Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Movin' on

Left to right--Ginnie, Carrie Carrie, Little Carrie, Lee, Steve, Jessie (Suzie Q in arms) and Sarah
...Goat Lady Dairy...

My final day, May 28, 2007.

It is Memorial Day. On the farm it is like every other weekday. The goats don't take a day off for a holiday, so we've got milk to process and turn into cheese. No rest for the weary.

Exactly one year ago, Jim and I were in Wales. It was raining. Folks around here would like some of that rain. There hasn't been a significant rain for one month. The word "drought" is on everyone's lips. It is bone dry. The garden looks wilted. The lettuce has turned bitter in the heat. The grass is turning brown and is half dead. Folks are worried about their wells going dry. Rain isn't in the forecast. It doesn't look good at the moment. Some towns are discussing water restrictions. The goats don't like the heat either. The quantity of milk drops when it is hot because they don't eat as much. We can see it and feel in the curd yield.

I spent the day working in the cheeseroom as per usual. We made camembert and crottin. I took the lead making the cheese which made me happy. I can feel my confidence building. I am cutting the curds with more assurance and less hesitation. It is gratifying to see the right size curds bobbing in the whey as while they are getting ready to be scooped up and tossed into moulds. I really like making cheese.

I went to Sammy's this evening to see him milk the goats. Actually, Joel, Sammy's landlord was milking the goats. (Sammy calls him Jewel.) Sammy was milking the cows and then came over to feed the goats and say hello. I love watching him with the animals. He adores the kids and the mothers. They love him back and give him nuzzles. Some of the milkers are huge girls. They look really healthy and well fed. Some of them are giving over a gallon of milk per milking. That's a lot for a goat.

Sammy and I chatted about goats, goat milk, the Tates, and his future plans for the farm. He's got a lot of irons in the fire, I have no idea how he keeps up with everything. That's why he's so skinny. He doesn't have time to eat.

I'm going to miss Sammy. He's quite a character. He was one of the first people I got to know around here. I'm glad I spent my last evening with him.

I'm also going to miss the fireflies. Look for the green glow in the picture.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Providence and Short Sugar's BBQ

Providence in the make.

I made a special request this week. I asked Steve if I could make Providence, the wash rind cheese based on a taleggio recipe. It is nothing like taleggio in flavor, but they both share a stinky, sticky b. linens rind. Steve made a batch of Providence last week so this week would be a gouda week. I'm not interested in making Jersey Girl gouda, even though it is quite tasty. I don't enjoy the two hours of stirring involved in the making of Jersey Girl. It is not high on my list of cheeses I want to produce. Providence is another story. I think it is a phenomenal cheese. I love the rich, complex flavor of this cheese. We've just sold the last block of Providence made from Jersey milk. Now we're trying the goat milk Providence. It isn't as buttery as the cow's milk version. It has a floral overtone yet still retains the sweetness inherent in the cheese, almost like hops and malt. I like both versions.

Steve handed the reins over to me and let me take the lead on the making of this batch. I filled the vat with 72 gallons of raw goat milk. We heated it and I stirred it to make sure it heated evenly. When it was time to add culture, I added it, let it melt and stirred it in. Rennet was added and this time did not over stir. Flocculation occurred after I quit stirring. Perfect. When it was time to cut, I sanitized the knives and gently eased them into the curd and sliced the white gelatinous mass into small bits, the size of popped popcorn. I let the curds heal for a few minutes. After healing, I took my clean right hand and stuck into the vat. I stirred the cut curds, breaking up clumps between my fingers, lifting the curds from the bottom of the vat and swirling them through the translucent whey. The curds are also being cooked at this time. Warm water is being circulated through the jacket raising the temperature of the contents of the vat. It feels good. I finish the stir with a big paddle, working a bit more vigorously in order to keep everything moving.

Ginnie's 'Nana Pudding

I wish you could taste this masterpiece of egg yolks and meringue.

Short Sugar's

My quest for the best barbecue in the Triad took me north of Greensboro on Thursday. I've been reading about a place in Reidsville called Short Sugars's Barbecue that's supposed to be one of the best barbecue pits in the state of North Carolina. Given the large number of mediocre barbecue joints around, a good one is a rare find. I've been talking to everyone on the farm quizzing them about their best barbecue experiences. No one had a place that stood out as a favorite, so I turned to the internet for help. Several websites referred to Short Sugar's in Reidsville and give it high marks. Since my time is short, I decided to take a drive and find this place and see if it is praiseworthy. I grabbed the keys to Lee's van and headed north on US421 to Greensboro around 5:30. Once in Greensboro, I picked up US29 and continued north for another 19 miles.

I found my way over to S. Scales street and came upon Short Sugar's south of downtown. I pulled into the parking lot and looked around. The building is a classic drive-in. Carhop service is available along one side of the building for to-go orders. Behind the building is more parking as well as a huge woodpile. A guy was out back sorting through the wood, placing split logs onto a cart and loading them next to the iron door built into the brick barbecue pit. Lots of wood was waiting to be fed into the fire to turn fresh pork shoulders into barbecue.

I grabbed a booth inside and looked over the menu. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner six days a week. There are burgers, sandwiches and ham biscuits on the menu. I ignore them and go straight for the barbecue plate. A young waitress took my order and went away. I could see the prep area. Behind it is the pit. The pit is a large brick oven. Three caramel colored hunks of pork (shoulder, I assume) are sitting on the edge, keeping warm and ready to be chopped or sliced into barbecue dinners. I see a gentleman wearing a red apron wielding a large butcher's knife. He's chopping pork. This is a good sign. The barbecue isn't sitting on a steam table for hours waiting for orders.

The waitress returns with my order. She sets a paper plate in front of me. It has the classic combo of a pile of barbecue, creamy slaw, hushpuppies and fries. The fries are the gross crinkle cut fries. I can easily ignore them and focus on the rest of the plate. I can smell the smoke from the freshly chopped barbecue. I try the 'pups. They're slightly sweet with a hint of onions. Time for the moment of truth. I take a bite of the barbecue.

I pause as my mouth waters and I chew on the most moist, succulent, tender, smoky, and perfectly cooked barbecue of my life. OH MY GOD! THIS IS IT! I have tasted heaven and it comes on a paper plate in Reidsville. This is what I've been hoping to find for the past three months. The barbecue is dressed with a sauce that doesn't overwhelm but helps accentuate the tender, smoked meat. It is thin, tangy, slightly sweet, and spicy but not hot. It is definitely vinegary and has brown sugar in it. It is the best $6.20 I've ever spent.

There isn't a non-smoking section in the place. Every table has an ashtray on it. Somehow, it is ok. I expect a place like this to be smoky. I can't believe I'm saying this because I am a devout non-smoker. I want to be surrounded by the blue smoke of cigarettes blending with the wood smoke that permeates a good barbecue joint. It goes with the food. It wouldn't be authentic North Carolina barbecue if it was served on china in a non-smoking restaurant. I wish I could find this kind of place back home. I guess I'll have to come back to North Carolina more often just to get my fix of "down home" cooking and barbecue.

Yes, I did buy some barbecue to take home. It freezes just fine. I also picked up a bottle of sauce and a coffee mug. Short Sugar's has a great logo. Little Carrie has a friend who believes that the more human-like the pig on the sign of a barbecue joint, the better the barbecue will be at that place. Short Sugar's has a very human-like pig on the sign. Her friend's rule seems to be true.

Final finals

Working the market in the heat. It is 90 degrees. Ugh.

Happy Birthday Tina!!

Wrapped crottin ready to be priced for the weekend.

My final trip to the Triad Market. Little Carrie and I were up before dawn and had breakfast while Steve packed us up for our trip to the market. We were on the road at 6:45am and arrived at the market in 45 minutes. When we pulled up, a customer was waiting patiently to buy cheese. We hauled all of our heavy coolers out of the big blue Goat Lady Dairy truck and got ready for another day of selling goat cheese to the masses. It is easy to sell a product that is so tasty. It pretty much sells itself. All I have to do is keep the tasting plates stocked with samples. Folks are eager to shell out $6.00 for an 8oz tub of fresh chevre. The camembert were really ripe, and sold quite fast. The ash covered Sandy Creek also flew off of the table. The crottin were tasty, but we had a lot to sell and wound up bringing some home. The one cheese that consistently doesn't sell well is the Goat Lady Smoked Round. The texture is silky smooth and rich, but many people simply don't like smoked cheese. This is a really good version of a smoked cheese, but I would only use it in limited situations. It would go really well with tomatoes, or on a sandwich (like a BLT.) We rarely sell out of the smoked rounds, yet we keep making them. Steve really likes them.

Jan's tomatoes grown at Moon Creek Farm, an old tobacco farm.

The day warmed up quickly. By noon, I was sweating profusely. The occasional breeze didn't to much to cool things off. It was a bittersweet trip to market. I said goodbye to my neighboring farmers. They all said farewell and hoped that we'd come back sometime soon for a visit. They're a nice bunch of folks. Jan of Moon Creek Farm in Yanceyville asked what my future plans are. I told her that I plan on selling my house, move to the country, buy milk and make cheese. She said they'd love to come out and visit us. I invited them out to teach me how to garden. She grows the most amazing veggies and tomatoes. She and her husband bottle their own salsa and sell it at the market. She joked and said they can be our interns. I'd love that! I know bupkis about gardening. I've learned a bit while I've been here, but I don't have the complexion or constitution to be out in the sun for too long. Plus I loose patience quickly.

We were able to pack up and be out of there at 3:00. We had sold out of many of our cheese, so we called it a day. We drove home, unpacked, showered and relaxed. It was a long and hot day at the market.

I drove over to Ye Olde Country Kitchen for supper. Seafood buffet was the feature tonight. Pretty good fried clams, flounder, shrimp, and salad bar. I ate my fill and had a good salad with more pickled watermelon rind. I drove back through Liberty and decided I still had enough energy to check out some music. It's Saturday night. Why should I sit at home by myself on my last Saturday evening in North Carolina?

Bluegrass Ridge was calling my name. It's right off of Old Liberty Road, on my way home. I returned to the scene of my indoctrination into real North Carolina music. The same folks that I saw two months ago were there tonight. I walked in, grabbed a seat and watched old folks clog to the fine strains of the Carter Family's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." I stayed about an hour, listening to a sloppy set of bluegrass music. I was left alone. People don't seem to want to approach an unknown single woman as easily as a new couple. I stayed about an hour. The musicians were not light a fire in me tonight, so I called it a night around 9:40. I'm glad I went. I wish I could take Bluegrass Ridge home with me.

Upon further reflection

It has been good to get away from San Francisco for a while. I need to be reminded how others live outside of California. To live in the South for three months has been really refreshing. It has broken through my stereotypes and misconceptions and the ignorance that I harbored about a part of our country that I considered "backwards." I came there with my provincial attitude that California is great, leading the nation in progressive thought and policies. We all recycle and eat organic! We are a Blue state. In my mind, North Carolina was conservative, redneck, segregated, haven for ignorant smokers, flag waving, and pro-military.

I feel like I've gone through a conversion of perspective. It's like traveling through a foreign country and getting to know the real people, not just what you see in movies or on television. I have found that I have more common ground with those around me than not. We're all upset that jobs are going overseas and people are fighting to protect their resources before they're developed and gone. Many of the folks around me do not have the best of educations, but they're wise and smart in ways that I'll never be. Bobby, Tommy and Sammy can all build, repair, and rig up anything you can think of. They're educated by their hard work. They've gained wisdom by building supportive families and communities. They're farmers, mechanics, and carpenters. Why would they want to ruin the land that provides food for their families and an income? Everyone around here knows how to garden, when to plant, when to hay, when to harvest, and how to store the abundance from the garden.

I'm saddened by the news that Klaussner Furniture in Asheboro was just purchased by the Chinese. The North Carolina furniture industry is becoming antiquated. Everything is now being made overseas. California isn't the only state feeling the effects of outsourced jobs. The unemployed mill worker has a lot in common with the unemployed tech industry accountant. Both are seeing their jobs move outside of the US where labor is cheap.

Happy calves like to suck on each other's ears after drinking whey. I have no idea why.

I am reminded of the phrase "Look for the good in others and they'll see the good in you." Southern hospitality is still vital and alive. Strangers make eye contact with you and smile. Most folks will take the time to talk to you if you give them the opportunity. Almost everyone I've met has been amazingly kind and giving. Even the clerk behind the counter at the drugstore is genuinely friendly. I feel that my life has been enriched by the time I've spent with the Steve, Lee, Ginnie, and Nathan Tate, Sammy, Carrie Carrie and her husband Bobby, Carrie's parents Tommy and Sue, Miriam, Jessie and Little Carrie. I will miss the open, honest community that I have discovered here in North Carolina. It has been a great awakening for me. I feel ready and more comfortable leaving San Francisco and building my own community in the countryside. I'm ready for a more rural existence in a place where folks wave at each other as they speed along country roads.

I have discovered that I CAN live without the constant drone of traffic, the struggle to find parking, sushi, Asian food, Mexican food, foreign films, major league baseball, cable television, and street lights. I find other things to occupy my time. I've been writing this blog, I've been taking lots of photographs. I've been simply watching the unfolding of the seasons. This experience has been not only about learning how to make cheese, but it has broken down barriers and resistance I didn’t even know I had. I feel much richer.

Alpine kid, two days old appeared on Friday.

Each subsequent internship has been more rewarding than the previous one. Cowgirl let me get my feet wet, but they only wanted me to work one day a week for three months. I traveled to England to learn about blue cheese and fine goat cheese making. Working closely with Robin, Nick and Ben for almost a month gave me a strong foundation to start making my big plans. Now that I've worked with Steve and Carrie at Goat Lady Dairy, I feel really confident about the future. I knew that working six days a week for three months would either break me or make me. I'm ready for more. I can't wait to find a place to call my own and start building. I want to make cheese! It is just that simple.

What do you think of the name Dipsea Dairy?

Sandy Creek in the vat

Fresh curds in crottin moulds.

I got to make a batch of Sandy Creek from milk pasteurization to demoulding of the cheese. It is made in a similar fashion as the camembert, but it is formed in a different mould. It is also made with a line of culinary ash in the middle of it like a morbier or Humboldt Fog.

After rennet is added to the heated milk, I love taking the test knife to the curd mass and checking for doneness. It is like sticking a toothpick in a cake to see if it is done. You can only know when to say when by experience. I carefully make a slice in the gelatinous curd and lift up the sliced section with the blade of the knife. If the split curd holds together properly and if the whey is clear, it should be done. The trick is to determine the right point of done. If the curd is too soft, it won't hold together. If it is too hard, it won't drain properly and the cheese won't set up right either. So many variables to learn!

I cut the curd, let it rest, stirred it, let it rest, scooped off the whey, and then dipped the curd into the sanitized moulds. Then I had to wait for the curds to drain for a couple of hours. When the curd shrank by half, I took a shaker and sprinkled ash over half of the moulds. I then had to sandwich the curds together, combining the ashed cheese with the unashed. After they were all sandwiched together, I left them to continue to drain and knit together. In the morning the cheese will be demoulded, salted, rolled in ash and left to dry.

My personal goal for the week: eat as much barbecue as possible. Nate, Carrie and I made a trek to Greensboro to kick off my barbecue binge at Stamey's Barbecue. We all ordered up big plates of pit roasted 'cue and had a great meal on chopped pork shoulder. Stamey's does it right. Heaping mounds of pork, nicely seasoned with a layer of sauce. Barbecue slaw and fresh hushpuppies round out the plate. We were all thrilled with the food. Carrie Fields had never been there and Nate hadn't been there for a few years. I think I like Henry James a bit better, but Stamey's is still good. I like it so much I bought dip and a pound to freeze. It will be coming home with me.

We're waiting for rain. It has been a very dry spring. The lawn is turning brown and plants are wilting. I hope they get some rain soon. The pastures are looking pretty sparse.

It is haying season. It is time for "first cut" of the fields. The rye, hay, alfalfa, clover, have been growing all spring and now everyone is scrambling to mow and bale the nutritious grass of spring. Second cut will happen later in June/July and is still pretty good. The third and fourth cuts are not as nutritious but still provide bedding and hay for the animals. I am amazed to see all of the activity in the fields. Friends, families and neighbors will get together to follow behind the tractor and load bales onto trucks. The hay must be put up quickly and it must be dry. If it is damp it mildews and is useless. Farming is not an easy job.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Kids are Alright

Violet (white saanen) and Carly (floppy eared nubian)

The kids are gone! I'm sad. Sammy came today, delivered milk and took most of the kids back to his farm. Four little kids remain, looking lost and making lots of noise. They're upset because their friends are all gone. I'm sad because my happy little friends are no longer just outside of my door. I loved going out onto the porch and having 20 young goats run over and want to nibble on my toes, fingers, pants, shirt, and hair. They're always happy and want to be with you. Too bad you can't housebreak them. Now they're gone. Sniff! The four remaining ones will join the herd on Wednesday. I hope Sammy can keep up with all of them. They're a handful for Lee and Jessie.

More my cheesemaking progress:

Today I got to fly solo making goat's milk camembert. Carrie Carrie had an appointment this morning so she entrusted me with the making of the camembert. I had Steve assist me, but he doesn't make camembert, that's Carrie's cheese. Steve makes the aged cheeses, Providence and Jersey Girl. So I had to tell him what to do! I like that. We set out 72 camembert moulds, and 56 crottin moulds and got the milk ready for making cheese. I took a sample of the milk to get an initial pH reading. When the milk was at the right temperature, I added the camembert culture, let it melt into the milk and then moved the milk from the pasteurizer into the vat. After an hour I checked the pH to make sure it was going down. Then I added the calcium chloride and the rennet and let the milk transform from a liquid into a gel. After 50 minutes I checked the curd and determined that it was at the right texture and ready to cut with the cheese harps (fancy knives.) I cut the curds into nice, neat cubes and let the cubes heal for five minutes. The whey starts to be released and the curds settle on the bottom of the vat. I then stirred the curds by hand, breaking up bits that the knives missed. I let the curds settle for a few more minutes. I pulled off the whey to just above the level of the curd and then it was time to scoop the curds out of the vat and into the empty moulds. You've gotta work fast because the curds really want to shrink and knit together. Carrie Carrie returned in time to assist me with the dip/scoop. We dipped the camembert first, adding a few curds to each mould and then returning to top them all off. Then we moved the draining table aside and filled up the crottin moulds. It was finished in about 15 minutes. Then came the flipping. In order to get a smooth texture, it is important to flip the knitting curds in the moulds as quickly as possible. Flip and flip again in thirty minutes. The crottin are flipped more often.

Little Maeve says hello to Four year old Shalom.

Tomorrow the camembert and crottin will be demoulded, salted and left in the cheese room on racks to dry. In ten days the crottin will be ready to eat, the camembert will be ready in 28 days. I won't get to see them when they're done. Oh well. Eight more days.

More signs of summer - or - All the animal at the zoo, they all ask for you...

More signs of summer:

I saw a half of a watermelon broken on the side of the freeway in Asheboro today. I don't know what happened to the other half. The days are getting much longer. The early evenings are warm and teeming with bugs. The scent of honeysuckle perfumes the air. I see honeysuckle blooms everywhere, along fence lines, in ditches, at the edge of the woods, along the road, and around old tobacco barns.

The quintessential symbol of the south is emerging once again. The magnolia trees are starting to bloom. Their shiny, stiff green leaves are the perfect counterpoint to the large, majestic, creamy white blossoms. There is a tall magnolia tree growing beside the White House. It overhangs the goat pasture. The kids love to chew on the fallen leaves. They seem to like the tough, crunchy, leathery texture of the leaves. A goat will chew on a leaf for about 10 minutes before it is small enough to finally swallow. That tree has blossoms all over it, but they haven't opened yet.

The strawberries are getting sweeter. Since most of what we eat is whatever is in season in the garden or at the farmer's market, we've been eating A LOT of strawberries. Strawberries and cream, strawberries and ice cream, strawberries shortcake, to name a few ways they've appeared on the table. The asparagus is done. The last spears were left to grow into huge, delicate looking fern-like plants. We are currently working our way around a new crop of rainbow chard, spinach, leeks, Vidalia onions, and more kinds of lettuce than I can name.

My friend Carly the kid.

The goats are still here for now. Sammy couldn't take them on Saturday due to equipment problems back at his farm. He'll probably pick up all of the goats, young and old on Monday or Wednesday. It will be a sad day when they leave.

I accomplished one more thing that I wanted to do while I was here: I went to the North Carolina State Zoo. Everyone has been telling me what a wonderful zoo it is and I should try to make it. It is only a few miles south of Asheboro, so I decided to spend my day off walking around the zoological gardens. Lee Tate was able to join me so together we looked at the animals on display. The weather was perfect, sunny and breezy, warm but not hot.

The zoo is divided into two halves, er, continents: North America and Africa. We parked in the North American Lot. We entered the park and followed the windy paths through Southern swamps full of cypress trees, carnivorous plant, alligators, turtles and snakes. Other areas of North America were highlighted like the central Plains, the rocky shores of the West Coast, and the mountains. The grounds of the zoo are beautifully landscaped in native wildflowers and plants. Each section had lots of trees to provide shade as well as habitat for the animals. The only downside was that almost every animal seemed to be on the same schedule. They were all asleep. We looked at cute arctic foxes, curled up in a tight little ball. Not quite sure what they looked like other than a bundle of fur. The endangered red wolf was lounging under a distant tree, yawning. The bobcats were snuggled up together in a corner of their enclosure. The alligators looked like sculptures. Don't they know we want to be entertained! The baboons were busy picking nits off of each other. I still enjoyed seeing everything.

My favorite feature was the tropical bird aviary. It is a huge enclosure filled with massive tropical plants and brightly colored birds. Scarlet ibises were perched in tall trees, looking down at visitors as they wandered through the aviary. Massive Victoria crowned pigeons strolled through the undergrowth. A kingfisher darted above our heads. Brilliant birds of green, blue and black fluttered around bird feeders placed near the pathways. There were many of birds you could hear, but not see. It was a well crafted exhibit. I also enjoyed watching puffins being fed. Their wings are perfectly adapted to let them fly through water as well as in the air. The smart ones stood near the staff member and would be conveniently fed by hand. By the time we looked at the bison in the Plains exhibit and the elephants in the savannah exhibit, we were pretty tired. It was also pretty crowded, with lots of families pushing strollers. We headed home around 3:00.

Tonight is another Dinner at the Dairy. Chef Chris is preparing another huge ham to serve with white kidney beans and fresh chard. I'm not certain what else is being served. I try to stay clear of the kitchen when my day off coincides with a dinner. I don't need to be in the way.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

On the hunt in Asheboro -- more BBQ

Henry James Barbecue, Since 1977

Found an even better barbecue place in Asheboro. Henry James Barbecue on S. Fayetteville Street is surrounded by semi-abandoned factories and warehouses, industrial plants, and train tracks. It's not much to look at from the outside or the inside. There are many booths, several are filled with a wide variety of folks quietly eating piles of barbecue. It is like most barbecue places I've visited, unassuming. I look over the menu and go for the barbecue plate. It comes with fries, hushpuppies and barbecue slaw. Wash it all down with unsweetened ice tea and I'm good to go. Three out of the four staff members were high school kids. The other was an older woman who was clearing tables. I got extra "dip" and grabbed a booth by a window.

My paper plate was piled high with shredded pork shoulder. It was blanketed with a layer of thin reddish sauce. The coleslaw was minced and blended with a light red colored sauce, too. The sidecar of hushpuppies were hot and crunchy, fresh from the deep fryer. The French fries were also hot and crispy. This is the best barbecue I've had around here. It was juicy, tangy, slightly peppery, but not overly spicy. It wasn't too smoky, but that's ok. The meat was obviously slow cooked and extremely tender. The sauce wasn't sweet. It was much more of an eastern style of sauce. It had vinegar, pepper and a bit of zip. Perhaps a hint of ketchup for color, but it wasn't like most of the Piedmont style barbecue I've had elsewhere. There was a bottle of hot barbecue sauce on the table. I gave it a try. Too hot for this girl, but very flavorful, too. Loaded with pepper.

I went up to the counter to get a to-go container as well as a refill on my ice tea. The 16 year old behind the counter asked me where I was from. I told her "San Francisco." "Florida?" she asked. "No, California." "Oh, I thought you were from somewhere else. There aren't a lot of red-heads in Asheboro. Plus I know all of our regulars, and I don't remember you. You've got an accent." I've got an accent? Funny, she's got a pretty good Randolph County accent. She asked me what I was doing in Asheboro and if I liked it. She says it is a good place to raise kids. Not sure I agree, looking at the miles of strip malls that line Hwy 64 and the total lack of public transit. The older woman joined in our conversation. She's been working at Henry James Barbecue for 24 years. I asked her about the 'cue. She said it is cooked on a rotisserie in a pit, not in a smokehouse. They make their own sauce. I asked if it was Piedmont style. She didn't know. It is it's own style. Everyone makes their barbecue their own way. This is the only one she knows, so she's not sure what style it is. I told her I wanted to buy some to freeze and take back to California. "Oh, our barbecue has gone all over the country. People are always getting some to take with them. Buy a pound of it and be sure to ask for extra dip." She called it "dee-yip." I plan on going back there next week and right before I go home. It was really good stuff.

I've spent a bit more time around Asheboro. It is only 10 miles away. It is a classic example of unplanned growth. The city stretches out for miles, with countless strip malls and very few sidewalks. It is built around the idea that you drive everywhere. The downtown area is full of antique shops, a couple of thrift stores, a coffeehouse, and a gospel music store. The old brick buildings have seen better days. Hops Barbecue holds down one end of the two block business district and a couple of banks are at the other end of the strip. Train tracks cut downtown in half. Asheboro is a very old colonial town. It is sad to see what urban sprawl has done to it.

I just mailed five boxes home. They're full of pottery, books, cookware, towels, and things I don't need for the next 12 days. I've also been checking out the local thrift stores. No good finds, so far, but you never know what you'll run across. My current quest is for a butter churn. I want a glass jar butter churn with a crank on top like a hand beater. They come in quart and gallon size jars with a wooden (usually cedar) dasher. I've found ceramic butter churns, and old wooden churns shaped like boxes or barrels. I've also found an electric churn made by Dayzee. The antique dealers didn't have one. They had the other types, but not my little glass churn. I might have to break down and try Ebay. My quest continues.

No regrets as the clock winds down

I have less than two weeks left. I can't believe how quickly the months have gone by. This internship has really paid off for me. Miriam, the energetic retiree who cleans the cheese room in the afternoon, asked me if I was happy I came all the way to North Carolina. I told her that I absolutely no regrets

Steve and Carrie Carrie seem to be pleased with my progress and have been giving me more and more responsibilities. This week I got to make the camembert, sandy creek and crottin from start to finish. I can read the curd ok, and can judge when it is time to cut the curd mass. Preparing to make the cheese takes more time than anything else. Countless molds have to be placed either on the draining table or in colanders. Each mold must be sanitized. Then, at a critical moment, the curd is dipped into the awaiting molds as fast as possible. As soon as you start to dip, the curds begin to knit. By the time you empty the vat of curd, the curd has shrank and has lost a lot of whey. In order to try to achieve a uniform texture in your finished cheese, it is very important to try to get the curd into the molds as quickly as you can.

It is late spring on the farm. The garden is looking spectacular. The lettuce beds are full of big, leafy heads of lettuce. Tonight I made a big salad for supper with a romaine style lettuce that I harvested only minutes earlier. Milk was still seeping from the cut stem. I love eating super-fresh veggies. A couple of nights ago, I noticed three small rabbits running all around the pasture next to the White House. They scampered around and around while the three month old goats stared at them. Two of them dashed under the fence and began to race around the veggie garden. The days are getting more humid. The high humidity adds to the lushness that I feel all around me. I love to sit outside at twilight and watch the fireflies emerge. Between the cardinals and the lightening bugs, I just can't get my fill of 'em. I can watch them forever. The cardinals are just such pretty birds, unbelievably red. The fireflies just swirl and drift around the bushes and trees like tiny fairy lanterns drifting on an unnoticed breeze. Summer is nearly here.

The young goats will be leaving soon. Sammy is supposed to bring a trailer and haul them back to his place. All 50 of them. Most of them are weaned and now they're just growing and growing like the weeks that they love to eat. I've been spending more time with my favorites, scratching them and letting them nibble at my clothes. I'm going to miss these youngsters when they're gone.

I like the Nubians, even though they're the most whiny and loud. The saanens are the most docile, but they all look alike (white.) The Alpines are the most aggressive and feisty. Should I choose to keep a few goats, I might look into getting a few Nubians. They're herd animals, so you can't have just one, they get lonely and depressed. I still want to buy my milk for my cheesemaking enterprise, but these goats have gotten under my skin and I find that I really like them. They're very funny, smart, stubborn, and useful. Perhaps I can train one to pull a cart for me. Plus, fresh goat milk is the best. It only tastes gross if you don't feed them well and let the milk get old. Sammy's milk is sweet and buttery. It makes great cheese and is perfect with my granola in the morning.

More happy dining: I just can't help myself!

A southern treat: pickled watermelon rind. Slurp!

Miriam invited me out to dinner a few nights ago. She took us out to Ye Old Country Kitchen, a restaurant/buffet located east of Liberty in the town of Snow Camp. The beauty of these county style buffets is that they make no attempt at being healthy. Sure, there's a salad bar, but the entrees are usually some form of fried food. This one had fantastic fried chicken and biscuits. The biscuits were the best I've had since I got here. They were still warm, crispy on the outside and tender and light on the inside. They didn’t need any butter. The salad bar had pickled watermelon rind. Not something I find too often. There were several different kinds of beans cooked in different styles, too. Miriam and I were really pleased with our meals.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Eating local challenge, NC style

Eating local.

I've always eaten local. The media is enamored with people Jessica Prentice, a Bay Area chef who preaches the virtues of eating local and celebrating your "foodshed." She's a locavore. In my family, we've always eaten local, handing our $$ directly to the growers of our apples, eggs, potatoes, beef jerky, cheese. It is probably why I love to seek out those local treasures in small town grocery stores and farmer's markets.

There is a slight difference here in the Piedmont between eating locally and eating like a local. I try to do both. As I have said before, I love finding regional food. I don't want to eat at some fancy-shmancy restaurant. Read Calvin Trillan's "American Fried." I want to eat at the place that has the best fried chicken in town. (If you're in Kansas City, make a beeline to Stroud's. Their cinnamon rolls are superb, too.) If I DO go to a nice restaurant, they better have some local food on the menu. North Carolina has fantastic shrimp. The coastal waterways are home to some fantastic seafood that I can't find in California. This is what I want on my dinner plate.

My locavore challenge: eat as much barbecue from as many places as I possibly can before I leave on May 29. Now THAT is eating local. North Carolina has a huge pork industry. It is so big that the waste from the hog farms is a major pollution problem. The water quality of many towns is threatened by ponds of pig poop. But I digress….Barbecue. I go to the Blue Mist when I feel like something quick. But I've found a new favorite in Asheboro. Jed's Barbecue and Seafood on N. Fayetteville Street. Around here the barbecue is "Piedmont Style." The sauce is sweet and tangy, a blend of cider vinegar, brown sugar, pepper, salt, and ketchup. It is thin and juicy. Jed's barbecue plate is piled high with shredded pork shoulder that has been slow-cooked for 9 hours (at least.) It comes with freshly fried hushpuppies, barbecue slaw, fries, and must be washed down with ice tea. The barbecue is liberally covered with "dip," their own special barbecue sauce. The coleslaw is minced cabbage mixed with the barbecue sauce so it is slightly red in color. The slaw is sweet and crunch. I like to pile my fork with both barbecue as well as coleslaw so I get both flavors in one bite. Delicious!

If I want to find some good, eastern style barbecue, I must drive east, beyond Burlington. That's the continental divide for North Carolina barbecue. East of Burlington is Eastern 'cue with its spicy, vinegar based sauce. West of Burlington is Piedmont style which adds to the eastern style with a bit of brown sugar and ketchup. This is also called Lexington Style barbecue, I believe. Then comes the other contender, western style barbecue, which has mustard. I haven't had any western style 'cue around here because the locals hate it. There is a bitter rivalry between the styles and folks will argue for days about it. I hope to try a place north of Chapel Hill called Allen and Sons. A gentleman I met at a Dinner at the Dairy says I MUST try it before I go. Too bad they're closed Sundays.

What else is on the menu when you eat locally in North Carolina? Molasses. The traditional stuff is harvested in the fall and cooked down over a wood fire. I just bought some today that was made in Reidsville. Reidsville is north of Greensboro. It is home to another famed barbecue joint called Short Sugar's. I hope to eat there before I go, too.

Other local food finds: Today I took a drive past Piedmont International Airport to The Old Mill of Guilford. It is a water powered grist mill from the Colonial era. It is still in operation today, grinding corn and grain. I walked into the rough hewn timber building. The front room is filled with barrel label "Spelt flour." "Yellow Grits." "Corn Meal," "Rye Flour." The grindstone is on one side of the room and there are many mechanical devices used to convey the grain and the power from the water wheel outside. I threaded my way through the barrels and went into the anteroom on the right. This is the mill store. It is filled with many bags of freshly ground cornmeal, grits, scone mix, sweet potato muffin mix, several types of flour, and hushpuppy mix, among the wide selection. If you are lucky, you might catch "Mother" grinding the grain. They don't have a set schedule, the just grind whatever they need when they need it. I ordered several things and had it shipped home. Look out, Jim, another box is arriving! The corn is grown locally in Davidson County. I'm not sure where the wheat comes from. The shop was filled with other local items like jam, pottery, ironwork, honey, as well as molasses. It was a great find, and a beautiful spot on Highway 68.

My other local favorite: fried chicken. Every country kitchen/down home restaurant makes fried chicken. Even K&W Cafeteria makes a good one. Just ask my mother. Ginnie makes a fantastic fried chicken about every couple of weeks. She also chases it with a peppery milk gravy to die for. There are lots of local chicken farms so I must be eating locally when I eat fried chicken. This is my kind of eating local challenge!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Views around the farm this week

A good sign today.

Mom helps out with dessert.

A new cheese is in the works. It needs a name. Any suggestions?

Baby onions ready to roast. These were picked only an hour earlier.

Feta in whey brine. 100% goat milk, of course.

A visit from Adrianne

Mom stops by.

My mother came for a visit for a few days. She arrived late Thursday night and stayed at a hotel near the airport. I borrowed Ginnie's car and met Mom at her hotel. We drove back to the airport and signed me onto her rental car. She followed me back to the farm and brought her things into the White House.

Mom's been struggling with health issues so she's not as energetic as she used to be. It's a shame because she couldn't explore the gardens or walk around easily. We took our time and walked up to the Barn in order to say hello to everyone. It was just about lunch time so most folks were lingering while Ginnie prepared pizzas. She makes her own dough and likes to load each pie with lots of toppings. One had goat cheese, sausage, homemade tomato sauce, olives and onions. Another had artichoke hearts, cheese, and salsa. The third was covered with lost of sausage, cheese, olives, tomatoes, onions, and sauce. It was quite a feast.

Gareth, Steve and Lee's younger son talked about traveling to the Galapagos. He's only home for a few days so it was nice to hear some of his stories about Ecuador. They've been working him hard while he's home. He had the pleasure of turning the compost pile after lunch.

Once the pizzas were ready, all conversation stopped and we dove into the hot, gooey, slices. Ginnie makes a nice pizza. Her secret: get the oven as hot as it can go and use pizza pans. They always turn out nicely.

After lunch, everyone drifted off to accomplish their afternoon work. It was raining. In spite of the foul weather, Mom and I decided to go to Seagrove and visit the potters. I retraced the drive that I had taken with Ginnie two months ago. We headed southwest to Asheboro and hopped on Business 220 and drove a few more miles to Seagrove. It is only about 25 miles from the farm. It is surprisingly close. We had many maps and drove around visiting potters that I had been to with Ginnie and others that were new to both of us. I am amazed at the number of pottery studios that are set up around a small town like Seagrove. There are over 100 active studios and galleries. Many have been there for several generations like the Owens family. The abundant clay in the area originally attracted the potters and some still used the local clay. We stopped by the North Carolina Pottery Center and looked at some beautiful examples of local pottery from the past and present.

My favorite potters are the couple Laura and Blaine Avery of Avery Pottery and Tileworks. Both Mom and I love the shapes and colors that of their work. They have both decorative as well as functional tiles, bowls, vases, jars, and mosaics. When you pick up a piece of their pottery, it feels good in your hands. Not too heavy, but not too fragile. Just right. Plus, they are really nice and love Goat Lady Dairy's cheese. They both remembered me from my previous visit with Ginnie. It is fun being recognized as "that girl from California who's making cheese at GLD." I experienced the same thing when I was making cheese at Ticklemore in Devon, England. Around Totnes I was know as "the American girl."

Owens red glaze. Beautiful and lethal. It is full of lead. The tall handled jug is a Rebecca Pitcher, a local design.

Mom and I called it quits around 5:00. The potters close their doors so we had to leave. I had made dinner reservations in Greensboro, so we took our time driving up Old Highway 220 as well as Hwy 220. I thought Mom might like some good seafood from the East Coast so we went to Bert's Seafood on West Market Street in Greensboro. It is a well established restaurant well known for their fish. I figured it is one of the few places that might serve seafood that wasn't deep fried. Most "family style" seafood places only serve seafood one way: breaded and fried. All seafood is also served with hushpuppies. Bert's had fine hushpuppies. It also had the best flounder I've ever tasted. It was really delicate, pan fried with a coating of sesame seeds and breadcrumbs. It just broke apart as soon as it touched my tongue. Mom had fresh shrimp with cheese grits (a.k.a. polenta with cheese.) Her dish was also well prepared. The portions were ample and we both wound up taking a lot home. We were very happy with supper.

Mom wasn't feeling so hot in the morning. The plan was to drive to Floyd, VA in order to visit Ellen Shankin and see her open studio. The weather was still wet and we felt that the four hours spent driving could be put to better use. We drove back to Seagrove. Avery was hosting their annual Kiln Opening on Saturday and Sunday. Since most of it was still cooling in the kiln on Friday, we were eager to see what else they were making. We were happy we did. Both Mom and I found some pottery we could not pass up. We both bought tiles/trivets. I bought a bowl and Mom bought some vases. We both liked their designs and art deco inspired forms. Thank goodness for UPS. Jim will be getting a box in a week or two.

We spent several hours touring around the Seagrove area. I drove home using the backroads. The rain had mostly stopped so we were able to enjoy the quiet country roads and lush rolling hills all the way back to Gray's Chapel. I had to drive home on Erect Road. I stopped in the tiny town of Erect at Teague's mini-mart and service station. It is the only thing in town. There was a hand-written sign on the glass door announcing "Bluegrass music, Mondays 6pm." I asked about it at the counter as I was paying for our Lance crackers. The sizable gentleman seated behind the counter asked if I played, and if so, bring my instrument. Everyone is welcome to come and play. I told him I don't play, but I am a very supportive listener. He encouraged me to come back on a Monday and check it out. I might have to leave Climax and find Erect next Monday.

I am very excited by the fact that old time and bluegrass music is so popular and thriving in these tiny hamlets. It makes me want to pick up a banjo or mandolin and learn how to play in order to join in these jam sessions. It is infectious. The musical traditions are alive and well. I have found several places that have these bluegrass gatherings on different nights of the week. Most of them are in old service stations or tiny stores. They are not traditional music venues. I've seen signs in front of the stores that read "hoop cheese – music Friday nite". I still don't know what hoop cheese is, but I'm curious enough to explore both possibilities.