Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Pleasant company

I've had a pleasant distraction this past week. My husband Jim came for a visit. He arrived on Thursday and we've had a whirlwind tour of Floyd, Virginia and the Piedmont Triad area. It has been a very long separation, so his visit was a welcome distraction. I just dropped him off at the airport and he's now dodging thunderstorms across the country. I'm sure our kitties will be thrilled to see him again.

I surprised Jim at the airport last Thursday. Carrie Carrie dropped me off at GSO and I waited patiently for his plane to get in. Somehow he spotted me first and came running over to me and gave me a big hug. Six weeks of separation has been very hard for both of us. It was wonderful to see his smile again.

We got the rental car and drove back into Greensboro. He was hungry and it was around 5:00pm. What's on the menu? Barbecue! Stamey's barbecue to be exact; a Greensboro institution. Pretty good stuff for mass produced 'cue. The sauce was nice and peppery, but not overly spicy. The vinegar made the hints of smoke and tender pork dance across the tongue. Jim's comment, "Oh, this is GOOD." I had to agree with him. We really liked Stamey's. The hushpuppies were good, but could have been a bit hotter. I like them fresh out of the fryer. I got the small plate (4oz of meat) and Jim had the large plate (6oz). The total bill with tea was under $9.00! This place is super easy on the wallet! If I happen to be in the Greensboro Coliseum area again, I'd stop at Stamey's Barbecue.

Friday Jim and I drove northwest of Greensboro to Floyd, VA. Why Floyd? Because I was there with my mother in 2002 and fell in love with the Blue Ridge Mountains and Floyd in particular. Another reason to be in Floyd, VA on a Friday night is the Friday Night Jamboree at the Floyd Country Store.

Jim and I headed out of Greensboro to Winston-Salem and headed north to Mt. Airy, NC on the Virginia border. Jim is a fan of the Andy Griffith Show and Mt. Airy is Andy's hometown. Mayberry is supposed to be Mt. Airy. We arrive in Mt. Airy in time for lunch at the Snappy Lunch, and old lunch counter. Jim had a "famous" pork chop sandwich and I had a burger. About and hour later we regretted eating a the Snappy Lunch. Big belly aches. Ugh. I can't say I was thrilled with Mt. Airy, but I walked around with Jim while he checked out the tributes to Don Knotts, and the cast of the Andy Griffith Show.

We headed out of Mt. Airy and picked up the Blue Ridge Parkway a few miles outside of town. Since we were up in the mountains now, Spring was still a week or two away. The trees were still bare, unlike at lower elevations like Greensboro. The naked trees were surrounded by a blanket of rhododendrons, waiting for May when they'll bloom. The Parkway was beautiful. There was absolutely no traffic. We passed about four cars while driving up to Floyd County. It was really relaxing. The weather was perfect. Bright blue sky, breezy and warm. We had amazing weather all weekend.

We stopped a Mabry Mill, south of Floyd and checked out the old mill just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is a working mill used to grind corn and wheat. During the summer there are other traditional crafts like blacksmithing and sorghum molasses making. It was very quiet last Friday.

The reunited couple at Mabry Mill. A nice spot to stretch your legs. Just don't expect anything to be open in the off season.

Coming up next: Old time and bluegrass music is thriving in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Growing pains

Gouda in an "off-the-wall" press.

Being at Goat Lady Dairy during a growth spurt has been a valuable learning experience. Like with any new equipment, it takes time to learn how to use it properly. Since I arrived in late February, a new method of making fresh chevre was introduced in addition to the installation of a new pasteurizer. This means everyone had to re-learn how to make chevre.

Previously, chevre was set in the old pasteurizer and then dipped using scoops into cloth lined colanders. The curd was left to drain for 14 hours and then it was ready to turn into fromage, chevre logs, or truffles. The colanders are wide and flat and fit into bins that catch the whey. The final result is a nice, smooth, crumbly curd.

Production of fromage has increased this year. In order to facilitate this jump in output, Steve bought a drainage cart system for the fromage. The curd is still set in the pasteurizer and left to set overnight. In the morning the curd is gently pumped into mesh socks suspended from S hooks on the draining cart. This change in the handling and draining of the curd means you must tweak a few things in the early part of the setting of the milk in order to make sure the chevre has the right texture and flavor.

The difference in how the pasteurizers cool has played a major role in the texture of the chevre. The old equipment wasn't well insulated so the cultured milk cooled gradually overnight. The new equipment hold the temperature so the resulting cheese has been turning out soupy and retaining too much moisture because it wasn't draining fast enough. After pouring over cheesemaking textbooks, Steve tried culturing the milk at a slightly higher temperature. Success! The curd is firmer, like it should be.

My first batch of chevre was set at the lower temperature. The resulting cheese was too moist and not the best for our needs. We drained it longer and that helped slightly, but it forced Steve to look at his procedures and try to find a solution to the drainage issue.

Today I got to make another batch of chevre. The culturing temperature is higher so the final cheese should drain well and be nice and dry. No more soup curds.

A terrible wind storm blew through the area today. It was the final part of a storm system that dumped four inches of rain on the farm. I can see the woods from the cheese room. The tall trees are swaying back and forth from the strong winds. If you watch them long enough it is a bit disorienting; you might get sea sick.

Yesterday we had severe thunderstorms and torrential rain. Randolph county was under a tornado watch for several hours. Nothing happened here, just some localized flooding. Steve said it was like a summer storm, but colder. I drove to Greensboro, thinking I could get there in between storms. As I headed north towards Climax, I looked over my left (West) and saw a line of the blackest clouds I have ever seen. They were dark, heavy and sagged under the weight of all of the rain they were carrying. They stretched incredibly low across the entire horizon. About five minutes later I was being pelted by rain. It couldn't drain off the road fast enough. I slowed down and crawled into town. It let up a little bit by the time I reached Friendly Center. I decided to skip going to a movie. I grabbed some dinner and headed back to the farm. I saw lots of swollen creeks and downed limbs. I was happy to be home before dark.

Today's windstorm knocked out power for several hours. Lines are down all over the Piedmont. Steve had to crank up a couple of generators so se could continue to make cheese and have running water. The pumps on the wells do not pump without electricity. After six hours later, the power was restored. Ginnie however is still in the dark. Her house is on the other side of Jess Hackett Road.

Goats and Going Local

I can watch the goats play for hours. They like to play follow the leader, king of the mountain, and what's over here. They're really curious creatures and will get into anyting and everything. The kids also like to butt heads with each other. Dominance displays? Competing for alpha female? When they get excited, anxious, or riled up they puff up and the hair along their backs stands up. They also show mounting behavior, too. Lee says bucks start to show it at 24 hours old. I'm really learning all kinds of things about goats. I'm even getting better at hand milking. I don't think I want to do it all the time, but I like the results. The does like it, too. I've made friends with Shalom, the prima donna doe. She likes to come over and be petted. I talk to her and tell her how beautiful she it. She likes to be praised. Don't we all?

Kid sisters.

Going Local:

Where do the locals go on a Saturday night? They go to a little hall off of Old Liberty Road on Williamson Dairy Road. A low slung building huddles on the right side of the road surrounded by pickup trucks, buicks, oldsmobiles, and other large American cars. It is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone and when you walk in the door all heads turn and look at you. At least that's what happened when Nathan and I walked through the door at Bluegrass Ridge. We quickly found a pair of seats and took in the scene in front of us. Eight people were on a low stage playing bluegrass music. Facing them were rows of chairs filled with men and women enjoying the music. It was a very social gathering. People would get up and visit with each other. Several women were knitting, crocheting, and doing needlepoint. Some couples were dancing. The ladies had their hair done and the men were wearing clean and pressed bib overalls. This was their night to let loose and have some fun. We were looked on with curiosity. One gentleman asked me to dance as soon as I sat down. I shyly declined. I wanted to understand what was going on all around us.

The band was a group of local musicians. From what I could understand, musicians come and go all evening, relieving each other. They play non-stop from 7:00-11:00. The music only pauses for discussion about upcoming tunes. Most of the time there was someone playing fiddle, bass fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, and dobro. I was in awe. The audience sang along to many of the tunes. I felt like we discovered a hidden gem buried in the woods of Randolph County. There was no cover charge, they passed the hat and you made a donation.

I think I just about lost it when a threesome got up to dance and began to clog. They were not just sort of skipping along to the music, they were dancing up a storm. This is a particular dance that looks a bit like an Irish jig/tap dance/morris dance. It is a very traditional Southern dance form, although I remember seeing cloggers in Missouri.

I was amazed to see these folks just dancing away with big smiles on their faces. When the song ended, they drifted back to their seats, only to get up again a few minutes later and clogged some more.

Since Nathan and I were the obvious tourists, several folks came up to say hello and made us feel welcome. One of the musicians said that everyone is welcome to come and play or sing. They get together every Saturday. The gentleman said that tonight was an "off" night because a lot of the regulars weren't there. They're off at some festivals. We were pleased with what we saw, so I can't imagine what an "on" night is like. A few people asked Nathan if he was a musician. He's got the neatly styled messy hair look, a little facial hair, and he was wearing a western shirt with pearl snaps, a brown jacket, and cowboy boots. He looked the part. He does play guitar a little, so the locals kept encouraging him to get up there. They want to see some new blood on the stage. Nathan doesn't really know any bluegrass, but he was willing to tell them that he'd give it a try next time.

I couldn't keep from staring at the audience. It was such a beautiful scene. I couldn't have said what I had hoped to find, but this surpassed all expectations. The room was lit from the stage lights and the blinding florescent light above the snack bar in the rear. There were a couple of folding tables with plastic table clothes that comprised the snack bar. A teenager was selling homemade cakes and brownies, hot dogs, soda, and fresh popcorn. The popcorn was the hot seller for the night. No alcohol.

Probably the most unusual part of the evening wasn't the fact that I felt like I had just stumbled into a movie set. The most unusual thing was the audience. The average age of the audience was at least 70. This is their senior center/recreation hall/social hour/and community performance space. If I were a documentary filmmaker, I would want to film this place. You can't find anything like it outside of a rural area, nor could you recreate it outside of the south.

Avian sightings: Saw a bald eagle being attacked by small birds yesterday over the intersection of highway 49 and Old Greensboro-Chapel Hill Road. Saw an owl sitting in the willow tree above the pond by the barn. No, I was unable to take a picture.

More culinary adventures: Went to a Waffle House yesterday for lunch. I had to get my hash browns. I like mine scattered and smothered (grilled with onions.) Yum. Another Southern favorite to cross of the list of "things to do while in North Carolina."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

In Fromage we trust; or pass the keys, I'm driving

Today it felt like the first time Dad handed me the keys to his car and said, "OK, kiddo, YOU drive." Gulp. This is it, the big moment. I got to make cheese from pasteurizing to curd set. Everyone had something to do this afternoon, so Steve asked me to make the cheese today. Feeling confident yet nervous I agreed. It is just like making cheese in my kitchen, only on a much larger scale and for much greater risk.

The morning was hectic. We made a big batch of chocolate goat cheese truffles. We also had to salt all of the Camembert, Crottins, and Sandy Creeks that were made yesterday. The order had to be prepared for Cornucopia, our wholesaler. We had 100 logs to wrap for restaurant deliveries. We were cranking out the cheese.

Meanwhile in the kitchen, Chris, our chef for the Dinners at the Dairy, arrived with Sam and his boss. Jessie and her boyfriend, Scott were also in the kitchen preparing a Thai soup for lunch. Little Carrie was supposed to make lunch today, but that fell by the wayside. Suddenly, there were lots of people eating, and the cheese room staff was not included in lunch, and all of the leftover pizza was being devoured before my eyes. It was a bit chaotic and unpleasant. Not something I like to deal with when I'm hungry.

I was sanitizing the pasteurizer when Sammy appeared around 12:15 with his goat milk. Together we took the milk and loaded it into the bulk tank. From the tank, we poured the cool milk into the pasteurizer and I began the heating process. While this was going on, Danielle Kilby arrived with her goat milk. Sammy helped her unload her milk and get it into the bulk tank.

After I managed to wrestle some salad away from the hordes of people in the kitchen, I went back into the peaceful surroundings of the cheese room. The pasteurizer was noisily heating up the milk, working as it should. The fans were blowing and the satellite radio was blaring from the ceiling. Ahhh. I am happiest in these surroundings. I spent the next few hours watching the machine, making the necessary adjustments when appropriate. The milk pasteurization was flawless. I cooled the milk back down to the proper temperature, then added the culture, rennet, and calcium chloride. Now we must wait until morning to see how my batch turns out.

Hey! Look at what I can do!

Freeze and cheese

April 9, 2007

For the past few nights, we've been hit by a hard, late freeze. Every morning I walk past the garden and see white sheets draped across the lettuce beds. The rest of the plants had to suffer the effects of 25 degrees for several hours. The asparagus stalks froze and thawed. Now they look like someone pinched each one in half and left the top half drooping towards the soil. The parsley and cilantro are black from frost damage. The young leaves on the kiwi vine have blackened and withered. The cabbage looks wilted. We were hit pretty hard, but the full effect of the freeze is being felt by other farms. The peach, apple, and grape crops are all ruined, according to the local news. I'm sure we will get more news at the farmers market on Saturday. We had ice on many water buckets for the past few mornings. The chard should be fine and the red Russian kale should be OK, too.

Yesterday I spent the morning dealing with a batch of fresh fromage curds that didn't set quite right. The curds were pumped from the pasteurizer to the draining bags Saturday morning. They are left to hang and drain for 24 hours. When they're ready, they usually get debagged and made into fromage, or set in tubs, refrigerated and used in a day or two. This batch had a good pH at draining (4.6) so it should have been fine. Instead we had curd soup. It was soft, way too moist, and just not together enough. It looked like it needed to drain another 12 hours. It also stuck to the side of the draining socks (bags) and formed a hard layer of dried out, crusty curds on the top half of each sock. Also not good. My task was to debag the curds and try to knock off the hardest crusty bits so we could try to salvage the soft cheese.

Today Carrie decided to continue draining some of the soft curds in a muslin cheese cloth set in a large colander. This additional draining time should help get more of the whey out of the curd and firm it up so we can make our flavored fromage with it. If the curd has too much whey, it has a bad texture and a much shorter shelf life. This curd worked up fine once it drained a bit more. We made fromage for our wholesale accounts, and the texture and flavor was just right.

Steve and Carrie are now trying to troubleshoot. Why did the curd turn out soupy if the pH was fine and the drain time was normal? The room temperature was still at 70 degrees. The amount of rennet was the same. They poured over the variables. Steve decided to up the amount of rennet in the next batch to see if that makes a difference. In their research, they discovered that after 6 months, rennet starts to lose its potency. It actually drops by 2 percent per month. After 12 months, that can make a difference in your cheese. Funny that it hasn't affected anything else. Let's hope that the curds are OK. We'll find out on Wednesday.

Pizza for lunch today with their home made sausage and goat cheese. Ginnie's secret ingredient of the day: salsa instead of pizza sauce. Quite delicious. Her crust is excellent, too.

Nubians in the sun. Or, as the locals say, newberns.

We dipped the bloomy rind trifecta this afternoon: Camembert, Sandy Creek, and Crottin. I love making three cheeses out of one vat of curd. This is really inspiring. At Ticklemore, we would make two cheeses from the goat milk curds: Ticklemore Goat and the Goat Buttons. This is even better use of time and energy. Same curds, just aged differently and drained differently in a variety of moulds.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

BBQ and Winston-Salem

Sunday, April 08, 2007

I had a very full day off yesterday. I slept in and arrived at the barn around 10:00 a.m. I made some eggs, cleaned up, and walked across Jess Hackett Road to Ginnie's house. She invited me in and we visited for a while. She's staying in to do her taxes, so there was no persuading her to come out and play.

I borrowed Ginnie's car and headed out around noon. I pointed the car west and drove down Old Liberty Road to Ashboro, turned onto highway 64, past Sammy's farm and kept on going until I reached Lexington. I had one goal in mind: barbecue. It took me about an hour to reach Speedy's BBQ in Lexington. The drive was easy. The sun was shining, but a bitter wind was blowing. Clouds accented the Carolina blue sky. Hwy 64 cuts a path through rolling hills that are heavily wooded. Tall trees form a corridor along the road. The bright green fresh leaves are punctuated with white dogwoods along the edges of the woods. In front of mobile homes, the gardens are filled with bright pink azaleas and pink dogwoods.

I find Speedy's easily, thanks to Sammy's directions and a hand painted sign on the outskirts of Lexington. I pull into the parking lot and see lots of people sitting in cars. Attendants are delivering bags of food to the cars. A sign on the wall says "For Curbside Service, Honk Horn." Looks like a few folks honked. I walk inside. The place is packed. There are three rooms filled with booths. Lots of old tin advertising signs cover the walls. Ted Williams used to sell soda--who knew? I look over the menus. I know what I want. Lexington chopped pork sandwich and hushpuppies. Sweet tea should wash it all down. The older waitress takes my order. I wait a few minutes and out comes my sandwich wrapped in paper and a basket of piping-hot hushpuppies. I unwrap the sandwich and look it over. The pork is very tender and moist. It is topped with "red slaw," the local version. It is sweet, vinegary, with a little zip. A squishy hamburger bun holds it all together. I can smell the wood smoke. This stuff looks right. I take a bite. The pork is very tender. The slaw adds a nice, sweet but slightly acidic balance to the hickory smoked meat. There is no sauce on the table, nor is it served with sauce. I later found out I had to order a side of "dip." I guess they really want to focus on the quality of the meat, not the sauce.

The hushpuppies were perfect. Crispy fried cornbread is a beautiful thing. I ate a few and took the rest home. They reheat well in the toaster oven. The sweet tea came with a small pitcher of extra tea. It was really, really sweet. Perhaps too sweet. I drank it anyway.

There was a constant stream of patrons. The tables were never empty for very long. I finished my lunch and left. I didn't have room for homemade banana pudding. Perhaps next time.

From Speedy's, I drove north to Winston-Salem, a distance of about 25 miles. I found my way to downtown and explored the area know as the Downtown Arts District. The intersection of 6th and Trade is the hub of the revitalized section of downtown.

I parked in front of the Piedmont Craftsmen Gallery on Trade Street. I walked in and browsed the work of local artists. There was work from Seagrove potters, local weavers, wood carvers, glass blowers, and jewelers. Nothing I had to own, but they had a nice cross section of local talent on display. I walked up the block and spotted The Apple Lady Folk Art Gallery across the street. Inside I was greeted by Currie, a.k.a. the Apple Lady, with paintbrushes in her hand. She showed me around her gallery and we talked. She told me her story. She is one of 13 children, and she's somewhere in the middle. When she moved with her family to Winston-Salem she fell into a deep depression because she felt cut off from her loved ones. She found a cure for her depression through art. She took up painting as an adult, because doing art is what made her feel special as a child. Her art focuses on her childhood, scenes from popular culture, and images of home. She includes an apple in every painting, because as a child, everyone used to gather and play under the apple tree. It is a symbol of love and happiness. It also refers to being "the apple of God's eye." Her style is childlike, but it conveys lots of love and devotion to the subject matter.

Currie is also a professional storyteller. She goes into schools and libraries and entertains audiences with stories from her family. "Everyone (referring to other storytellers) around here tells Jack tales, but I tell stories that my daddy used to tell us. She then went on captivate me with a tale of "Annie Mae, the middle child." Annie Mae is one of her sisters, and as a middle child she didn't feel special like the eldest or the youngest. It is a tale of recognizing the unique qualities of being a middle sibling. Currie's story made me choke up and made me fumble for a Kleenex. (Note: I cry easily at movie, too.)

An hour later, I bought a small painting of an apple for $10 and Currie gave me a big hug. If you're in Winston, find Currie. She'll make you feel special, too.

The Bubbling Well Tea and Tonic Bar. Also on Trade Street. It is a large tea shop and tai chi studio. I walked in with a very stuffy nose and asked if they could give me something for my allergies and sinus problems. The English woman behind the bar pulls out an array of vials and starts concocting a potion to cure what ails me. Some elderberry syrup, some ginger, a dropper full of some other extracts went into warm water and set in front of me. I took a sniff. Didn't smell gross. Kind of sweet and slightly earthy. I took a sip and actually liked it. By the end of the elixir, I felt pretty good. My sinuses were a bit clearer, and I felt energized.

Around the corner from the tea bar I found a subterranean, contemporary American art gallery called Urban Artware. The space was full of work from young artists. Friday night they hosted an art opening by a young artist named Tiffany (?). Her art was dark, twisted, and cartoonish. They were a gothic twist on Keene eye figures. Cute, but nothing I would want to look at more than once or twice. I'm sure the artsy 20-somethings went gaga over her work. After making a circuit around the gallery I discovered the glassware. Beautiful hand-blown votive candle holders caught my eye first. Then I fell in love with the kaleidoscopes. My favorite had a hand-blown bottle on the end, filled with plastic and glass bits, that spun around. It was as much fun watching the bottle spin as it was looking through the kaleidoscope. It was made of scrap leaded glass. Note to self: Perhaps I can make one with my scrap glass. Didn't buy any pretty k'scopes, but I did purchase two tiny glass vases. They were made by the fellow who made the glass bottle that went on the end of the kaleidoscope. They're brightly colored and hold tiny flowers. I've never seen anything like them.

Millicent, the woman who runs the gallery was really warm and friendly. She asked me if I was from out of town. I said I was exploring Winston-Salem on my day off. I told her I was studying cheesemaking with a cheesemaker south of Greensboro. "Goat Lady?!?" she inquired. "Yes," I replied. "Oh! I just love Goat Lady! They make the best cheese! Why did you come all the way from California to make cheese and how did you wind up there?" I get asked that question a lot. Folks also ask why I didn't bring them any cheese.

We talked half and hour about food, art, eating local, and hot sauce. Jack, a guy who seemed to be hanging out, killing time in the gallery, makes his own hot sauce. He calls it Angry Metalworker. Not sure where he sells it, but it sounds like it would peel the paint off of my car, let alone, the lining of my intestines. It was getting late so I said goodbye to my new friends and went to the car loaded down with several bags filled with small objects d'art. Next stop, Old Salem.

Old Salem closes at 5:00. It probably closes even earlier if it is the day before Easter. I arrived just before 5:00pm. Old Salem is just south of downtown Winston. It was restored in the 1970s and now is a thriving tourist attraction. The Moravians who live(d) in Old Salem were excellent bakers, and the baked goods are probably the most popular items. I bought some Moravian cookies and a sugar bread to share with the Tates for Easter brunch. The Moravian spice cookies are small, round, flat, sweet, and crispy. They come in flavors like ginger, sugar, and lemon. You buy them in a tube like Pringle's potato chips. They go really well the tea in the afternoon.

Winkler's Bakery in Old Salem.

I walked around Old Salem, ignoring the biting wind, pretending that the sun was warm. The brick sidewalks were deserted. All of the museums were closed so I had Old Salem to myself. The streets were lined with dogwoods, all in full bloom. It looked like they were competing with each other, trying to be the most splendid tree on the block.

God's Acre, the Moravian cemetery was ready to receive guests for Easter. Part of the Easter celebration in Old Salem involves cleaning and polishing the tombstones in the cemetery. Flowers are placed on the graves. As far as I could see, there were shiny tombstones, decorated and ready for the sunrise service.

Hunger soon called, and I tried to get into three different restaurants around Winston-Salem. Don't try to walk into a place with a major tennis tournament in town. The Davis Cup packs 'em in, I suppose. I went back to Greensboro and ate a bison burger at Ham's. No, I did not try the deep-fried cheesecake.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Pasteurizing to Radio Free Europe

Yet another week has just flown by. We were very busy in the cheese room. To entertain ourselves, Steve has a satellite radio receiver. When we are performing a repetitive task, we crank it up to one of several stations. Carrie Carrie says she likes all music but she tends to prefer things with a country flair. Little Carrie tends to prefer the more sensitive side of the rock world as well as reggae. Steve likes to crank the Margaritaville (Jimmy Buffett) station. I am a music snob and will usually make my opinion known when we listen to music. I like a station called Spectrum. It features "world-class rock" and plays old, new, and easy-to-swallow alternative rock. I've heard Elvis Costello, Wilco, R.E.M., Robyn Hitchcock, and Neil Young. The Coffeehouse station is also pretty good. They play acoustic rock. The Bluegrass and Outlaw Country channels are fun to listen to. I've heard Junior Brown, Neko Case, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash. Don't think I'll subscribe to Sirius Satellite Radio, but I do like some of their playlists.

This week I got to learn how to run the pasteurizer. This is a critical step for me, because I'll probably make some pasteurized cheeses. They don't need to age as long, so you can sell them quickly and make your money back faster. This is a good thing when you are working with a slow food like cheese. Raw milk cheese must age at least 60 days before you can legally sell it. That ties up your inventory for a while. I want to make both raw as well as pasteurized cheese, so I can have the best of both worlds.

Steve is entrusting me with this critical step so he can have one more person available to process milk. We have a lot of milk being delivered, so we've got to set curds almost every day. We'll be making pasteurized and raw milk cheese in greater quantities for the next few months, as long as we've got the milk available. Gotta make hay while the sun shines!

The trickiest part of the entire pasteurizing process is cleaning the equipment. Hoses go everywhere, chorine is splashed, pumped, and sucked through several hoses and circulated. Milk is transferred from the bulk tank (a refrigerated holding tank) to the sanitized pasteurizer and then the process can begin. I've got to flip switches, press buttons, open valves, close valves, remove hoses, and watch the temperature at critical points during the pasteurization process. It is very loud procedure. Remind me to put the pasteurizer in a room with plenty of sound insulation. I could go deaf if I work around this thing for more than a year.

Today, I sorted photos while the milk was heating to 145 degrees. I took a CD full of photos of Wal-Mart a couple of days ago, and I got to pick them up yesterday. Out of the 1,000+ photos I've taken, I printed 468. I've got a lot of favorites and found it hard to print only a few of them. Now I've got to put them into a photo album. Every time I walk out the door, I see things I want to photograph. I see tent caterpillars, vultures warming in the morning sun (they flew off before I could take my lens cap off!), pretty flowers and butterflies, giant bullfrogs, cheese, and the North Carolina landscape.

Bobby and a whey-fed friend.

My allergies are driving me crazy. Every tree is in bloom this week. According to the local news, the pollen counts are off the charts. Just my luck! My sinuses have been complaining. I thought I'd be OK since I'm not used to most of the pollen around here, but I was wrong. I feel fine, so I know I don't have a cold. My nose is just very stuffed up. I'm avoiding dairy products right now. It is hard to do here at Goat Lady Dairy. I can't test for quality assurance. Stupid allergies.

I have Saturday off this week. Little Carrie gets to go to the Triad Farmers Market. It is suppose to be cold tomorrow, but I'm in the mood to do some more exploring. I think I'll borrow their Honda Civic and drive over to Winston-Salem. Old Salem is an old Moravian community preserved like Colonial Williamsburg. Shopkeepers wear period clothes and demonstrate old crafts like baking on a hearth and wood carving. I hear they have a great toy store. I'm also thinking about driving to Lexington, barbecue capital of the world. It has more than 20 barbecue places. Sammy says I've got to go to Speedy's on Route 8, north of "downtown" Lexington. Lexington has its own style of Carolina BBQ. According to Sammy, it is all about the vinegar sauce and the smoke--hickory smoke--and Speedy's does it right. I’m salivating right now as I type. Perhaps I can go there for breakfast.

Sammy's word for today: cabrilate (v) meaning to standardize, adjust, regulate. We need to cabrilate our dipstick so we can tell how many gallons of milk are in the new pasteurizer.

Early mornings and spring harvest

Goat Milk Camembert by Goat Lady Dairy

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

In the cheese room at 6:00 am this morning. Steve is teaching me how to pasteurize. He walks me through everything. Sanitizing the equipment is very important. Everything must be clean and free of potential pathogens. The milk is stored in a refrigerated bulk tank. We empty the milk into the pasteurizer and begin to heat it to 145 degrees. The recorder on the wall gradually begins to move as the milk temperature rises. Everything seems to be working well. We go out and eat breakfast. The phone rings at 6:50am. Carrie Carrie has a family medical issue and won't be in until later. Steve takes the news and begins to think out loud.

Instead of following the milk from pasteurizing to the making of camembert, I must prepare a big wholesale order that's being picked up at 1:00. I've got to make several batches of fromage as well as wrap 65 chevre logs. The order must be separated into several trays for delivery to several restaurants. Little Carrie shows up just in time to follow my lead. I organized the order and whipped up several batches of fresh chevre. We finished the fromage order and put the tubs into the walk-in refrigerator. It was then that we discovered that Carrie Carrie had been busy yesterday afternoon. She had also made the same cheese, minus the boursin. Argh! I called Steve over and showed him our duplicate cheese.

Not to worry! We'll just freeze it and sell it to The Grateful Bread bakery. Looks like Steve didn't hear Carrie Carrie when she told him what she prepared yesterday.

Little Carrie and I wrapped countless chevre logs and finished the order by noon. Carrie Carrie showed up just as we were completing the order. She was happy I was able to step in and help. She just laughed when I showed her the multiple containers of fromage. We finished tubbing fromage after lunch. I felt proud that I was able to step into the breach and get the job done. I'm getting more confident as the days go on. I really think I can do this thing. I can make cheese. I can make my own cheese.

Supper: I harvested some asparagus from the garden. The red chard looked pretty good, so I cut some of those leaves too. A few minutes later they were cooking in a pan with onions, chicken broth, lemon juice, salt and pepper. I hadn't had my daily ration of pork, so I added some bacon for flavor. Just the thing for Passover! My greens were amazing. It doesn't get much fresher than that.

Goats like supper, too!

Climax, Creasy greens and other delights

The mailing address for Goat Lady Dairy is Climax, N.C. We are not actually in Climax. The Tate family say that they live near Gray's Chapel, a small intersection with a Methodist church and an elementary school (no post office). They are uncomfortable saying that they live in Climax. I probably would be tired of hearing the comments. Climax is not even in Randolph County. It is in southern Guilford County.

Locals say that Climax got its name from the railroad. It is at the top of a long, uphill grade on the local rail line. South of us is the town of Erect, also on the rail line. There is a local saying: you've got to start at Erect and go through Climax in order to reach High Point. If you look at a map, it is true.

A bag of creasy greens showed up in the fridge today. This is a wild green that grows around here, but it is getting rare. It looks like a weedy watercress. Ginnie is excited. She breaks off a leaf and offers it to me. I wash it and pop it in my mouth. I chew it and quickly spit it out. Yuck! It is extremely bitter and peppery. She laughs and says it is better cooked. It is like spinach or arugula. She says it is very healthy. The old timers drink it as a spring tonic. "It will cure what ails you." It did cook up well. Tasted like spinach. Sammy was excited to see creasy greens. He likes 'em too.

Pokeweed or Poke Sallat is another wild green that is popular in the area. This has not shown up in the fridge, so I have no idea what its like. I file it under crowder peas in my mind.

Enough about greens, I've got cheese to talk about.

We're making pasteurized and raw milk cheese today. Pasteurized curds that were set on Sunday are being drained today. The fresh curd is pumped gently out of the pasteurizer and poured into draining socks and left to drain for 24 hours. These curds will be transformed into chocolate truffles, soft chevre in many flavors, as well as chevre rounds. Some of the curds will also be frozen for use next winter.

On the raw milk side, we made Providence, the wash rind cheese. This is my favorite cheese to make. I think it is because I am so impressed with the finished product. This is the goat milk version. I got the cut the curd on this batch. Oh boy! Curd cutting and stirring the curd by hand just make my day. I better have Steve send some to me when it is ripe in three months. The cow milk version is one of the best cheeses I've had in a long time. It is a shame that Steve doesn't sell it via mail order or distribute it beyond the local level. This cheese would be well received by a larger audience if he wanted to get it out there.

Happy birthday, Little Carrie! She's spending the evening at her parent's house in Greensboro.

Nathan Tate is flying to San Francisco tomorrow. He'll be spending his spring break with buddies from college. I asked him to stop by Cowgirl with some cheese. I hope they like it. I'd love to get Peg and Sue's opinion. Too bad they can't sell it. I gave Nate a few tips on hiking trails to check out. He'll have a car so he can go anywhere. He wants to spend some time in the redwoods so I told him to go find some trails in Marin or Big Basin. He'll be happy either way.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Pushed to the limit

Saturday is spent at the Triad Farmers Market.

Steve and I head out a bit late. I am very tired. I got to bed late after a busy but fun night. At 4am, the Tate's dogs hear something and decide to bark. They not only bark, they scream, cry, howl, and wake up everyone within two miles. I struggle to get back to sleep. The alarm screams at 6am. I throw on clothes and and trudge up to the Barn.

Steve is busy packing the coolers for the market. I eat some homemade granola and sip my PG Tips. I'm dead tired. I have no idea how Steve does it. He got up at 4:30 and dipped the curds that were left to ripen overnight in the pasteurizer. Incredible.

We arrive to eager patrons. The weather is overcast, yet balmy. There is an Easter egg hunt happening in a field next to the market. Kids are everywhere. We spent the entire day politely policing children. They naturally want to grab a hunk of cheese with their dirty hands. Some parents are very good about showing kids how to sample cheese, others are oblivious. I ask the kids if they like cheese. If they nod yes, I hand them a toothpick with some Jersey Girl gouda on it. If they look at me as if I'm trying to poison them, I hand it to Mom. Then they eat it.

We sold lots of cheese. After eight hours of sales, Steve decides to pack it in. I'm wiped out. I can barely speak, let alone think rationally. I've hardly taken a break, and I haven't had lunch. It is 4pm.

Lunch is at Steak and Shake. I vetoed Subway. I need something more substantial. I decide to voice my needs to Steve. I need lunch, and an occasional break. I can't function well without them. He understands. He forgets to take breaks and needs to be reminded. I'll remind him.

I skip supper and fall asleep at 7:00. At midnight, I crawled under the covers and slept for eight more hours. Wow.

Sunday is busy. It is my day off. There is a Brunch at the Barn and a Dinner at the Dairy. I've taken off so I don't get sucked in. I went to the movies in Greensboro. "The Last Mimsy" is worth seeing. I liked it. Now I am sitting in a Caribou Coffee, surfing the web and updating my blog. Thank God for Wi-Fi. The dial-up internet access at the farm just doesn't cut it.

Dinner at the Dairy


(Photos, from top: Steve explains sustainable agriculture and cheesemaking; Ginnie the Goat Lady entertaining guests with a baby goat in her arms; Samantha and Chris in the kitchen; Greens ready for the saucepan. )

Controlled chaos. Little Carrie is back in time to help on the busiest day of the week. They wrapped smoked chevre rounds while I turned all of the ripening cheese in the aging coolers. I also loaded fresh batches of cheese into the 57-degree aging "cave."

Sammy shows up with a 100-plus gallons of milk. We pour most of it into the pasteurizer, and the rest goes into the bulk tank for more cheesemaking magic on Sunday. Steve walks me through the pasteurization process, showing me how to operate the new equipment. He seems to like my enthusiasm and wants to teach me all that he can while I'm here. I welcome this chance. But today is very stressful. Lots to do before dinner.

Next, we all get together to make the place spotless for guests. We clean the cheese room to prepare for the big event: Dinner at the Dairy.

This is a very special meal for many people. Reservations are taken in January for the entire year. This year all seats for the every seating were reserved within fifteen minutes. These dinners are highly sought after.

Here is Nate Tate ready to serve the eager guests.

45 people pay $55 each to come to the farm for a meal featuring pasture-raised beef, farm-fresh eggs, salad greens harvested a couple of hours before serving, and of course, Goat Lady Dairy cheese. The guests also get a farm tour and a lesson in sustainable agriculture and sustainable living. Steve plays host while Nathan runs the front of house in the "restaurant." Lee used to prepare the meals, but she has handed the torch over to Chris, a chef from Durham, and his girlfriend Samantha. Samantha use to be a goat intern, and she now works at another cheesemaker, Chapel Hill Creamery. One weekend a month, they come to Goat Lady Dairy and prepare elaborate meals.

The atmosphere is relaxed and jovial. Randolph County is a dry county, so wine is not served, but guests are welcome to bring their own. People don’t leave hungry. The first course is a cheese plate. I had the honor of preparing it tonight. I had fun cutting cheese for 45 plates. I plated up a scoop of Goat Lady Dairy's Boursin, as well as slices of goat-milk camembert, Providence, and Jersey Girl. Chris made some candied pecans to add to the plate. I finished it with an edible flower and declared the plate ready to serve. Forty-four plates later, they all get set on the tables in the dining room.

The salad course had beef carpaccio with a bone marrow and parsley salad on top. Next to it was a warm goat cheese medallion rolled in breadcrumbs. The plate was finished with freshly harvested salad greens with citrus vinaigrette. I grabbed a plate and had some, too. It is superbly executed. I felt like I was in a Parisian bistro. Yum!

Next there was a lemon-mint sorbet served in a martini glass. The main course was braised beef over risotto, served with red Russian kale made with house-cured bacon. The meat just melted in your mouth.

Dessert featured a panecotta. It was a light custard with a blueberry sauce. Shortbread cookies finished the plate. I hope our guests left happy--I know I am. It was a very intense four hour whirlwind of activity. I'm tired and must get up early to accompany Steve at the Triad Farmers Market.

Awash in milk, curds, and whey

Little Carrie has been gone for most of the week. Her ailing grandmother has died and she has traveled with her family to bury her grandmother in the family's hometown in eastern Kentucky. Very sad.

Operation chicken roundup: The renegade chickens must be captured in order to protect them from predators. Raccoons could kill them easily during the night. Unfortunately, chickens run away from you when you approach them. Steve got us together in order to try to drive them into their new pen. We managed to get a few to follow Jessie. She lured them with chicken feed through the enclosure gate. The rest just ran in every direction. We chased a bunch for over an hour. We gave up after that. The next morning, Steve noticed that the escapees were roosting on the compost heap. He shut them in and we tried to catch them all over again. This time we were more successful. One by one, we caught the chickens and got them into their new pen. Steve plugged the holes that they had used to escape. Now they're happily laying eggs in their new enclosure.

It looks like someone has taken a paintbrush and added color to the naked woods next to the farm. Splashes of color stand out against a gray background. Yellow, fuschia, white, and green. Redbud trees line the edge of the woods and roads, creating a pink border along all verges. Mother knew them as Judas trees as a child because they bloomed at Easter. Dogwoods are just beginning to reveal themselves near the redbud.

This week has been a whirlwind of activity. Sammy's goat milk production is on an upswing, and Steve is taking all the milk he can get. We've been cranking out the curd!

In the past few days we've prepared batches of goat-milk camembert, crottin, smoked chevre, feta, Sandy Creek (the aged chevre with an ash covered rind,) a double batch of chevre truffles, 100 chevre logs, and many kinds of flavored fromage (soft goat cheese). Lots of time spent in the cheese room. We made the biggest batch of camembert ever this week. Steve wants to make lots of cheese in order to keep up with the demand. Springtime is when milk production is highest, so we make full use of all the milk we can handle. Extra chevre curds will be set aside and frozen in order to have cheese throughout the winter. Fresh curds freeze very well and make excellent soft goat cheese. Many cheesemakers freeze curds so they can have a supply year-round.

We've also wrapped the first camembert to sell at the farmers markets. This first batch is still a little young and could ripen for another week. By selling them now, they'll hold up better. We're saving some to serve this weekend at the Goat Lady Dairy's "Dinner at the Dairy," The highly sought-after dinners hosted by Steve Tate at the Barn.

One third, two thirds

Monday, March 26, 2007

One month down, two more to go. This month has just flown by. Since I arrived, I have done and been a part of some pretty dramatic stuff. First off: Norma Tate died, thus throwing the family into shock and upheaval. Old and new pasteurizers have been installed, uninstalled, installed, uninstalled, installed, stared at, yelled at, kicked, poked, exploded, repaired, and finally they successfully pasteurized milk. I've learned how to feed baby goats, name baby goats, capture baby goats, and get mobbed by baby goats. I've gotten redneck lessons. I can gather eggs when being attacked by a brooding hen. I can round up escaped chickens. I can find my way around the backroads of North Carolina.

I've also learned that pigs and cheesemaking work well together. Just find someone else to manage them. Whey-fed pigs are tasty.

Chickens love to eat table scraps and help keep compost turned. I like to eat really fresh eggs from free-range chickens.

I still don't want to raise dairy animals. I must buy my milk. My commitment to working with local farmers is stronger than ever. I want to grow with them in a symbiotic partnership, each benefitting from the other. State-run Extension services can help me find farmers who might want to convert to milking goats and sheep.

When I'm looking at dairies, make sure they're clean, that the animals are clean, and they're kept in nice conditions. Does the farmer love his/her animals? Sammy does.

Make sure that all equipment is tested first. Both by the manufacturer and by me.

Running a farm is an incredible amount of work.

I know where carnies go in the wintertime: They hang out at the Blue Mist BBQ, chain-smoking.

Steve has asked me to set some goals and let him know what I want from him. I guess I better start to really look at what I want to learn during the next two months. The clock is ticking.

Up for tomorrow: Wrapping camembert, storing them in the coldest aging fridge (41 degrees.) Also smoking chevre over pecan chips.

Chapel Hill Sunday afternoon

Sunday, March 25, 2007

My day off. I join the Tate family at the Barn for breakfast. Ginnie has made scrambled eggs, home-fried potatoes, and toast. They ask my plans for the day. I'm driving to Chapel Hill. Lee and Jessie are full of suggestions and write down directions for me. Carrboro and Chapel Hill are about 45 miles away. Not too far, and the drive is along a pretty backroad, the Old Greensboro-Chapel Hill Road.

I drive away and head east on Old Liberty Road. It is another clear, sunny, warm day. The trees are turning more green every day as they develop leaves. Splashes of fuschia paint the wooded landscape where the redbud trees are blooming. A few dogwood trees are beginning to show themselves in the more populated areas. I bet next week they'll be in full bloom all around the woods.

The drive is pretty. Rolling hills, lots of trees, and plenty of farmsteads line the road. Mobile homes are plentiful. This area must be more affluent. I don't see a lot of the abandoned homes that are obvious in Randolph County. Every yard looks well maintained.

I pull into Carrboro pretty close to Noon. I park near the Weaver Street Market and walk around. Weaver Street is a local co-op. It also has a café and a take-out counter. The place is packed. The front lawn is covered with people, mostly in their 20's, eating and socializing. The warm weather must have drawn them all out. I walk inside and find a nice grocery store with a natural foods emphasis. I check out their cheese counter. A few local cheeses. Meadow Creek and Chapel Hill Creamery seem well represented, but not much else. The rest of the cheese case is pretty run-of-the-mill. I walk out and try to see what else is around. Most of the shops are closed because it is Sunday, and I haven't yet hit the magic hour of 1pm when they might happen to open if they feel like it. An ice cream parlor looks tempting across the street, but I'm not hungry. I get the car and drive on into Chapel Hill, just a few stoplights farther down the road. I can't tell where Carrboro ends and Chapel Hill begins. They just sort of run together. The shops in Chapel Hill have more of a collegiate attraction, especially close to campus.

I park the car in front of the Carolina Brewery. I'm on Franklin Street, the main street that borders the campus of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. I walk down the street and see an open door. A used bookstore is open! I can't pass up an opportunity to browse. I walk in and am greeted by the comforting smell of linen and paper. I feel right at home.

I like to read folktales and ask if there is a section of Southern Folklore. The shopkeeper points to shelves along the back wall and tells me to browse through the section simply called "The South." There is a Folklore section, but Southern Folklore usually isn't filed there. There might be some in the Southern Literature section. Interspersed in the section called The South are a few books of ghost stories of the Carolinas, Appalachian legends, and guides to seeing regional mysteries like the Brown Mountain lights in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I love this stuff. Mom and Dad used to tell me the story of the Mako light near Wilmington, NC and the Gray Ghost who warns of impending hurricanes about to strike the coast of NC.

I bought a bunch of books and called it quits. I'm warm and hungry. I need some iced tea. Sammy recommended Mama Dips on Rosemary Street, a block away. Mama Dips is a legendary country-style restaurant. I find it and go inside. It is busy. I am seated at a booth near the street. The dining room is large, and outside there is a wrap-around porch with more tables. The menu features traditional southern fare: fried chicken, chicken-fried steak, barbecue, collard greens, hushpuppies, and fried fish. I get the fried chicken.

A few minutes later a plate of piping hot chicken arrives. I assess the leg and thigh on my plate. Nice and crispy. I take a bite. Crunch! Oh yeah. Juicy and delicious. The crust is perfect. Crunchy and not doughy. I can't tell where the crust ends and the skin begins. This is great fried chicken. The side dishes are not so good. The greens are bitter. I can't taste the meat that they're cooked with. I see bits of ham or bacon, but they're flavorless. I leave them. The coleslaw is also bland. It is dressed in a watered down mayonnaise dressing. No thanks. I finish the meal with a piece of pecan pie. Microwaved and mediocre, too. A very good crust ruined by a loose custard and not enough pecans.

I pay my tab and head back to the car. It would be more fun to explore the Triangle (Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and Durham) with someone who knows where to go. I call it a day and head back to Goat Lady Diary.

Lots of trees are blooming all along the streets. The gutters are filled with white blossom petals, looking like powdery snow drifts. North Carolina is beautiful in the spring.