Monday, March 26, 2007

Warm days and Triad Farmers Market

Friday, March 23. 2007

Happy Birthday Shelby!

Another morning spent in the cheese room. Today I helped Carrie Carrie make about 100+ 1lb chevre logs. We also packaged up the truffles that we made on Thursday. The rest of the fresh curd was used for the flavored fromage. Three cheeses from one batch of curds. Great use of product.

It is warm today. It is in the 80's and sunny. The sun feels so much hotter here. It must be the more humidity. San Francisco never feels this hot at the same temp. Then again, it rarely gets into the 80's in San Francisco proper. Too hot for me to work in the garden. Oh well. My fair skin doesn’t do well in the sun. I turn into a crispy critter.

We have new neighbors. Caleb and Luke, two Jersey steers. Bobby moved them last night into the small pasture next to the white house. I can sit in bed and watch them graze. When my window is open I can hear them talk to one another. When Bobby appears, they get very excited and make lots of noise. Bobby gives them more food. They like him.

Little Carrie is off today and the entire weekend. She is attending a environmental networking conference. I get the White House all to myself. I like having some alone time. I can be loud or quiet and nobody cares.

A plan is made for the farmer's market. I get to accompany Steve at the Triad Farmer's Market, on the west side of Greensboro. We're leaving at 6:45am. Must go to sleep early.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Up at 6:00. It is still dark outside. I crawl into the shower and try to wake up. I didn't sleep well. I had my window open and woke up ever time the local dogs decided to bark at each other. Then one of the roosters decided it was time to crow. It was 2:15. "Kill that bird," went through my head over and over again as I tried to go back to sleep. I eventually closed my window and fell back asleep. I got dressed for another warm day.

I walked up to the barn in the dark. Bobby was in the cheese room helping Steve dip fresh chevre curd. He also helped pack the coolers for the farmers market. We were ready to go by 7:00. I stepped outside into the dawn light. The sun was hidden behind some high clouds but the temperature dropped by about 10 degrees. "It's colder now than when I got up," I say to Bobby. "The sun's up. It's always colder now. " Steve explains it's because the dew has fallen. I guess I never really perceived such a distinct drop in temperature before. Then again, I'm rarely up and outside before dawn.

We arrive at the vast state-run complex and drive over to our spot. It is just past daybreak. We set up and customers start drifting over to nibble on samples and buy some cheese. Steve is greeted all day long by a steady stream of regular customers. He knows most of them by name. The nice weather has brought out lots of people. Fortunately there was a nice breeze. The morning warmed up quickly and became beautiful. The sales gain momentum as the morning progresses and the crowd swells. Steve sent an email to his customers, notifying them that the market is in operation again. It seems to have worked. Lots of folks mention the email. They snap up the crottin. The Jersey Girl gouda also sells out. The wash rind Providence has ripened well and sells out, too. The smoked rounds don't sell as fast. The flavored cheeses are the biggest seller. Basil and garlic as well as roasted red bell pepper seem to be the most popular. The flavored cheese definitely pay the rent. The chocolate truffles are eagerly sampled but don't sell as fast. I like seeing the buying patterns. Direct feedback is a good thing.

It is a very long day. Seven and a half hours of selling. We wrap up around 2:30 and go get lunch at Steak and Shake. We both want burgers. Yes, we had shakes. What else do you get at Steak and Shake? Breakfast was a long time ago.

The rest of the afternoon is occupied by a long nap. Can’t do much else after that.

Flowers, dirt, trees, and cheese

Thursday, March 22

Chicken coop got moved this morning. It is moved once a year to allow the ground to recover under the hen house. The chickens are now everywhere. There are lots of holes in their new enclosure. They're confused. So are the goats, cows, and dogs. I keep seeing the chickens in every possible place on the farm. Wonder how we'll get them back in the coup.

Our duties have been falling into a more normal routine. I'm very focused on cheesemaking, so I hang around the cheese room a lot. Little Carrie wants to learn about sustainable living and loves to garden. She's been hanging around the garden a lot. I think it works out well. She'll work some mornings, rolling chevre logs, making chocolate truffles, or packaging fromage (chevre in 8oz tubs.) Another task is to turn the cave. Each ripening cheese must be turned everyday. This redistributes the moisture and allows the cheese to ripen evenly. You can also see where they are in the ripening process. I like turning the cave. It is only half full right now, so it doesn't take that long. It is amazing to watch the transformation of little, naked fresh curds into fuzzy, soft, billowy, goat cheese. It is a living thing, growing and changing every day. I know I'm in the right line of work. This stuff just thrills me.

Sandy Creek ripens.

After lunch, Steve gives us a lecture on soil and how you can tell good, healthy soil. He holds a clump of rich, dark soil and runs his fingers through it. He explains how a balanced ecosystem takes care of itself and when you farm with that in mind, you can keep your plants healthy and protect against pests in a safe way. The soil works with you to fight disease. All things are interconnected and in balance. Nothing goes to waste. His soil is teeming with worms, and is clearly healthy.

We then take a break from the garden. Steve takes Little Carrie and me on a walk through the woods of Goat Lady Dairy. The first wildflowers should be emerging. The back half of the property is heavily wooded with a creek running through it. It is protected under a conservation easement in order to protect the creek watershed and to keep it as a wild area. There is a small trail that runs down to the creek and through the woods. It eventually leads to a small fire pit. From the pit, the trail crosses the stream and goes back up to the pastures behind the garden.

Steve explains the three types of wildflowers to be found in a woodland. The first flowers take advantage of the naked trees. They like light and bloom first. The second round bloom when the leaves are partially shading the ground. The third wave of wildflowers are shade loving varieties.

He points out wild ginger, easily picked out of the dead leaves. It has mottled green, heart-shaped leaves. It has brown flowers that bloom along the ground. They attract beetles for pollination. We then spot hepatica. (sp?) Clusters of them dot the gentle slope. The flowers sit on top of hairy stems. We have to walk carefully as they're all over the place. We reach the creek. It is a spring-fed creek, flowing year-round. It provides water for the town of Ramseur, several miles to the south of the dairy.

We walk alongside the creek and I spot a very showy, white flower. It is aster like, with a big head and radiating white petals. "Oh, look at what you found! Blood root! I haven't seen this in three years. This is great!" exclaims Steve. This flower blooms briefly, so spotting it is tricky. We manage to find a few of them growing nearby. Steve then leads us to his favorite spot. There is natural seat at the base of a big tree along the edge of the creek. The roots are smooth and worn by the flowing water. They stretch into the stream. The sound of flowing water drowns out all other noise in the woods. Sarah and Bishop, Steve's dogs splash and run up and down the streambed. Bishop is intent on finding groundhogs and other borrowing animals nearby. He's a rare Appalachian breed (Mountain fife?). He's bred to find burrowing animals. He's also an excellent watchdog. Likes to bark. We walk on to the fire pit. This is a cleared area with wooden benches and a big fire ring in the center. Looks like a great spot to spend an evening with friends.

We conclude our tour by crossing the stream and walking back up the hill to the pastures behind the garden. Not too far. Now that I know where the trail is, I'll go exploring again. I'd like to see more flowers as they emerge. The woods are beautiful. Mature hardwoods, full of beech, locust, gum, oak, cedar, Southern pine, dogwood, and countless others that I can't identify.

There are two goats who have figured out how to get through the fence. Every day I see a little white saanen named Violet wandering around the Barn, nibbling on every plant it can find. It really likes a rosebush on the front of the barn. She's always getting into trouble. She fell in the pond the other day. Eventually, someone will take a break, go grab Violet and put her in the "time out pen." Sometimes she's joined by her friend, a little alpine doe. We've decided to re-name them Thelma and Louise. Thelma is the saanen, the leader, and Louise, the alpine who likes to tag along.

Wow. If my grandma were still alive, she' be 111. Happy Birthday Grandma!

Gathering eggs and making chevre

Wednesday, March 21

As it stands now, the new pasteurizer is fixed! Chris the stainless steel welder, added an air vent to the side of the machine. Apparently in the rush to get the equipment out the door, this critical part was overlooked. Air could not escape so it was essentially trapped inside. Since the air had nowhere to go, the water couldn’t enter so the unit couldn't heat nor cool properly. The cracks were fixed and now it works as promised. The builder was incredibly apologetic and embarrassed. He obviously didn't test it or else he would have found the HUGE mistake he had made.

The first batch of milk to be pasteurized after the fix turned out fine. Steve and I watched it every second. Nothing like watching a large, noisy steel kettle cook for three hours. OK, I was slightly bored. I DID get to learn how to read the paper record that is recorded in order to verify pasteurization. It is critical for a licensed cheesemaker to have a paper trail for every batch of cheese.

The now pasteurized milk was cultured and turned into fresh chevre.

I got to gather the eggs today. I walked into the chicken enclosure after feeding the kids their supper. I opened the lid on the nesting boxes and peered inside. Eggs! Lot of eggs. We've got some happy hens. I went from box to box, gathering fresh eggs and putting them into the wicker egg basket. Seven out of the eight boxes had a eggs. The eight box had a chicken in it. Lee warned me about her. She's a brooder, meaning she likes to sit on eggs. Not just her eggs, but any eggs she can find. Her maternal instincts are on overdrive, I guess. She's also cranky and will peck you if you try to take her eggs. Lee and Steve said she doesn't hurt when she pecks. I look at her and she looks at me. She fluffs her feathers and looks threatening. I stick my hand in and she thrusts her head at it. Peck! Peck! Ow! She hurt me. It feels like a stabbing pinch. It's not hard enough to break the skin, but hard enough to make you stop. In my case, she just made me annoyed. I jabbed my hand beneath her plump body and found a stack of warm eggs. One after another, I brought out eggs. She squawked, pecked and began to bite me. Good thing chickens don't have teeth. The more she pecked the more I pushed her around looking for eggs. I finally just lifted her fully out of the next and two more eggs fell out from her underside. Grand total, at least ten eggs from this one next box. The eggs are from multiple hens because they are all sizes and colors. Everyone else is scared to move her. My hand is red from every place she pecked me. Now I want to gather eggs every night, just so I can get even.

I'm seeing lots of birds pairing off in the trees doing what birds do. The world's largest bumblebees are flying around the garden doing intricate dances in midair. The trees have tiny green buds on them. The naked woods are slightly green, highlighted with splashes of pink, red, and yellow. I can't wait to see it all burst into color over the next couple of weeks. The forsythia in the garden has bright yellow flowers all over it. The number of insects seem to double every day. Happy Spring!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Tours and more drama

Eat your greens (or russian kale)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The party never stops, the saga continues. Steve put a call in to Chris, a local welder who built the old pasteurizer. Chris now has his own stainless steel fabrication and repair business.

The two Carries spend the morning packaging orders for Goat Lady Dairy's distributor, Cornucopia. I unmould, trim and brine the Providence cheese that I helped make yesterday. I then get to turn all of the bloomy rind cheese that is aging in one of the aging coolers. They're coming along nicely. Each one is enveloped in a robe of fluffy white mold. They're almost totally covered now. Some of them will be ripe this weekend. I can't wait! They look and feel right. My cheesemonger's eye says they'll be velvety and mild. Not too goaty. Perfect.

Carrie Carrie loves to tell stories about her family while we are in the cheese room. She and her family like to go camping every summer. One summer, Tommy, her father decided they were going beat the heat. He's a tinkerer and a pack-rat. He lets nothing go to waste. They have a pop-up camper that they use every summer. This particular year, he took a spare air conditioner, mounted it below one of the over-hangs and ran several silver heating/cooling ducts into their camper. The ducts were standard ducts like you use in a house. Carrie said it looked like a lunar space station, silver tubes reaching up from the a/c unit and surrounding the camper. People would drive by on golf carts just to see how the rednecks like to camp. Tommy was pretty proud of his innovation. They felt right at home parked next to the deluxe, super-expensive tour bus style RV with their satellite TV.

Chris the fabricator arrives around Noon. Steve isn't around, so I show him where the pasteurizer was leaking. He looks at it and immediately finds a few cracks. Bobby and Tommy show up and fill him in some more. Chris looks it over. Not only has it split a seam or two, the bottom has buckled and the insulation has gotten wet. The thing is ruined. It will cost thousands to fix.

Chris, Tommy, Bobby, and Steve continue to pour over the machine. Chris manages to take the jacket off and peek at the internal workings of this thing. Apparently, all is NOT lost. He might be able to fix it. He installs a valve that will release the air from the system. They replace the faulty pump. It just might be fixed and NOT cost thousands of dollars. Tomorrow is another day. We'll just have to see what happens.

While this saga is going on inside, a tour group arrives. A group of fifth grader exchange students are here from Portland, OR. They go to Summit School. I guess there are a bunch of kids from North Carolina running around PDX right now. Ginnie led them around the farm, telling them how the garden feeds us and how it is kept up all year round. Next she took them into the chicken enclosure and let them pet chickens and look at their eggs. The piggies were a big hit. Finally, they got to play with the baby goats. The kids love them. The goats were as curious as the kids. Everyone got to hold a goat, pet them and get to know them. I talked to some of the kids and told them the names of some of the goats. They finally got to try some of the goat cheese. Some like it. Some looked like they had just been poisoned.

The rest of the afternoon was quiet. Wrapped things up by feeding 45 squirming, hungry, baby goats. They growing every day. Now they're eating lots of hay in addition on their milk rations. Our kids are growing up. Next year they'll be on the milk line along side their mothers.

Under pressure

Monday, March 19, 2007

Steve is still sorting out problems with the pasteurizer. The batch of fresh cheese that was left overnight to drain is a failure. It is extremely soft, soupy in places, and has stuck to the drainage socks. We speculate as to why the curd didn't drain right. Did it cook too long in the pasteurizer? Did the new pumping system break up the curd too much? The pH of the cheese is correct, so that's not a problem. Steve calls his consultant to ask for advise. The answer: it cooked for too long. We have denatured milk proteins, so instead of the milk proteins setting up into curds, we have whey proteins that have set up into curds. We made ricotta! It tastes good, it is just not what we intended.

My job for the morning: empty each sock into big tubs to feed the curds to the pigs. The little piggies love to eat our mistakes. Steve is heartbroken. We're feeding money to the pigs.

Sammy shows up around Noon to deliver goat milk for cheesemaking. We take 70 gallons and pour it straight into the vat. On today's menu: Providence made with goat milk. This batch will be shipped to Laura Werlin for a big Food and Wine event in Aspen, Colorado in June. She's a fan of Goat Lady Dairy and Steve is honored that she wants to serve his cheese at her event.

I enjoy making Providence. It is a relatively quick cheese to make. It is made in Taleggio style moulds, so it turns out square. Each finished cheese is about six pounds. The milk is heated up, culture is added, melts in and then gets stirred. The vat is left to sit, covered while the milk ripens. Rennet is added and stirred in quickly. The milk turns into a Jello-like texture when it's ready. Then we test the curd and see if it is ready to cut. The break isn't clean, so we wait for five more minutes. Success this time. Steve cuts the curds with two different curd knives. He cuts in several directions. Then the curd is stirred and the temperature of the vat is raised for ten minutes. The curd settles to the bottom, underneath lots of greenish-yellow whey. We siphon off the whey to curd level and then scoop the curd into the sanitized moulds. The curds are piled high because they shrink quickly as they knit. When all of the moulds are filled, we flip them so the bottom side becomes the top. The moulds will be flipped several more times before the end of the day.

Sammy joins Steve, Tommy, and Bobby in trying to sort out the pasteurizer problems. They check the flow rate of the water. They check the pump. The pump has a problem. It barely pumps. Then Sammy notices the plumbing is hooked up backwards. They consult the diagram from the manufacturer. It is drawn backwards! The guys are running around like chickens with their heads cut off. It is chaos in the Barn. I lay low and try to stay out of their way for the rest of the afternoon.

At suppertime I go up to the Barn to forage. Steve is running a practice batch of water in the machine. He comes out to tell me that it seems to be working better. We hear a sound coming from the cheese room that sounds like falling water. We go into the cheese room and see the pasteurizer has become a fountain. Water is shooting out of the small pressure valve, hitting the ceiling and cascading back to the floor. There is water pouring out of release valve on the bottom of the tank. "Oh no! It's sprung a leak!" Steve cries. He quickly rushes over to shut of the water and drains the pasteurizer. "This is not good," he moans. When the water is gone, he examines the thing. It has busted a seam at the base. It built up so much pressure, that it became a bomb. A weld didn't hold.

Note to self: don’t fill with water and run a pump at the same time.

Steve is about to break. He's soaking wet. He looks like he's about to cry.

And on top of everything else, Jonah, the little buck died.

Perhaps we need to make an offering to appease the gods? Something is amiss, here.

The Classic

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Lee, Cousin Sarah, friend Zoe in the kitchen

And on the seventh day, I rested. And I ate. A lot.

I enjoyed a semi quiet morning in the White House. Little Carrie was off in Carrboro, spending time with her boyfriend. It is nice to have some quiet time to myself.

It was another brisk morning with a few clouds scooting across a cool, blue sky. The Barn was full of people. Ginnie, Jessie, Steve, Lee, Lee's cousin Sarah, and Sarah's friend Zoe were all gathered in the kitchen. Ginnie was whipping up another feast for Sunday brunch. On the menu: sausage patties (from last year's pigs,) poached eggs, Belgian waffles made from scratch, blueberry sauce and maple syrup. Everything looked delicious.

It was really hard to resist the bounty that lay before me. I needed to save room for the country buffet at The Classic Family Restaurant in Denton. I tried to resist while drinking my strong cuppa PG Tips tea. When the hot waffles were passed around I caved in. I took a smallish square. Then covered it with butter, maple syrup and blueberry sauce. Ginnie separated the eggs and whipped the egg whites. She folded them in to the batter and then cooked them until they were light and crispy. The batter and subsequent waffles were bright yellow due to the super-bright egg yolks from their chickens. I love these eggs. I've been trying to get the perfect picture, but I can't capture the vivid hue properly. I want to take some home with me, but I don't think eggs would ship well in my luggage.

Satisfied after devouring the waffle, I knew I'd survive until dinner with Sammy. Lee's cousin pulled into town on Saturday night. She drove in from Nashville with a friend. She's a retired history teacher and likes to travel. They're going to visit Winston Salem and the Morovian community in Old Salem. They're also planning on hitting Seagrove while in the area. Nice ladies. I think they were a bit overwhelmed by Ginnie's cooking and the farm fresh food.

I bid them farewell and hit the road around 10:30. Sammy's farm is about 30 minutes away, just off of the Highway 64, between Asheboro and Lexington. It was still pretty cold out when I pulled up to the goat dairy. I parked the van near a smoldering pile of blackened trash. Looks like Sammy was burning some small boxes. I walk up to his white farmhouse. It appears to be from the 1930's. Single story with a screened in porch. I walk in the side door and enter the mudroom. There are two newborn white goats in a bin lined with towels. It is too cold out to leave them under the heat lamps in the barn. I shout "Hello!" and Sammy walks into the kitchen that adjacent to the mudroom. He give me a big hug and invites me in. We tour the house. It belongs to the family that owns the farm that he leases. Sammy explained that he's work on this land since he was 15 years old. He grew up with the eight kids that gathered in the kitchen. He's been around dairies for as long as he can remember.

The tour continues into the living room. His Venetian blinds are lowered so the room is dimly lit, even though it is bright outside. There is an ancient oil heater that is the center of attention the room. It is vented up through an old chimney. It is cranking out heat and keeps the room nice and toasty. It does smell faintly of kerosene, but it isn't overpowering. Sammy assures me that it is perfectly safe, just not terribly efficient. It looks like it is from the 1950's. It has this industrial light brown color like the color of old school movie projectors. The rest of the house is pretty bare, even the bedrooms. Sammy is planning on putting hardwood floors down in a few of the rooms and adding new carpeting in the bedrooms. I'm sure when he's done, the house will look great. Right now it is need of a bit of love. The floor in the second bedroom is a bit soft. It is like walking on a trampoline. I have no idea when he'll find the time to work on the house. Sammy works 18 hours a day right now.

We grab coats and jump in his big, red Ford truck. There are a pile of Marlboro Reds sitting between us. He grabs a pack and removes a cigarette. He lights it as we drive down the road towards Denton. He guides the truck down backroads and through small towns that are mere crossroads with a couple of long-closed storefronts. He points out Jackson Creek, a town that had many family memories for him. It is as dead as the other small communities. The general store is gone and the garage is no more. "I used to buy the sourest dill pickles and pickled eggs there," he remembered. "What happened to them?" I ask. "They can't buy there merchandise for less than the big chain store can sell them for." It is the same story repeated over and over again in small towns all over the country.

The terrain is pretty hilly. We're in the Uwharries, ancient mountains that have eroded over the eons and are now just hills. The highest is 1000 feet. There are large rock formations jutting up into yards and along side the road, They look bluish grey. Serpentine? Granite? Don't know. I ask Sammy about the rocks. "It's Randolph County. Rocks are everywhere. Makes it hard to farm."

At last we reach Denton. We drive around and find the restaurant on S. Main Street, near Salisbury Street. The Classic is in an old auto dealership. It is huge. We walk in and move towards the back. There are several large rooms set up to take a lot of customers. The parking lot is already half full and it is only 11:30. The church crowd hasn't come in yet.

We order two buffet dinners and two ice teas. Sammy leads the way to the steam tables. They occupy the center of the building. There are two long tables, filled with food. One is the salad bar, the other has the hot food. We go straight for the main course. I start helping myself to some nice looking coleslaw. I avoid the copious amounts of Jello in small white bowls. I also take a pass on the Ambrosia salad. The Seven Layer salad looks tempting. It is finely chopped lettuce with sour cream and bacon. There might be some cheese and onions on it too. I'll have to look at a recipe to see what else is in it. I then look at these light and fluffy biscuits and snag one. The mashed potatoes are needed for balance. The fried chicken looks perfect. Lightly breaded and perfectly brown. The chicken pie is unlike any I've had before. It has a browned cornbread topping. Naturally, I take some to try. I followed it up with country ham, fried streaky fatback, and some stewed apples. Some crowder peas round out my first plate. (I have no idea what crowder peas are, nor how to spell them.) I go back to the table. I don't know where to begin. I go with the chicken pie.

When I get back the table, Sammy declares, "If you don't get enough to eat it's your own fault. It's all you can eat!"

I am in heaven. With every mouthful, I make happy sounds. Everything is delicious. The fried streaky fatback is salt cured. To cut down on the salt wallop, Sammy likes to eat it with applesauce, No applesauce to be had, but the stewed apples work nicely. Mmmm, sweet, cinnamon apples with smoky, salty crispy pork. This is the first time I've ever had, let alone seen, fried fatback. I LIKE it. Sort of like thick-cut bacon, but with thicker veins of fat and meat. The sweet tea is perfectly sweetened. Not overpowering, but cuts through the grease. I make a couple of trips, taking more bacon and chicken.

While we eat, there is a steady stream of families filing through the door. Everyone is nicely dressed. By the time we're through, the place is nearly full and the staff is constantly replenishing the buffet. Everything is fresh and hot.

We finished the meal at the dessert bar. There is a case filled with slices of pie. Lemon meringue, buttermilk, chocolate cream, coconut cream, buttermilk and raisin, and some other mystery cream pies. Next to the pie case are three covered bins; banana pudding, peach cobbler, and strawberry cobbler. Sammy takes some banana pudding, I opt for the peach cobbler. Now I am stuffed. "Want anymore?" Sammy asks. "I'm very happy right now." I reply.

Sammy takes us back to his farm. We sit and digest our meals. He tells me tales of his days living in Greenwich Village and New Jersey. He has friends from all walks of life, young and old, rich and poor. People naturally gravitate towards him, and his Southern upbringing makes him a perfect host.

I drive back to Goat Lady Dairy very happy and very full.

Sammy is going to show me some good barbecue places, next.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Cold cold ground

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Today is bitter cold. The farm sits in a little valley, so the cold settles here. I notice the pansies looked a bit dull as I walked up to the barn this morning. I reached down and touched a flower. It crunched between my fingers. Each petal was covered with a thick layer of ice. The rain from yesterday froze overnight. It was certainly below freezing this morning.

I felt sorry for Little Carrie and Ginnie. They were working the booth at the Triad Farmer's Market. The wind picked up later in the morning. Even though it was bright and sunny, it never warmed up.

Feeding the kids was a chore this morning. They were shivering as we fed them. Some of them clenched their jaws and didn't want to eat. The milk is nice and warm, though, so once they started eating, they sucked their ration dry. Today is the first day we feed only twice a day. The kids are getting bigger and are starting to eat hay. They build their rumen by instinct, so they like having food to chew. I can't believe how big they've gotten. These guys grow faster than puppies.

Steve is still working out the kinks with his pasteurizer. It is taking a long time to heat up and cool down--far longer than normal. A two or three hour process is taking five hours. Something isn't right. The guy who built it is in Tillamook, Oregon. There have been lots of calls to Tillamook over the past few days. It will be good when things are in a real routine. This limbo business can be frustrating for all of us.

Sammy showed up around noon. He had about 100 gallons of goat milk for cheesemaking. He stayed and helped us pour the milk from buckets into the pasteurizer. The buckets were then washed and loaded back into Sammy's red pick-up truck. Ginnie and Little Carrie returned from the Triad Market just before lunch. Ginnie prepared the meal while we worked with the milk.

Just before 1:00 we sat down to a meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes with milk gravy (made with some of the fat from the fried chicken and raw goat milk), and buttered peas. The fried chicken was amazingly tender and moist with a good crispy crust that was browned to perfection. Ginnie's white milk gravy was thick, rich and flavorful. She asked if we make milk gravy out west. I usually see gravy made from fond, stock, and flour; not milk and flour. I'm going to have to try to perfect this gravy technique at home. I think my family would appreciate it. Calories be damned!

Sammy kept us entertained while we ate our fill of Ginnie's chicken. He just moved into a farmhouse next to his goat dairy. He's living in the middle of lots of boxes while he remodels the house. Sammy doesn't have the best vocabulary, so he "improvises" words. He told us he needs to work on his windows. He needs to put up some Phoenician blinds. We all smile and nod our heads, knowing that this is just another classic Sammy-ism. Sammy isn't stupid, by any means. He's just self educated, it seems. He's got an incredible grasp of mechanics and the dairy business. Today he also talked about how he got his pilot's license. He just can't find anyone willing to fly with him. I must admit, I'd be nervous.

Saturday afternoons draw the tourists. Folks come around and want to see the goats, buy cheese, and chat. Being a working farm, most of us are usually busy and have to stop whatever we're working on in order to see what the visitors want. Today, a couple of families dropped in with small children. They just wanted to see and pet the baby goats. Not a problem, they just need to understand that the baby goats can be overly enthusiastic and will jump all over you. Plus, they nip. It doesn't hurt unless they bite your fingers with their back molars. If they're hungry, they'll suck on your fingers.

Another family stopped by because they want to buy a few kids for their farm. The father owns the Green Bean, a coffeehouse in downtown Greensboro. He has several acres and has been talking to Lee about what he needs to do to make a good goat area on his property. Lee is often consulted by the locals who want to raise goats, or if they have goats and there's a problem with them. Sometimes it is hard to be the local expert.

The afternoon has been quiet. Lee's cousin has come in from Nashville. She'll be here a couple of days. I've been doing chores like folding the towels and work shirts for cheesemaking. It is nice to have a quiet day. I borrowed some DVDs from Jessie, so I might watch one of them tonight. It helps to have my laptop.

On tap for tomorrow: dinner with Sammy! I'll be at his farm at 11:00am and we'll drive to Denton, N.C. to eat at The Classic. Oh boy! More fried food! And it will be buffet style, too! We'll get there around 11:30 in order to beat the church crowd.

Cold and rainy and an F-150

Friday, March 18, 2007

It is very cold and rainy today. Winter has returned for a few days.

Steve spends the day monkeying around with the new pasteurizer. Tommy and Bobby are helping with the fine-tuning. I stay out of the way.

Steve sends Ginnie and me off to the Triad Farmer's Market in order to secure a stall for Goat Lady Diary. The season begins on Saturday, so getting a good spot is critical. We took a folding table, a stool, and some cheese and drove into Greensboro in the blue Ford F-150 pick-up truck. I drove and Ginnie provided excellent directions. The rain made the ride especially scary. Lots of standing water and lots of big trucks on the road. I just took it slow and steady.

We pull up to the farmer's market. It is right off of Interstate 40, just west of Greensboro Airport. The market is huge. It is run by the state of North Carolina and has two vending areas, both big, long, open-air marketplaces. There is a roof to shelter you, but nothing else. We set up in the middle of five other vendors, all friends of Steve's and Ginnie's. Together, everyone will sell each other's products. The market will be open every day, so everyone will rotate coverage. This is a new setup this year, so no one knows how it will be.

It is bitter cold. We drop off our stuff and talk to the others who are setting up. There is no one else around. Ginnie makes the executive decision to go get lunch. We drove over to the café at the far end of the marketplace. Nothing special. Burgers, fries, sandwiches, and so forth. I got fish and chips. The best part of the meal were the surprise hushpuppies.

After lunch, we packed it in and headed back to the farm. The rain continued to make driving precarious. I was happy to reach Jess Hackett Road and pull into the driveway of Goat Lady Dairy.

The rest of the day was spent taking it easy. I fed the kids on the lamb-bar and called it a day.

Installation on Thursday

Steve and Bobby deep in thought.

Another use for a tractor with Bobby, Carrie-Carrie, Steve in the driver's seat, and Carrie's dad, Tommy.

Tommy and Steve move the old pasteurizer.

The new pasteurizer, off of the truck and in the Barn.

Bobby gets the new pasteurizer in place.

New toy!!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Freshly salted Sandy Creek goat cheese.

Today was another warm and humid day. I walked up to the barn as the day was brightening. It was already in the 60s, not much of a morning chill. A chorus of songbirds surrounded me. Everyone was singing, telling me to wake up, it's time to eat, let's get busy, here I am, good morning! I could see a red-wing blackbird, several cardinals, some sparrows, a hawk, geese, mourning doves, blue jays, chickadees, and mockingbirds. A nice, diverse crowd is on hand this morning.

I go into the Barn and it is already a hive of activity. Lee is busy feeding goats. Steve, Carrie Carrie, and Little Carrie are in the cheese room, hard at work. I throw on my clean cheese clothes and enter the cheese room We wear hospital scrubs, hairnets, and waterproof clogs in the cheese room. Cheese needs a clean environment in order reduce the risk of contamination. Plus, who wants to find goat hairs in their cheese? No thanks.

Steve is in a state. He's excited because the new pasteurizer arrives today. He's running all around the dairy, getting things ready. Bobby came and fixed the tractor so we could use it to move the pasteurizer, if needed. It wouldn't start so he tinkered with it and finally jumped on the seat. I guess there are sensors on the seat that apply the brakes if you fall off. The sensor had gotten out of whack, so a good kick to the seat was all it needed.

Little Carrie got to dip the last batch of fromage from the old pasteurizer. I got to salt the camembert, the Sandy Creek, and the crottins, Together, we all made the chocolate truffles. They're fun to make. They're made with fresh chevre and semisweet chocolate, then rolled in cocoa powder. Quite rich. I can eat only one. When I roll one in my gloved hands, it feels like I'm making mud pies or playing with sticky, chocolate Play-doh. You roll these little balls of chocolate and creamy cheese until they're perfect little dollops of soft, chocolatey goodness. A dusting of cocoa powder envelops them, then they firm up overnight before packaging. Tomorrow we'll package them, six to a tray, then send them out to be sold at the farmer's market as well as a few retail accounts. They seem to sell out each week. Perhaps we should make more.

While we're working, conversations flow easily. Carrie Carrie and I were talking about the need for quiet time; time by yourself, away from your spouse. She said she loves sitting in her deer stand and just reading or knitting. Bobby has his own deer stand, so she relishes the quiet time without the demands of her family. I look at her. Deer stand? "What's a deer stand?" I asked. "What's a deer stand?!?" she says with disbelief. She turned to the gas man working across the room and says, "Did you hear what she asked? What's a deer stand??? Sarah, we're gonna have to give you some redneck lessons," she replied while laughing. I envision something like a farm stand, a place where you might buy or sell venison. Carrie explains, "A deer stand is a platform on stilts or built into a tree from which you hunt deer. You're sheltered from the weather, too." "Ohhh, we don't have those things in San Francisco." I say. Deer season is November and December, so I guess I won't be hanging around any deer stands.

Carrie Carrie is now on a mission to educate me in the finer points of how to be a redneck. Next time they go to the stockyard for an auction, her family is going to take me. They say it is the best place to get burgers. I guess it's the freshest meat around.

All work stops around noon when the UPS freight truck pulls up with a big, heavy crate. The new pasteurizer is here! For the next hour everyone joins in helping move the crate off of the semi, onto the back of the pick-up truck and up to the barn. Next, Steve, Tommy, and Bobby make a sling and use the tractor to carry the pasteurizer over the front porch where it is lowered onto a piano dolly. It is carefully unwrapped and moved into place in the cheese room.

Steve is elated. Everything appears to be here. The rest of the day is spent assembling the meters, running power to it, hooking it up to the water lines, and getting everything to work properly. Of course there is no manual, as it is a custom-built piece. Many phone calls are exchanged with the guy in Oregon who built it.

I spent the rest of the afternoon working with the goats and just staying out of the way.

I was by myself for supper, so I borrowed the car and drove over to Randleman. I went to Bojangles. I've been talking about it so much that I had to take care of the craving for some fried chicken and biscuits. Carrie Carrie gave me good directions and I found it easily. It is in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart in Randleman. It is just beginning to get dark as I pull up to it. There are two Randleman police officers in line ahead of me. Looks like they're buying dinner for the entire police force. I order as the assembly line is putting lots of fried chicken into styrofoam containers. Bojangles makes two types of friend chicken: Southern style and Cajun. I can't decide, so I order a three-piece combo with both Southern and spicy Cajun. I got it with coleslaw and mashed potatoes. A biscuit comes with all orders. Unsweetened iced tea to wash it all down completes my order. My mouth is watering.

The teenagers assemble my order quickly, and I take it and drive back to the farm. It's only about 8 miles due west to Randleman, but the roads are narrow and twisty. The light is fading fast as I navigate the maze of roads back to the farm. I gobble down dinner and am left feeling a bit overwhelmed. The fried chicken is perfectly crispy; salty and delicious. The grease is nicely cut by the tea. Good coleslaw--slightly tart and sweet. Mashed potatoes are just average. My craving is now satisfied. I don't have to go back to Bojangles for a while.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Glorious goat cheese

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Milk and curds and whey, oh my!

Little Carrie and Steve headed over to Sammy's farm today to pick up more goat milk. Since he got the pasteurizer working, he's got a full docket of cheesemaking.

I joined Carrie Carrie in the cheeseroom right after breakfast. Carrie and I "dipped" or scooped the curds that were cultured last night and left to sit until morning. The dipped curds were gently poured into cloth-lined draining tray and left to sit for 24 hours. We cleaned the pasteurizer and got it ready for more milk.

Next we prepared a few wholesale orders. We wrapped one-third-pound logs of chevre for a market near Charlotte as well as for a few restaurants. I like the flavored logs. Some are rolled in peppercorns, some in dill or other herbs. We also packaged more flavored, spreadable chevre. We also made some really tasty marinated chevre rounds. Quite a bargain at $7.00 a pack. I think they're too cheap, but the economy here might not support a more expensive product, according to Carrie Carrie.

When Steve and Little Carrie returned with fresh goat milk, we poured it straight into the pasteurizer. It takes about an hour to pasteurize. The milk must be heated, maintained at 145 degrees and then cooled down again. Once the milk has reached the right temperature, it is transferred into the vat. Culture is then added which begins the acidification of the milk. At a predetermined time, rennet is stirred in, and everything is left to sit for a while as the curds begin to set. Rennet clips the protein in milk so the milk solids want to bind together and the leftovers are expelled in the whey.

I'm really impressed with Steve's economy of scale. They make the most of every batch of cheese and every inch of space. From this vat of curd, we made several cheeses. First, we made 60 goat milk camembert. Then we poured curds into crottin molds. After that, we ladled the same curds into small molds for Sandy Creek, an ash-covered, aged goat cheese that looks like a mini Humboldt Fog. Steve says his is a sweeter cheese with a different texture. I can't wait to see these cheeses ripen. One of them will be ready in a week, another in two or three weeks. The camembert will take more than a month to ripen. They are all new to me. Each one will be a new experience for me. Given the other cheeses that I've tried around here, I have high hopes for these cheeses, too.

We spent a lot of time flipping cheese. Each one must be turned three times during the day. Then they will be turned again in the morning. Turning helps the curds knit well and keeps the moisture evenly distributed.

While I was working with Carrie Carrie and the cheese, Little Carrie got to spend the afternoon in the garden. They planted potatoes today. I'm glad I was in the cheeseroom. It got really hot today. The humidity crept up, too. Cheese needs a consistent environment to make a consistent product, so the cheeseroom is always 70 degrees. Nice.

Meals today: We had tostadas for lunch. Beef, refried beans, avocado, salsa, onions, jalapeno chevre, sour cream, and jack cheese. I taught Ginnie how to bake tostada shells from fresh tortillas. For dinner, I made scrambled eggs, with homemade bacon and sautéed onions. The eggs here are so fresh and vibrant. I can't get enough of them. I'm very happy with my diet here. I wonder if I've gained or lost weight. I can tell I'm more fit. Picking up baby goats will build up your arm muscles. So does gardening.

Update on the sickly baby buck. He's doing much better. He's eating more consistently, and he's playing well with others. He's still bottle fed, but at least he's eating. That makes me happy. He's got a name now--Jonah.

Goats in the garden

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Violet checks out Ginnie's cart

This morning Carrie Carrie lets us lend a hand in the cheese room. We wrapped lots of chevre logs for wholesale orders. Steve spent the morning getting the pasteurizer in order. Tommy and Bobby came over and helped him. Together they got it working. Tommy, the diary inspector came over to recertify the machine. Now we're legal and good to go. OK! Let's make some cheese!

Steve made a batch of chevre. Some of it will be smoked over pecan chips and sold at the farmer's market. The rest will go into his spreadable cheese.

It got very hot today. The sun seems more intense here. At least, it seem that way when I'm stooped in the garden pulling weeds. Perhaps it is because I never spend much time in the sun. I am so fair that it just isn't worth it. I try not to complain too much, but I can't tolerate warm sun for too long. I better let them know. I don't like heat stroke. Can someone please hold a parasol over my head? Perhaps stick a fan on my face? I know it will only get worse. I better get used to the heat, and fast. Carrie Carrie's kids even complained about the temperature. I know today was warm in the garden.

Today's lunch had another treat: banana pudding. Yum. Made with the day-glow orange-yolked eggs from their chickens. Ginnie makes a great custard. I could have eaten the whole bowl. All seven of us gobbled it up. Chris, the chef who cooks the Dinners at the Dairy was here this afternoon. He was planning the next menu with Steve and Ginnie. He was also making a bresaola to hang in the root cellar. I'll be curious to see how it turns out. Not sure how long it is going to age.

Jessie brought a couple of goats into the garden with us for our afternoon weeding session. Trick and Guy Noir, two baby bucks, ran through the weeds and explored the garden. Just like puppies, they're growing really fast. When I got here two weeks ago, they were just tiny little guys who were quite subdued. Now they're into everything and full of spunk. They're still drinking milk, so they're safe to keep in the garden. They don't nibble or destroy much. These guys will be castrated, so they'll just be pets. Most bucks are not so fortunate.

Milking it

Monday, March 12, 2007

Edible flowers.

The pace is picking up around here. The garden is demanding attention. Beds need to be weeded, tilled, and planted. So far I can see freshly planted arugula, lettuce, leeks, onions, and cabbage. Other beds harbor asparagus which will sprout sometime soon. The berry canes are still bare. The kale and collards are still going strong. It has been really warm for the past couple of days, and there are signs of life in the bushes and trees. The pear tree had a couple of blossoms emerge yesterday. Today, it looks like it is covered with popcorn. The bright yellow forsythia bushes are all in bloom, as are the hot pink quince bushes. The bugs are also emerging from their sleep. Butterflies are paying a visit to the garden. I keep seeing ladybugs on the kale. Bumblebees and honeybees have been busy foraging for nectar in the chickweed and henbane. I love being outside, but I can't take the sun and heat. I'm not used to it, and my translucent skin does not allow me to be in the sun--I fry in 10 minutes. Perhaps that's why I'm not a passionate gardener. I like learning more about gardening, but I really want to make cheese.

In order to make cheese, one must have milk. Sammy's farm has the milk. Sammy is starting to milk the goats. The girls have been giving birth to all of these cute, baby goats, but now it is time for them to earn their keep. Sammy has built a new milking parlor for the does and has a brand new bulk tank for holding the fresh goat milk for cheesemaking. Tommy Holden, the dairy inspector, has been working closely with Sammy to get the milking parlor licensed. Now Sammy just needs to get his hauler's license so he can deliver the milk from his farm to Goat Lady Dairy. Hopefully, he'll get that done on Friday.

Sammy and the girls.

Steve and I took a drive to Sammy's farm after breakfast in order to pick up some goat milk for making cheese. The goats are kept far away from the cows. Sammy has provided lots of room for them to roam, as well as a big barn for them to lounge in. Today is Sammy's birthday. He's in fine form. His partner is in town, and they're going to Ruby Tuesday's for his birthday dinner. Sammy really likes their salad bar. The man knows what he likes. We talked about favorite foods. He has a couple of favorite BBQ places. In Thomasville he recommends Tommy's on National Highway(?), and in Lexington he says Speedy's is the best. He's also partial to "country-style" food. This means down-home cooking. Chicken fried steak, fried chicken, overcooked green beans with fat-back, fried fat-back, mashed potatoes and gravy, cobbler, and many kinds of pudding. The best around is to be found on the Sunday buffet at "The Classic" in Denton, N.C. south of Lexington. Oh, yeah. My dad would love this artery-clogging fare. I know I do. Sammy and I have a dinner date for Sunday. "We'll get there around 11:30am. That way, we'll beat the church crowd." Oh boy! I can't wait.

Pigging out at lunch time feels (slightly) healthier than at supper time. It allows more time for the body to digest and work off the meal.

Steve pays Sammy for the first goat milk of the year.

Steve, Sammy, and I did a milk tasting before we poured the milk into buckets. Sammy, being a good dairyman, doesn't drink milk. Steve insisted that he try it so he knows what the milk is like at different times of the year. Since the does are one to two weeks into lactation, the milk will have a distinct taste to it. We each grabbed a Dixie cup and took a sip of fresh goat milk. It tasted clean, slightly tart, and minerally. The aftertaste was not the best. It lingered and had a slightly full and bitter finish. Steve says there's a small amount of colostrum in the milk right now. It should be gone in couple of days. This is normal of "early" milk, but it is acceptable for cheesemaking. We load the milk into 3.5-gallon white buckets that Steve gets from Dunkin' Donuts. 70 gallons later, we load the van and head for home.

We arrive in time for lunch. Ginnie has made a braised ginger beef with rice. Another amazing creation.

After lunch, we go into the cheeseroom and prepare to make a batch of fresh cheese. Steve has moved the old pasteurizer back onto the room so we can make fresh cheese for a few days. We pour the milk into the steel drum and start it up. It begins to heat the milk and the monitors are all in synch. Then the recorder, the instrument that certifies the cheese as legally pasteurized, decides to go haywire. It says the liquid is 175 degrees and climbing. We know the milk is cold, not scalding. Steve becomes very agitated. He pulls out notebooks and tries to recalibrate the recorder. Nothing is working. We can't make fresh cheese without a functional recorder. "Well, I've got to focus on this right now. Why don't you guys go garden?" I'm sad. I wanted to make cheese. Little Carrie is excited. She loves to dig in the dirt. Off we go to pull weeds.

Steve spent a long time with technicians on the phone. We pulled a lot of weeds. Little Carrie likes to garden barefoot. I like to protect myself in everyway possible; sunscreen, gloves, long sleeved shirt, floppy hat, bandana on my neck, and tools make me happy. I'm sore from stooping over the veggie beds.

Ginnie's recipe for quick collard greens or kale:

Remove thick stems from greens or kale.

Cut collard greens in a chiffonade, as if are cutting basil.

How to cut chiffonade: Stack the leaves on top of each other,

Roll them like a cigarette,

Cut them into tiny strips.

Heat oil in a large skillet or wok (she uses a wok.)

Saute garlic until fragrant and brown.

Add as many greens as will fit in the pan.

Add some chicken broth. About ½ cup?

Stir and add more greens as they cook down.

Cover and cook adding broth as needed and stirring occasionally.

Cook for about 30 minutes, until tender.