Posts Tagged ‘cheese making’

Saturday, August 18:

What we are here – here on this website – to do is to catalogue, for the benefit of the similarly-inclined, just how attainable is a family-scale farm, that few acres which, tended by those who live on them, will produce almost unbelievable amounts of food, enough to feed all the people, and all the animals, whose efforts make that farm happen.  Summer is the most astonishing evidence of that attainability.

This is most certainly the time of year when we do the most and can say the least about it; there is no time.

Most of the corn has been eaten or frozen.  Every few days means another ten or fifteen gallons of tomatoes to sauce and can.  The apples at the monastery must be picked this week, or they will begin falling and bruising.  Green beans are on the menu every night, and we can only be glad to see the last cucumber vines succumbing to wilt, as we have eaten and pickled about all we can stand.

Seasonal eating means delighting in it, depending upon it, and getting tired of it, in quick succession.

Everyone is presently at home, and, the sky being open and dry, the men took the second cutting of hay from the meadows today.  There were three of them in the field from breakfast until dinner, and afterward, while some were doing the milking, others went back to the field to cut the last swathes.  If the weather holds we will be baling on Monday or Tuesday.

The freezer and the shelves in the basement must attest to the persistence of our efforts, they and the growing number of cheeses waxed and aging in the dairy refrigerator until we can build a rodent-proof cool box for the cave, as we call the dirt-floored cellar under the new part of the house.   In the best of all possible worlds we would not presently be making cheeses during this so-busy gardening season, but when the last pig went into the freezer we had to choose between making cheese with the extra four of five gallons of milk a day, or pouring it on the compost heaps.  The decision did not require much thought.  There are two young parmesans in the refrigerator, two colbys drying, and a third colby in the press.

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Wednesday, March 21:

The unseasonably warm weather has us out in the garden every available minute, hauling compost, raking raised beds, and starting early lettuce and spinach.  Given the heat, I only hope it doesn’t bolt immediately.  The hoop houses are open day and night to keep them from overheating, and the low tunnels have their covers off entirely.  All the fruit trees are getting ready to blossom, which will mean disaster if we get another freeze.  The pond peepers, which usually sing only at night, are so confused that they shrill all day, a buzz almost like that of a locust, making this early heat wave even more surreal.  Only the asparagus, living as it does ‘way down where the soil is still cool, is far enough from the sun that it is still in dormancy.

The greenhouse, I need hardly say, is hot as Tophet.  On Monday we started the tomatoes and peppers in four inch pots and a sterile mix of vermiculite, perlite, and peat moss.  They will like the heat, but the six pots of onion seedlings may find it too warm.  We don’t want the squash and melons to get root-bound, so we usually don’t start them until the end of March, but it we knew the weather was going to stay warm we would get them in, too.

Baby Belle should be calving soon, exactly how soon we don’t know.  We fidget and twiddle our thumbs.  We sigh and turn over out-of-date magazines in the waiting room.  We want to get on with it.  For one thing, when Belle calves we will go fetch some baby bulls, and Mom will be done with cheese making for a while, because when there are calves to feed, what’s left is only just enough milk for the table.  There’s not the glut we have right now with the warm weather increasing Isabel’s production, so that Mom has four and a half gallons a day to find a use for.

In addition to the usual eight-to-ten pounds of butter, two gallons of yogurt, four or so pounds of mozzarella, and all the cream you can think of a use for, this time of year we make two or three four-pound hard cheeses a week, and the dairy refrigerator is getting crowded.  I think there are eight cheeses in there right now – paisano, Appalachia, Belle, and the gouda we are testing – and there’s another Appalachia in the press.  These will last us a couple of months, beginning around the end of April, as they ripen; then in June, when the grass is abundant and the calves are weaned (and, incidentally, the garden is in, the first hay cut, and there will be some breathing space), we will start another round of cheese-making to provide our fall and winter cheeses.

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Sunday, August 21:

   Small showers have fallen periodically over the last two days.  Last summer we went through July, August, and September without any rain worth considering.  We had to start feeding hay in September.  It is encouraging to see the pasture greening up now, even if the upper layer of the verdure is mostly ragweed and ironweed.

We walked up the field – the last eighty feet or so is sloped one-in-one, making it a climb rather than a walk – to investigate the location of a clearly audible short in the hotwire fence that marks the limit of the field.  It is very easy to follow our ears to the source of the loud snap.  That length of fence is cobbled together with barbed wire as well as low-tension aluminum fencewire.  On a metal step-in post at the very top of the field, a grasshopper, on what mission we will never know, has climbed as far as the plastic insulator and interposed his body between strands of electrified wire.  His rigid corpse has been providing the medium for a 2,000 volt arc every three-quarters of a second.  We wedged him out with a twig and the fence went back to its quiet efficiency.

From here we can see virtually all of our south pasture, which is to say almost all of our pasture, period.  It falls steeply away below us for half its width, then moderates its slope – we won’t say ‘levels off’ – the rest of its width to Jeddo’s run.  On the far side of the creek, our land rises nearly vertically for fifty feet or more, crosses Church Road, and continues up the heavily wooded hill which closes our northern horizon for maybe sixty degrees.  We live in a bowl.  In this first full year of our career as graziers, we watch our pasture with some of the anxiety of a mother over a child’s sickbed, studying its condition and pretending confidence in signs of improvement.  Honestly, we think it looks much better, much less weedy, much greener, than it did this time last year.  After all, Joel says it should.  It must.  We expect to get at least a few more weeks grazing out of it than we did last year, no, the year before, last year doesn’t count because of the drought.

Even if we never succeed, we would rather fail at this than be successful at anything else.

The big garden at the TOR’s was disked yesterday — at least, that half of it that had been plowed from sod last week.  The older section was still so damp the spaces between the disks kept getting packed with dirt, and after a pass or two the men decided to let it wait a bit.  Next week it will be sown to buckwheat.  Whata we sowed in the burned-over pumpkin patch is up already, and looks like making a thick planting.

The carrots we planted two weeks ago, however, are germinating very spottily.  The uneven rain patterns of the last two weeks, augmented by water pumped from North creek only when the soil was drying out, may be responsible for the inconsistent germination.  We are disappointed with what we see, but will put in two more rows of carrots this week.  The last planting of green beans has been somewhat damaged by the big, late-summer grasshoppers, but is growing very well, and should give us plenty of beans to can, God willing.

The four summer calves have been on the west pasture for several weeks now.  At nine weeks old they graze lightly, and get a good deal of their calories from their twice-daily bucket feedings of Isabel’s good, warm Jersey milk, the fat content of which is higher than for any other breed of dairy cow.  Last week we began trimming the buckets of those two of the calves destined for next year’s freezer by about a pint a feeding, preparatory to their being weaned in another week or so.  The two little bulls belonging to S-3 will remain on the bucket indefinitely, as they are being raised for oxen.

Besides, Mom doesn’t want to have to deal with five or six gallons of milk a day.  With three or four, there will be plenty for drinking, lots of cream for churning and for cream cheese and sour cream, and lots of milk for the mozzarella we use so much of.  When four or five gallons accumulate in a day or so, we use it for hard cheeses like parmesan, farmhouse cheddar, and colby, hoping our skill level will someday approximate our interest level.  We can make a fairly reliable parmesan, but have not yet achieved a cheddar we wanted to bring out and exhibit to guests.

Now the grass in the west pasture is getting short, and we will turn the babies onto the hill above, where Bridget, the mini, has been in solitary confinement for most of August.  She will be glad of the company, and the opportunity to bully someone.  The clearing up on the west hill is a project which mostly gets forgotten in the summer, when there is so much other work to monopolize our attention, but it continues to improve, slowly, now that it gets full sun for more than half the day.  The little bulls will do less damage than Bridget to the struggling grass, since they do not graze so closely.  It is time to give the lower pasture on that side a rest, and a chance for the sparse grass to fill in the empty spaces.  Farming on the near vertical holds many challenges all its own, but the controlled grazing of small areas must result in improved sod, better retention of water and organic matter, and, over time, more cow-days per acre.

This revolution is, however, an experiment.  Like any worthwhile experiment, at the outset the end is unknown.  Whether we demonstrate that a few acres of lousy soil can be converted into the energy source from which a bio-converter – a milk cow – can power a self-sustained and self-sustaining family ecology, or whether we preside over an instance of the failure of that hypothesis, is yet to be determined.  We will endeavor to be honest in our self-evaluation, so that interested idealists may learn, if not one right way, at least one wrong way, to go about it.

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