Friday, November 16, 2007

Flying solo with Brie

It's been just a little over a month, and I have been frantically trying to suck up every morsel of cheese-making expertise and instruction from my new boss. She moves around the cheesehouse so naturally, and has all of this experience and understanding tucked so deeply away that she does things without even being aware of it, not to mention the tons of little "shortcuts" she knows and's a little daunting to learn this way, but she tolerates questions, so I am picking it up.

I flew solo today; making a batch of cow milk brie from start to finish by myself. We poured out twenty eight or so of the larger molds, which when finished will sell for $10 each. I have no idea the weight of these wheels, but they are roughly the size of a saucer (6-7 inches in diameter and 2 inches thick). It takes about a month for them to grow their white mold casing, so I won't be able to taste them for a while.

I've learned to wax cheese, stack cheddar curd, brush cheese wheels, cut curds, stir the whey, and on and on, but this was the first time she let me go. Considering we were dealing with almost $300 worth of cheese, it was no small trust.

On the home front, 4 out of 5 sheep are clipped and coated, the last of the apples are being picked this weekend for cider, and the winter wheat still sits on the front porch, mocking me in its plastic-bagged state. With company planned for the weekend, it remains to be seen what I can get done. Trying to farm as a job, and keep this wee farm going is a constant race for time. Too bad all I want to do now is sit and knit...

We found this little fellow trying out our cellar out as a potential winter hibernation spot:

Actually very striking and pretty, this milk snake was about 18" long, still a baby. Hopefully, it finds a home in the rock wall and settles in before a serious freeze.

Speaking of settling in, there's a set of dpn's laden with alpaca calling to me...

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Power of Poo

First lesson learned on the new job: never underestimate the power of poo. Honestly, this place grows vegetables that look like they're on steroids. I've never seen potatoes this big. Granted, using them as baked potatoes might challenge even the sturdiest microwave or conventional oven, but they make dandy fries!

It just highlights the importance of good soil, and the efforts to get and keep such soil in your fields. The 50+ cows in the farm herd are kept mostly for their manure and the improvement of the fields. (Organic hamburger and steak being the second obvious benefit of these guys...)

I have also learned that a foot and a half of cow poo and mud can suck your boots off. Really. So walking slowly and deliberately around the farm is not a quaint mannerism of full-time farmers; nope, it's one way to make sure your foot is boot-covered before stomping it down in a jaunty trot across the field. I know this. (I suppose you can figure out just how I know this...)

On our farm, the garlic went in this week, covered with sheep poo and barn whatsit as a mulch and soil enhancer. Last year we planted approximately 80-90 cloves; this year we planted close to 300. Mostly red hard-neck, but also took some softneck for braiding from work, and some white hardneck that has been the farm standard for them.

Cheesemaking continues to fascinate me, and my apprenticeship is just beginning. The only thing (I believe) I can do reliably well is turn and brush the wheels in the cheese cellar. But I am learning from a master, all the while she is running the whole huge farm, so starting this week I am taking notes. Really. Because my brain is overflowing with little details that I need to remember and that took her ten years to accumulate.

And what is this? This is what happens when the conservative, PC parochial school decides Halloween is no longer an appropriate holiday and they appease the eager youngsters with All Saints Day (dress up as your favorite saint!) and Mommy quickly suggests the only saint that offers a sliver of a chance to be at all fun - St. Francis of Assissi, patron saint of animals and animal lovers (or something like that). So we pack up one of the Buff Brahma Bantam hens and dress in a very fuzzy and comfy imitation of a monk's robe, and join the scary procession of classmates dressed in mini-nun outfits. Those girls looked like one big nun recruitment poster. I am so glad we didn't go there. Considering she doesn't actually like candy anyway, bringing a chicken to school garnished as much fun as trick-or-treat, and really set the nuns and staff on edge for the day. Especially the part where the kids get to go to chapel in costume...
(I'm going to hell. I know this. But lots of my friends are probably there as well...)