cheesemaking and spring

the home dairy -march 2012

I’ve got a bunch of got themed workshops lined up this spring, summer and fall. What I really want to do next year is have an all-day “Home Dairy” Workshop and even possibly a “Goat Camping” experience, where we’d go and camp up in the hay field with the goats and make campfire cheese! All things in good time, but for now I am up to my eyeballs in milk, glorious goatmilk and am making cheese like a fiend.

This is what I wanted and planned for, introducing all the goats to the buck Walter last fall, enabling them to get it on and thus become pregnant. There’s no need to suggest to them what is supposed to happen- the horny ladies flirt and twirl with the buck when they smell him, and totally ask for a good lay. Sorry to be crude, if I have any prudish readers, but animals are very clear on procreation. They want to do it. And after kids are born, they make so much milk beyond what their kids need, thanks to the selective breeding involved with domestication, that I get to make lots and lots of cheese. I knew it was getting crazy when I had to bring 4 1/2 gallon jars out with me at each milking. That’s almost 4 gallons of milk a day! It won’t be this heavy for long- goats tend to peak with their production in time with the age of their kids- so after 4-5 months of making milk, they begin to drop off in production a bit. This heavy milking time is the time to stockpile cheese. I have been culturing my glorious feta, platters of it lie on every available surface in the house, sometimes in the sunporch when it is not freezing out. My feta process is top secret, unless of course, you come to my cheesemaking course, where I will attempt to tell you how to make your own. The thing is, my hands, my breath, our house, the air, my goats, how I milk, what they eat, how I treat them….these little things all add to the terroir of my own cheese. And I got a good thing going on, apparently. I can brag a bit, right? Yes, it is a divine cheese. Closing my eyes to inhale the potent creamy aroma after slicing open the slabs, rubbing them with salt and arrange them just so on the salted platters. Carefully I break off a piece and plop it into my mouth- it’s astoundingly good cheese.

I didn’t always appreciate my feta though, it terrified me at first. I was a Velveeta-fed child and the only cheddar I had tasted before becoming a vegan in my teens was the artificially powdered version found in a box of mac and cheese. My friend Heidi was my first Feta guinea pig. She said it was incredible. I thought it was too strong tasting. She told me to keep at it, and soon I was converted to loving my own cheese. How odd to be making cheese and not even know if it was good, or if THAT was supposed to taste good! That’s what you get, being a vegan and starting to milk goats & make cheese. That was 7 years ago….and here I am, with 9 gallons of milk to transform into cheese today.

Goats are one of the most incredible homestead animals. They give so much goodness, have such funny and smart personalities, are gentle and most efficient in converting hay and a bit of grain into milk. One cow weighs 1,000 lbs or more and gives 4-8 gallons of milk a day. One goat weighs around 130 lbs and gives around a gallon- can you see the difference in feed conversion? Goatmilk is also much better suited to make really naturally flavorful cheeses, as it has many more short-chain fatty acids than cows milk. These fatty acids give goat cheese that tang that cow cheese can never achieve.

We get alot of requests for raw milk for drinking, but in Wisconsin this is illegal. Simple as that. We cannot risk our farm and go to jail for raw milk. I’d encourage anyone looking for raw milk to check out realmilk.org, and if possible- just get some goats! We’ll be hosting a workshop at the end of April called “Getting your Goat” where you can come learn all about them and see if they might be a good match for your life.

spring has sprung

It is SO awesome to have peas sprouting in March, to be tilling the new garden area in March, to be wearing Tshirts in March. The question is- can we rely on this new warm weather?

Nope. Forecast of snow tonight, after weeks of absolutely astoundingly May-like weather, here comes Debbie Downer, princess Snow. We’ve been lucky to gain this extra time. We’re knees deep in major farm projects now that my husband is done with his off-farm winter gig. Taking down fences erroneously placed and fencing new areas that should have been fenced in the first place. So glad we invested in good hardcore fence that can handle all the transferring, and lots and lots of fence posts to take out….we finally got one of those fence post puller-outer things and it’s a godsend. A giant new turkey paddock has been built, the 4 hens are now beginning to lay eggs, and we’re about to get our hands on a heritage Bourbon Red Tom to be their boyfriend and make those eggs into fertile ones for hatching out our own poults. A new goat paddock is being put up, about 3 times the size of their current one. Much better, and their new area is out of the way so they can’t watch me making coffee and yell for me to come milk at 5:45am! We have the materials for their new shed (8×16) set up, where I will also have a “fancy” mini-milk parlor set up so I can bring the goats to me, instead of walking them individually to the milkstand. That goat barn building was going to begin tomorrow, but with snow…I don’t know.

After the goats are moved to their new setup, we begin the very very exciting DUCK BARN project. I can’t wait for this, neither can the ducks! We needed financial help getting this structure up and have all our Kickstarter contributors to thank who made this dream come true. Being a rather odd farm compared to the standard conventional soybean/corn farms around here, the USDA Farm Services Agency nearly laughed at us when we asked if we’d qualify for a loan. They showed us their commodity product prices list and asked which category we’d fit in. And the answer was, well, not a single one. Kickstarter to the rescue!!! Our first batch of baby ducklings arrived early March and the next group arrives in less than a week. So far, we’re doing fine using the hoophouse for brooding them, but once they grow, they’ll need a big girl house.

We’ve also been preparing for the small farming conference we helped instigate, which is in just two days. Yikes! A bit nervous, but this will be fun. Rehashing the details of beginning our farm is a good reminder of how far we’ve come, and pretty fun for us. Sharing our experiences with a bunch of farming entrepreneurs will be hopefully encouraging for them too.

This rush of spring is very tiring. All our focus has been outside, hence the lack of posts. We’ve gone from cabin fever to body-blowing non-stop work. It’s wonderful! Feeling very grateful for the year, excited to be farming for some new CSA members and elated to have our core members signing up again. THANK YOU!

 

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