Friday, December 14, 2012

Mold-ripened cheese success

If you've been around for awhile, you might remember some of my failures in mold-ripened cheese ... like this one ... and this one. They didn't all turn out so badly. One was actually good enough to take to a party, although it didn't look like any mold-ripened cheese that anyone had ever seen. It was at least tasty, and it didn't look like a total wreck.

In October, I attended Jim Wallace's cheesemaking class in Massachusetts, and one of the cheeses on the agenda was Camembert. When I got home, I could hardly wait to try out the ideas I'd learned. And here is the lovely, delicious result!

What was the difference? Well, I had always failed in the affinage -- or aging. I had read somewhere that you could not age a mold-ripened cheese in the same cave with non-mold-ripened cheeses, and unfortunately I believed it. So, I had tried all sorts of crazy ideas ... like aging in my refrigerator (which was obviously too cold, and I knew that, but there was a book that said it would work, so I tried) and aging in a picnic cooler with ice, which meant I had to remember to replenish ice twice daily. I also tried aging in another frig without the proper thermostat control, thinking I could remember to keep turning the refrigerator on and off to keep the proper temperature. Geez! I really can't believe I tried all those things!

Jim ages his mold-ripened cheeses in his regular cheese cave, but he puts them in plastic food storage containers with a cheese mat in the container for drainage and air circulation under the cheese. It is so ridiculously simple that I'm kicking myself for not figuring that out sooner! But as they say, better late than never. And I'm thrilled to be able to make delicious homemade mold-ripened cheese now!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Taking lambs 'down south'

On Friday, we loaded up three of our spring lambs to take to the locker for turning into lamb chops. Anyone who thinks sheep are dumb has never met our sheep. They are ridiculously smart. I think they can actually read minds, or they have incredibly good hearing, and they can hear our conversations a quarter mile away ... in the house!

Jonathan went out to the pasture with their hay just like any other day, but no one wanted anything to do with it. They sensed a trap!

But we did eventually manage to herd them into the shelter area in spite of their reservations.

I was in charge of closing the gate behind everyone when they ran into the shelter area. Jonathan was in charge of standing behind a temporary fence so that the sheep wouldn't knock it down and run out into another pasture entirely. And Mike was in charge of actually catching the sheep and putting them into dog crates on the back of the pick-up. We usually use a trailer, and when Mike suggested dog crates, I thought there was something about the idea that wasn't quite right, but I couldn't put my finger on it.

So, Mike caught the first one ...

and this handsome fellow was watching as his friend was loaded up.

And then Mike caught him. Without another person available to handle the gate between the pasture and pick-up, Mike had to hop over the fence.

And then Mike caught the third one.

And then the third one decided he didn't want to go to the locker.

You see that dog crate? It had a door only moments earlier. The door is now bent up to the point where it is probably ruined. The ram hit it once and shook the whole crate as I saw one of the door's four pins pop out of the hole that is responsible for keeping the door attached to the crate as a door. I yelled at Mike because he was closest, and he stretched across the tailgate of the truck to try to hold the door in place. As the ram hit it again, Mike realized the ram would soon have the door detached from the crate, and he jumped onto the pick-up bed. And it wasn't a moment too soon!

As Mike held the lamb, we brainstormed about how to get him to the locker. We agreed that the ram was able to knock off the door because the crate was big enough for him to back up and get some force behind his head to hit the door. We wound up putting him in a smaller crate, and we put the crate in the cab. Mike turned the other two crates so that the doors faced each other, which we hoped would dissuade the other rams from trying to knock off the doors of their crates. And even if they did try, we were assuming that they would not be able to get out of the crate because when they were end to end in the bed of the pick-up, they were snug enough that the rams would not be able to get out, even if the door was missing.

I was worried from the moment I left the pasture. The last thing I wanted was to hear that our lambs were splatted across I-55. I wasn't even that optimistic about the one in the cab with Mike. What if he busted out of the crate while Mike was driving and then he busted through the window? I have no doubt he could have shattered the window with one hit from his head. Luckily my worst fears were not realized, and all three made it to the locker, and the crates and the truck were still in one piece. Mike said that the two rams in the bed of the pick-up did get a little rowdy when he started to unload them, however. So, he won't be using dog crates again to transport rams. We are just really lucky that the one tried to get out when we were still right there and could stop him.

We have more lambs and goats to take in this Friday, and I'm not sure how we'll do it. Mike is worried about the truck being able to pull the trailer up the slight incline to get out of the pasture. (It's a rear-wheel drive.) Usually we park it on the road, but that's a long way to carry a sheep from the shelter to the road, which is why he liked the idea of using dog crates. Maybe we'll come up with Plan C by this Friday!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Moving day

We recently moved our guinea hogs to fresh pasture. This may not look like much to you, but to a guinea hog, it's a lovely buffet. We always know when they're fed up with their current pasture because they start rooting. As long as they're happy with the offerings, they eat the grass and weeds above ground. This is Julia in the lead. She follows me around like a dog because she was our first guinea hog, and she's rather attached to me.

I can't believe she's going to be three years old in March! Doesn't she have a lovely profile? And she is an excellent mama, too!

York is the handsome boar on the right. He's visiting for a few weeks to ensure that we have piglets in the spring. We saw him breed Julia already, and her estimated due date is April 1.

On the left is Julia's daughter, and she needs a name! Any suggestions? Mike suggested Julia's Child, and when I vetoed that one, he came up with Destiny Child. Not sure I'm too crazy about that one either, but I am very impressed with his creativity. If you have any ideas, I'd love to hear them! It's not every day you get to help someone name their pig.

Monday, December 3, 2012

I left my heart in Shelburne Falls

Since my first book came out, I've done quite a bit of traveling, and although it's fun, I'm always happy to come home to my little homestead on the prairie. Such was not the case, however, when Mike and I recently attended Jim Wallace's cheesemaking class in Shelburne Falls, MA. I had to remind myself that I had a farm full of animals counting on me to come home and take care of them. Otherwise my visit would have ended with a stop at a real estate office! What's so awesome about Shelburne Falls?

I imagine this is what most of America looked like and felt like 50 or 75 years ago. There isn't a national chain in site in their lovely downtown. The locally owned grocery store has a sign out front that says they support local agriculture. Each of the quaint locally owned restaurants have about a dozen tables, and local foods are on the menu. Towards the end of dinner one night, I asked a question about the lavender-maple glaze on the heritage pork tenderloin at the Blue Rock Restaurant, and the chef came out to tell me how he made it. He sat down, and we chatted about his use of locally grown ingredients. As we were talking, a customer stopped by our table on her way out to compliment the chef on her dinner and give him a kiss on the cheek.

When Mike suggested we check the menu of a pub our second night in town, I assumed they would have the usual pub fare -- factory farm burgers and previously frozen stuff that is tossed in a fryer. The West End Pub had a pleasantly surprising menu with locally raised grassfed beef burgers and chili! They even have locally made liquor and beer. Even though Illinois has plenty of wineries, I don't think I've ever seen Illinois wine in a restaurant here. A few restaurants have sprouted up that make their own beer, but otherwise, the alcohol in our restaurants comes from far away.

While at Jim's house, I had my first ever hard cider and wondered why -- coming from a state that grows apples -- we don't have hard cider available commercially in any of the stores or restaurants that I've been to.

We stayed at the Dancing Bear B&B, whose owners have their own farm and served delicious farm fresh breakfasts! When we arrived, Phil asked if we had any dietary restrictions for breakfast, and I sheepishly said, "Well, if you have meat, you don't have to fix any for us because we only eat locally grown, pasture-raised," and as my voice trailed off, he replied, "Oh, that's the only kind we serve." If we had not needed to be at our class by 9 o'clock, I could have really stuffed myself with the delicious breakfast Phil prepared, which included a to-die-for quiche and fresh baked bread and muffins. And because we were totally captivated by the B&Bs food, we did not have the chance to try Mocha Maya's breakfast, whose sign is pictured at right!

Unfortunately, we hardly got to experience the community at all. Jim said that they have lots of world-famous artists and crafts people living there, including a leather worker and a man who ties flies for fly fishing. The downtown certainly had a great mix of little shops. I personally was very interested in the Vavstuga Weaving School, but when I checked their website, all of their beginner classes for 2013 are already full!

Ever since Superstorm Sandy chased us home in a rental car when our flight was canceled, I've been saying, "I left my heart in Shelburne Falls!" So if you live in the northeast and want a great place to spend the weekend, head over there! And if Mike didn't have tenure at the college, I'd be begging on a daily basis, trying to convince him that we needed to move.

Instead, I've been daydreaming about turning our little village into another Shelburne Falls. It's been dwindling for more than 40 years, so I've been told, but why couldn't it become a weekend destination with quaint B&Bs for people from Chicago and St. Louis? Why couldn't the farmers around here grow organic food to serve in small, locally owned restaurants with chefs who can see their future steaks grazing in the fields? Why couldn't we have world famous artisans whose classes fill up a year in advance? It could happen ... couldn't it?


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