Archive for June, 2012

Wednesday, June 12:

Another baking day.  Not a hot day – it was rather cool, actually – but a day for baking the seven loaves and five dozen buns which provide us with our daily bread for about a week and a half.

There are a lot of us.

Along with the bread and obligatory pizza which must be dinner on bread nights, we made a five-pound paysano, our signature Colby-style cheese.  With this project in mind I instructed Shawn the night before to bring up the morning milk, which would otherwise have gone to the pigs.  In the summer we seldom have time for making hard cheeses, which are rather time consuming, and the excess milk is put to fatten the pigs, but a look in the dairy refrigerator had revealed only eight remaining hard cheeses – paysano, parmesan, and gouda – and so we had determined to make a few paysano to fill the gap.  Hence, when the warm new milk came up from the barn this morning it was taken and added to two gallons of skim milk from Tuesday, inoculated with buttermilk (mesophilic lactobacilli, to us cheese makers) and rennet, and put aside to set.

Strange results.

The curd set rather quickly, and a thin film of whey made a shallow lake on the surface of the curd when I came to cut it.  Three-eighth inch cubes are what is called for in paysano, and the curd felt quite firm under the long cheese knife.  When all was cut and I reached in to stir with a well-washed right hand and arm I found the curd oddly grainy and exceptionally firm.  The curds had a sandy look to them, which with my shortsighted vision I took to be the small bubbles that form in curd made of milk which has been somehow contaminated with yeast, and, disappointed, I thought to throw them to the pigs, when it occurred to me that yeast-riddled curds float, and these were sinking in the proper manner.  With some reservation I proceeded with the cheese making, deciding that Shawn must have brought me up Baby’s milk, rather than Isabel’s, and some remaining colostrum in the milk must be responsible for the odd texture.  One hundred percent for me; when I asked about it he confirmed that the milk had been from the recently delivered Baby, not the lead cow, Isabel.  How the difference in milk quality will affect the cheese remains to be seen; we will label this cheese appropriately.

Funny how firm the curd turned out to be.  When we redressed the cheese periodically for turning and pressing under greater weight, we saw that it was knitting poorly.  We may have to dip it in boiling water and repress for an hour if it fails to knit in its final, fifty pound pressing.

And just as a warning, if you make cheese on the same day you are baking, you need to be very careful to keep the two projects strictly apart, as yeast in the cheese curds can spoil all your work.  Don’t use the same tools in their preparation, and for goodness’ sake don’t use the same cheese cloth or dish towels to cover the dough and drain the curd, as this would certainly lead to contamination.  Not deadly, just a needless waste.

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Tuesday, June 5:

Last Wednesday, after long anticipation, Baby graced us with a bull calf which the little girls have named Ferdinand.  His auburn hair and orangey-pink skin he inherits from his Red Angus sire; even more evident is the difference in body conformation between him and his barn mates, two little Jersey bulls which we picked up on Saturday to share the bounty of Baby’s colostrum.  We like our Jersey beef, and with the price for newborn Jersey calves so low – from free to around thirty dollars, as compared to one hundred to two fifty for a Holstein or beef breed calf – they are unquestionably the cheapest thing going; on the other hand, the beef breeds are ‘way ahead in packing on the pounds.  Dairy animals are bred to put milk in the bucket; the beef breeds are blocky, stocky, squared-off animals, reminding us who live in the Ohio valley of nothing more than of the local football heroes.  The lighter-weight, smaller carcass Jerseys are a good fit for our land, where slow-draining shale results in permanent soft spots in the steep pastures.  Heavy beef animals would pug and gouge turf where Jerseys can browse without doing damage.

In farming, we are unlearning the American certainty that every question has a one-size-fits-all answer.

After May weather in the nineties, June has hovered around fifty-five or sixty, surprising tomatoes which had jumped confidently to their second tie-up.  Some are even sporting yellow blossom, but are no doubt having second thoughts about it.  The heat wave has broken too late to save the lettuce from bolting, however, and although we eat a big salad every night much of the lettuce left in the garden will be bitter before we can use it.  For the gardener with pigs, however, nothing is lost; the gone-to-seed lettuce will be pulled and fed root and all to the pigs, who will benefit from the minerals in the soil still clinging to the roots.

The snap peas are producing, and those peas not eaten raw by people walking past the pea trellis are steamed and served with butter, salt and pepper.  Which reminds us how freeing it is to eat seasonally appropriate vegetables, and limit our preserving to a few staple items:  salsa and marinara sauce come to mind.  Peas are a good illustration of the seasonal dietary principle.  We grow from twenty to forty row-feet of peas to bear during the few weeks when our weather favors green peas.  This vegetable is a favorite at our table, and when we began gardening seriously we devoted four times as much space to them, freezing whatever we didn’t eat fresh to extend the season.  In years when the peas didn’t make – one out of three, perhaps – this was garden space tied up and no longer available for other vegetables; and even in years when the peas outdid themselves we were disappointed with the ones we froze, finding them a poor second best to their fresh, crisp brethren.  Now we just grow what we can eat fresh, and when the season plays out, rejoice in the next seasonal specialty the garden offers.

Corn is eight inches tall and thriving; beans are popping up, sporting two green triangular leaves like mouse ears.  Strawberries, except the late-bearing varieties, went into early dormancy with the ninety-something degree weather.  Peach trees are so heavy with fruit some of the branches are sagging badly.  Two inches of blessed rain last week has given a boost to the pasture, where Isabel and Baby browse in clover up to their knees, at least in places, but more rain is still needed.  All the seedlings are in except a few annual flowers we have been procrastinating about.

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