco, which is good melted over taco chips with hot salsa; Cumberland Smoked; and Katahdin Cheddar.

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These cheeses contain no preservatives, so are prone to mold, but this can be removed with a damp cloth or sliced off with a knife.

Penny Duncan of York Hill Farm in New Sharon, Maine, became a licensed cheesemaker in 1983, and during '83 and '84 the farm produced 500 pounds of cheese.

Next year, she expects to produce 2,000 pounds. Her York Cheddar has a sweet, slightly nutty flavor, a combination of Cheddar texture and goat's milk flavor.

Malcolm and Jacqueline Donald of Brooksville turn out 2,500 rounds of Camembert a week. It's done in a small factory similar to the one in which Mr. Donald apprenticed for a month in Normandy.

Although it is not unusual to find Maine natives of Norman ancestry, Mrs. Donald was really born in Normandy, where the village of Camembert is located. Her husband, a native of San Francisco, like many Maine summer residents, dreamed of living here year-round.

Unable to find a business to buy, he and his wife decided to launch their own.

Mr. Donald rates Maine milk highly and believes the best rennet needed to coagulate the milk is to be found right here in the United States. The cheese starter culture is from Denmark, and he imports three major enzymes from Normandy. The enzymes are what give the cheese its distinctive flavor.

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He believes that Camembert should be kept whole until it ripens. Cutting too early upsets the process and the cheese never reaches perfect maturity: extremely creamy with a hard center about the size of a quarter.

An overripe Camembert will flow when it is cut and is soft to the touch all over, even in the center. If it sags in the middle or smells like ammonia or has dried out, it is too old.

To ripen Camembert, Donald recommends letting it age in the refrigerator or leaving it out at room temperature for two or three days.

If you leave it at room temperature longer than that, it might become too tart and lose the pleasant balance of tart and creamy.

Never store Camembert in a plastic bag or wrapper that seals off its air supply.

By early 1986, Le Baron de St. Castin Camembert should be in stores throughout Maine.

Americans often eat Camembert with an apple or pear, but the Donalds like it with French bread and butter or with tomato in sandwiches.

Mr. Donald suggests you ``take a wedge of Camembert and put it on the side of your plate and eat it with a fork. Pierce a piece of lettuce and get a bit of cheese to go with it . . . or you can put bits of cheese into the salad.''

His wife says Camembert is good with bread and jam, and she likes it for cooking since it melts well.

The Escoffier Cookbook has a recipe for Fried Camembert, in keeping with the present trend for all sorts of melted and fried cheeses.

First, remove the crust from the cheese and cut it into elongated diamond shapes. Sprinkle with cayenne and dip in a mixture of egg, salt, pepper, and oil (1 teaspoon per egg), then roll in bread crumbs.

Repeat the process. Be sure to coat the cheese thoroughly as it is the egg-oil-crumb mixture that seals the cheese and makes a resisting crust when the cheese is immersed in the hot fat for frying. Camembert Mousse Appetizer 1 envelope unflavored gelatin 2 1 1/3-ounce wedges Camembert cheese 1/4 pound Danish blue cheese 1 teaspoon Worcestershire 1 egg, separated 1/2 cup heavy or whipping cream Parsley for garnish

In a small saucepan, into 1/4 cup cold water, sprinkle gelatin. Cook over low heat, stirring until gelatin dissolves.

In medium bowl, with fork, beat cheeses until smooth. Stir in Worcestershire, egg yolk, and gelatin.

In small bowl, with mixer at high speed, beat egg white until stiff peaks form. Spoon on top of cheese mixture. In same bowl, with mixer at medium speed, beat cream until soft peaks form. Gently fold whipped cream and beaten egg white into cheese mixture. Pour into 2- or 3-cup mold. Refrigerate. To serve, unmold mousse on plate and garnish with parsley. Makes about 2 cups. Fruit and Cheese Dessert Tray

Arrange sections of freshly cored (but not peeled) pears petal-fashion on lettuce or grape leaves. Surround with cored (but not peeled) apple rings. On outer edge of tray place alternate wedges of American Camembert and American Roquefort or Blue cheeses. Baked Pears With Camembert 6 pears 1/2 cup sugar 2 tablespoons lemon juice 2 tablespoons butter or margarine 1 wheel of Camembert cheese Sesame-seed crackers

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.; peel pears, leaving stems intact. Do not core pears. In small saucepan, over medium-high heat, heat sugar, lemon juice, butter and 1 cup water to boiling. Simmer 5 minutes.

Place pears in 3-quart casserole. Add syrup. Cover and bake 45 minutes or until tender. Refrigerate. At serving time, arrange Camembert and crackers on serving plate with cheese spreader or knife. Place pears on dessert plates and serve with dessert knives and forks. Pass Camembert and crackers. Serves 6.

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