Posted on

The Garden and the Creamery

The Garden and the Creamery

the garden and the creameryOne of the first things that Scott did when we “retired” to the farm was build me this really fantastic garden. It is made of cinder blocks. You can read more about it here. He created it to be a permanent structure, requiring as little maintenance as possible. There is still a bit of work to do to make the soil the best garden ever, but we were able to plant lots of vegetables and they are growing.

Due to the length of time it took to build my really great garden, we started too late to have early peas, lettuce and broccoli. There was lots of time to plant the rest of the garden. I planted two types of corn, perhaps five different bean species and no less than five different squash varieties. The watermelon and sweet potatoes are vining all over the place. The tomatoes are large enough to be staked up off the soil with lots of green ones growing at a rapid pace. I have a few beets, chard, turnips, kohlrabi and rutabagas coming along nicely. One eggplant has a couple of fruits and the peppers are just getting started.

Yesterday we went out together to pick off any squash bugs that might be around, and we were also looking for vegetables to harvest. So far this year I have picked a couple of meals worth of yellow wax beans, a few green beans and one patty pan squash. Oh, and a radish or two.

The best part of gardening is getting to pick the vegetables. As you can see from the picture, I now have black-eyed peas, potatoes, purple podded pole beans in addition to the aforementioned wax and green beans. Yum, Yum.

Breaking Ground for the Creamery

Scott rented a little machine that I call a Bobcat. He has another name for it (track loader). This little gem he used to dig out the high ground and move it to the low ground. The purpose was to shape the building foundation area.  The way he did it meant we did not need to truck in any other fill dirt. That saved a lot right there.

One end is 28″ higher than the other. That is to facilitate the milking area. While it is higher than the rest of the building, it is at ground level where the cows will enter and exit the building. Scott is an absolute genius at using the lay of the land to harmonize his plans with the original plan of the creator.

We have scheduled visits from the propane gas and electric companies for next week. They will be providing the much needed input to move forward with power and hot water for the creamery. And as soon as the ground dries out enough, Scott has a machine rented to help with digging the footers for the foundation walls.

We are moving right along with this project. It is truly an exciting time at the farm.

Posted on

Peaceful Heart Cheese

Peaceful Heart Cheese

peaceful heart cheese

We made cheese again on Monday. This time we made ‘Peaceful Heart’. It is a semi-soft, washed curd cheese which makes it deliciously mild and creamy.

We will age it for around three months. The interior of the cheese has tiny holes throughout the paste. It demonstrates a creamy to yellow color. The cheese will be mild to sharp in flavor and buttery depending on how long it is aged.

We will list it on this site for taste testing in about three months so mark you calendars now if you want to have some for your Thanksgiving dinner.

More Farm Exercise

This afternoon it was time to move the animals to a new piece of pasture. As you may know, we rotationally graze our animals. That means we let them graze in one place for a few days and then move them to another. This keeps the grass from being overgrazed and our pastures in tip-top shape. It also keeps the parasite population down. There is no host and by the time the animals return to any given section of pasture, the parasites have died off.

The cows and sheep were close by where we needed to move them. The goats, however, were nearly as far back in the woods as they could get (think a quarter mile walk). Moving them out of the woods was a hazardous adventure for me due to lots of trees and old limbs on the ground. I carefully picked my way through the debris, got the goats out into the main pasture (with Scott’s help) and made my way back to more solid ground with only one slight slip and no falls.

Once they were in the open, we gently herded them to the next pasture for fresh grass. Since January we have been working to tame them. The whole lot of them were wild and very hard to manage. But with persistence and lots of treats, we have successfully brought them to the point that we can now walk within 4 or 5 feet of them. They simply trot along ahead of us, looking over their shoulder once in a while as if to seek escape if we are not paying attention.

All animals are happily munching on new grass at this moment.

Milking the Cows

We are not sure what is going on with Buttercup. For the past two days she has been reluctant to put her head through the milking stantion where she is gently held. Her daily treat is waiting there yet she is very wary. Today Scott had to get a rope around her neck and give her a long slow tug to get her to put her head through that same opening she has stood in for months.

We put a halter on her just in case she is still acting shy tomorrow. Gentleness and patience is what works for milk cows. Buttercup is an exercise in patience. She was really cute when she was young as you can see in this pic. Claire is the bigger one. Claire has no trouble going in her stanchion; I have to encourage her to leave!

That’s about it for this update. Leave your comments below or go to our Contacts page for questions and comments on other topics.

Posted on

Animal Husbandry and Farm Exercise

Animal Husbandry and Farm Exercise

In this post I want to give an update on our animal husbandry tasks and expound on how much exercise is a daily part of farm life. Over the past couple of weeks we have trimmed hooves on most of our small goat herd and sheep flock plus the donkeys. We are still waiting on the anticipated birth of a new mini-donkey. And we made a trip to Meadowcreek Dairy in Galax, Virginia to check out their operation.

Farm Exercise

Let’s start with exercise. One of the main reasons we have for starting our farm business is to do creative things and keep fit into our twilight years. Many people retire then get almost no exercise. Others have the freedom in retirement to spend lots of time at the gym. By far, the ones frequenting the gym live longer with more productive and active lives. But the gym has no appeal for us. We like the outdoors and love nature. Just watching nature do its thing is a joy for us. Getting our daily exercise is completely integrated into our lifestyle. There is no need to cut out a part of our day to go somewhere else.

I know a lot of you may have a goal of walking 10,000 steps per day. That’s a lot of steps and likely difficult to manage in a normal day without just going to the gym and walking on the treadmill. I could never manage it. Boring!  😯  Here’s how the day goes for me. Just this morning my tasks included feeding the bottle lamb, milking the cows and moving the main herds to another field. I walked nearly 5,000 steps. Yes, that’s right. Just the morning chores got me halfway to the goal. And it was a joy!

Our farm is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. No matter where you go, it really is uphill both ways. Yes, yes, there is some downhill in between. But still, those hills are the bomb for getting that heart rate up. The birds are singing. Often a light breeze is blowing. This morning was cooler than previous mornings so that was good too. Life is good.

There are days when the heat is oppressive. I sweat a lot. In addition to other benefits, sweating is really, really good for my skin. The milking and other chores get done in the morning no matter the temperature. But in the afternoon I can work inside on stuff like this blog, the finances or some other marketing task until later in the afternoon when it begins to cool down. That’s when I will go out into the garden, pull a few weeds and generally enjoying the fruits of our labor. Scott rarely does that. Usually, he is out there sweating continually doing some task or another.

And that brings me to the next topic.

Goat the Sheep Hoof Trimming

A big part of animal husbandry on our farm is keeping those hooves in good shape. Donkeys, sheep and goats all need that treatment. Last week a task popped up on my calendar that it was time to check the goats and sheep for general health and trim their hooves. We still need to get to the boys later this week. Two rams and 8 bucks. The girls and their young were done a few days ago.

We currently have 15 goat and 9 sheep in the main ‘girls’ herd/flock. Starting at around noon on a hot summer day, we began the task. Scott manhandled each animal and I wielded the hoof pruners. Scott catches them and then turns them upside down into a “chair” that is specifically made for this purpose. Once a goat or sheep is on their back kind of sitting with feet up, they stop resisting. They don’t resist as much anyway. They can, and the young goats do, make lots of noise but they can’t really get out of the “chair” until Scott turns them right side up again, out of the chair.

We finished at 6:00 pm. There is nothing for it but to work straight through with only short breaks to drink some water or Gatorade. Yes, six hours straight to get done. The task entails digging out manure from the hooves prior to trimming the excess material. I smelled that long into the night. Should have used the neti pot on my nasal passages during my shower. Well, live and learn.

Donkey Pregnancy

We are still anxiously awaiting the arrival of Sweet Pea’s offspring. No ultrasound to tell us whether boy or girl. We will be surprised and accept whatever creation brings to us. Young animals being born are always eagerly anticipated on our farm.

This will be Sweet Pea’s last foal. Daisy and Cocoa will also continue their lives without additional foals. We made the decision to keep this small herd of donkeys and no more. Our land can support a limited number of animals and each needs to have a purpose supporting the whole. The purpose of the donkeys is protection for the lambs. They have been doing a really great job and we expect that to continue. Daisy is about 10 years old now and Sweet Pea is 7. We expected to have them as our companions for years to come. Donkeys live a long time. They will both likely be with us for another 30 to 35 years.❤ ❤ ❤

Visiting Other Farms

The last thing I want to mention is our trip to Meadowcreek Dairy. They are a little less than an hour’s drive from us. The business operates near Galax, Virginia in Grayson county. They have a new piece of farm land that buts up against the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was gorgeous up there. They make cheese at an elevation of 2800+ feet.

As we get ready to lay the foundation for our creamery, visiting other farms has been part of our preparation. Scott wanted to see how others set up their barns. How does the animal flow work? What kind of equipment do they use? What are the advantages and disadvantages that each farmer found with their choices? We have visited about a half dozen farms and each one is different in how they set up their milking operation.

The great people at Meadowcreek Dairy spent more than a 1/2 day with us, showing us the cheese make room through a window and two different milking parlor setups. They have traveled to Europe and New Zealand, performing a similar action to ours on a world wide scale. They wanted to see how milking and cheese making is done in those areas of the world. Their milking parlor reflects those cultures.

There are two sides to the cow milking parlor. Rather than running the milkers on both sides at the same time, they do one side and then the other. With two people that allows one person to be prepping the cows on one side for milking while the other person is actually setting up and monitoring the “claws” on the other side. Then those cows are let out, then next group of cows comes in and the farmers switch sides while walking along the pit. The one setting up and monitoring the milking machine moves to the freshly prepped cows, while the one prepping moves over to prep the new set of cows that just entered the parlor. Or they can simply work in tandem. Lots of choices.

The barns are open and tall, with lots of air flowing through. This was the part that I really liked. Closed milking barns can be very, very hot in the summer. Also, the cows are much happier if they don’t have to go into a hot, dark place. They are much more willing to just walk into the open-air space, stand while being milking, and then parade back out into the field to continue their daily joy of eating lots of grass.

The folks at Meadowcreek were very generous with their time and information. We look forward to the time when we can do the same for the next small farmer looking to create a hand-made, farmstead or artisan cheese operation.

That’s it for now. Long days and pleasant nights.

Posted on

Picking Blackberries

Picking Blackberries

BEFORE clearing rows, wild berry forest,

There is nothing more satisfying than harvesting your own food, especially when it comes to picking blackberries. Or blueberries for that matter. Or tomatoes and potatoes. Anyway, this evening it was picking blackberries. I have about three gallons in the kitchen sink right now. I will wash and store them in a bit.

AFTER clearing rows, from ‘travel lane’

We didn’t get many blueberries, even though there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of berries on the bushes. The local raccoons are getting pretty fat because we are feeding them. Keeping the local varmints out of the berries is a project for next year. This year we are just glad to have been able to dig the bushes out from a couple years neglect. They were riddled with wild blackberries and every other kind of weed imaginable, plus young trees.

We have had a very busy couple of weeks. Yesterday we made cheese. Havarti was the chosen delight for this week. The day before we drove 5 hours to borrow a young Normande bull that we had sold last year. Then drove 5 hours back. Tomorrow’s project is trimming donkey hooves along with milking and such. The following day will see the goats and sheep get inspected and their hooves trimmed as needed.

Visiting Other Farms

Let me take these events one-by-one and fill in some details. I left out one big event and I will start with that one. Two days ago we visited a local farmer and checked out his operation. We wanted to take a look at his milking parlor. He also had a cheese making setup we wanted to see. He made a very different kind of cheese. He used a combination cheese vat and pasteurizer. He was making fresh cheese, therefore the milk had to be pasteurized before processing. Pasteurizing ruins the flavor but there is no getting around the government regulations about fresh cheese.

He also had several other ideas in the works on his farm. He has 50 white ducks and is now selling duck eggs. He also had some meat goats.  We had a nice chat about that business. It is fun to go out and visit others in the area to learn the ‘what and how’ they are doing. Everyone has a different vision and creative ways of using their land.

So that was two days ago. The next day we took that long trip to pick up the bull. We want to use artificial insemination at some point soon, but we just have too many other things going on right now. To learn one more thing would be just too much at this time. That dairy farmer was very practiced at AI so could serve as a tutor on this at a later time. So Scott came up with the brilliant idea to use the young bull that we sold last year. After a few Facebook messages were exchanged, we set up the details to borrow him. As long as we pick him up and drive him back, we were good for go for a 2 1/2 months breeding period. We expect him to be able to take care of all that needs doing in that amount of time.

It was as very long day. It actually took us about 6 1/2 hours to get there due to an unplanned excursion northward instead of due east. But we got back on track and made the return trip with no issues. We also were able to visit that other farm and check out their various operations. As I said, it’s great fun for us. This farm has some really great Jersey cows. They also have ducks, chickens, peacocks, alpacas, pigs and sheep and probably something else I’m leaving out (oh yeah, friendly dogs and kids). They are very diversified. We will have much the same at some point in the very near future by adding chickens and pigs (maybe ducks also). At least I hope so.  😛

Making Cheese

Yesterday was cheese making day. We made Havarti from 18 gallons of our cows’ milk. It was Scott’s first time with this cheese in over a year.  He did a fabulous job. You know when you first start making cheese it can be a very daunting task. There is just so much to know. But after you get the basics down, trying out a ‘new’ cheese is simply a variation of the skills you’ve already built plus following the recipe that is in front of you. We expect that in 3 months or so we are going to have some really good cheese from this batch.

Our two cheese refrigerators are filling up fast. Check out our store here to contribute to the creamery. You can get a cheese sample.

Animal Husbandry

Tomorrow is donkey hoof trimming day. Every four months a task pops up on my calendar to take care of their feet. We have four donkeys. Each one is a little different in their response to this treatment. Daisy and Sweet Pea are the easiest to work with, though it was not always that way (nervous). Johnny Rebel, the jack, usually fights the process, but we always win. And the littlest girl, Cocoa, is a handful. She is the youngest and most skittish when it comes to human contact. The others love the touching, talking and brushing:  Cocoa sees this happening right next to her yet is not convinced that we should be touching her at all.

 

Then come the hoof trimming for the goats and sheep day after tomorrow. They also need to have their hooves trimmed and we will also check for signs of anemia, worms or other issues.

These are long days that require a lot of strength and patience from Scott. He is literally required to manhandle the goats and sheep. The goats don’t weigh as much as the sheep, but there are more of them.

That is just covering 5 days of activities. I love each day here.

There is always something that needs doing. Even if it if just making ice cream. I have strawberries, peaches and blackberries in the frig.

Yum, yum.

Posted on

Cheesemaking in Pictures

Cheesemaking – an Introduction

I wanted to share a few cheesemaking ideas and pictures. I hope this is interesting for you. This won’t be too detailed yet should help make understanding what happens clearer. I hope to stimulate your appreciation of the cooking process, recipe differences, equipment involved, skills developed and the amount of time invested. You can make cheese in nearly any quantity from a kitchen sink cook pot to a large stainless steel vat.

Ararat Legend BabyWe make farmstead and artisan cheeses. So what’s the difference? Farmstead cheese is hand-made in small batches using our own cows’ milk. We milk our cows daily and use the raw milk for making our farmstead cheeses. That is what makes us unique and special.

While Artisan cheese is still hand made in small batches, the milk comes from another source. We can and have used milk from another local dairy to make an artisan cheese: A different quality of milk makes a different cheese. Melanie also makes butter and ice cream for our own use from our cows’ milk.

It all starts with milk, of course, but a wide variety of tastes are achieved via heating, cutting, cooking, pressing, and aging methods. Bacterial cultures also contribute to making bland curds into awesome aged cheese by breaking down the fat and protein over time. For our raw milk cheeses, we engage in months of aging time with lots of handling according to the kind of cheese.  This is called affinage.

cheesemakingBut you can do the same using a couple gallons of milk bought at your local grocery. It will make make a couple pound cheese. You might try using a SS stock pot in your kitchen sink, surrounding the pot with hot water to control the temperature. Just follow the recipe.

We made farmstead cheddar today.  We started with a tried and true recipe for making cheese, followed it as closely as possible. That’s very important for consistency in the final product. We are refining the various recipes as we progress with one cheese after another. In the end each becomes our very own recipe. Between the use of our grassfed cows’ milk and recipe tweeks, we are creating something unique in the cheese world.

Is your mouth watering yet?

Heating the milk

After the vat and other tools have been sanitized, the refrigerated milk is poured into the 100 gallon vat.

The milk in the vat is heated by very hot water circulating in the “jacketed” vat walls. This piece of equipment was custom made for our purposes.

We use a long plastic paddle to gently stir the milk so it heats evenly. A temperature probe is also used throughout the heating and cooking process.

The milk is heated up to the target temp. This can be 86-92F depending on the type of cheese to be made. The temp will be raised higher as needed during the cooking process, according to the type of cheese. We need to maintain the target temperature during the stages.

The control of temperature is learned by practice (trial & ‘what now’ testing) and soon becomes a method. We are still learning a lot about how to control the temperature. This aspect of the cheesemaking process is vital to actually creating the cheese you desire.

At one point we were making Havarti and the temperature got way too hot — like 7 degrees above the target. We decided to let it go and see what would result. So, we didn’t really make Havarti that time. Sometimes this kind of mistake can make a unique great cheese that you want to make over and over again. That was not the case with this one, however. We just wished we had pigs or chickens. They would have loved it.

Starting The Culturing Process

Once the milk has reached it’s starting temp goal, bacterial ‘starter’ cultures are added, stirred in. This is then left to ‘culture’ for a period of time. The time allotted here for the bacteria to run wild in the milk and work its magic again depends on the cheese.

Then maybe another ‘ripening’ culture along with a little liquid calcium can be added.

The number and combinations of starter and ripening cultures available are mind boggling. But for home cheesemaking there are simple choices to get you started.

The curdling agent, in this case Rennet, is added by gently mixing it in briefly. But then it must be left to rest and work its magic.  In a short time the whole volume of milk becomes a solid custard! This still amazes me every time.

From Custard to Curds and Whey

After the milk becomes a solid custard, we cut it all into hazelnut sized pieces with tools called curd knives or harps. They are basically stainless steel wires in racks. These were also custom made for our operation.

When using smaller pots we simply use a long thin knife purchased for the single purpose of cutting cheese curd.

The curds need to be as uniform in size as possible. They will shrink in size as they cook and various textures will become evident. You guessed it the texture depends on the cheese cultures, the temp, the size of the curd, how long they are cooked and so on.

making cheddar cheeseOnce “cooking” is complete, the curds are allowed to settle to the bottom of the vat or cook pot. In the vat, we push the curds to one end of the vat. We had custom made food grade plastic boards made for this purpose. They have holes drilled in them to allow the whey to flow past as the curd is pushed to the back of the vat.

There are a couple of things that can happen here. Either we drain off all the whey leaving a curd mass as shown here or we “press under the whey”. That involves only draining the whey to the top of the curds. We then apply weight to cause the curds to knit together to form a solid curd mass.

As a side note, the whey has nutritional value and is what you are drinking in your protein shakes. We can use it for feeding livestock or it can be spread on the fields for fertilizer.  It can also be used to make Ricotta cheese.

We made cheddar today. That is a process all of its own.

The Cheddaring process

This shows a cheddar curd mass cut in half as a starting step of the special ‘cheddaring’ process. This process is what makes cheddar cheese a reality.

The whey continues to leak out slowly and the curds are stretched and pressed as we follow the dance steps to cut and stack, flip and restack, then flip and restack higher. The increasing weight of the stack is its own weight to press out the whey.

The curd slabs get stacked over and over again until they are dry enough and have reached the desired texture. The test for the proper texture is to tear a piece of the curd in two. It should look similar to cooked chicken breast.

Cut and stack. Repeat. And repeat every 15 minutes for a couple of hours.

The time to complete a cheese from start to finish varies from cheese to cheese. With cheddar there is a great deal of time spent on cheesemaking day just to get it to the stage of pressing. More on that later.

Once the cheddaring process is complete, the curd slabs are weighed. This is used to calculate the correct amount of salt to get that perfect cheese. There is one more step – adding that salt.

Milling and Salting Cheddar Curd

All curd slabs are torn into small ragged pieces before the salt is added. We bought another unique piece of equipment. It’s a curd mill. We use this device like a hand grinder with little stainless steel fingers that tear the solid cheese mass into small pieces.

For small, home batches you would simply cut them into small pieces with a knife.

We use a large stainless steel pot to catch the pieces. They still need to be salted. Every cheese we make gets salted in some way. With cheddar the salt is mixed directly onto the broken up  curds. We use flaked sea salt. There is pressing still to be done: We don’t want it to just drain away with the whey. We want it to dissolve quickly and be absorbed into the curds.

BTW, when you see curds for sale, this is what you are buying. They are salted cheddar curds. We enjoy these ourselves but cannot sell them to you (sorry, government regulations). You’ll just have to settle for those that are made from pasteurized (boiled) milk.

Most of the other cheeses we make are floated in brine for anywhere from 6 to 24 or more hours depending on the size of the cheese. But I’m getting ahead of myself. That happens after pressing.

Cheese Molds and the Cheese Presses

The curds are placed into a strong plastic molds which provide a finished shape for the cheese. Some types of cheese require specific molds. Camembert, for instance, needs to be a particular diameter and height in order to age properly.

We use dutch cadova molds, standard tome molds and truckle molds. We have molds for baby Gouda and are experimenting by using them for Gruyere, Havarti and Raclette. The jury is still out on whether this will work or not. They are really designed for “young” cheeses that are not aged for long periods of time. We’ll keep you updated on that experiment.

In general, the curd ‘pressing’ begins with lighter weight to settle those curds closer together, then flip the whole mass and use more weight to ‘close’ the cheese. The rind needs to be smooth so that no unwanted bacteria and molds get inside and there are no air spaces or gaps.

Pressing is repeated at intervals adding weight up to a point so that the air and whey are pushed out. Sometimes the ‘pressing’ takes several hours at room temperature and sometimes it lasts 24 hours: Cheddar can take 24 hours. It is all according to the recipe and the desired goal. Pictured above are small molds used to make Gouda. Again, we use molds of various sizes and proportions appropriate to the type of cheese being made.

pneumatic pressPictured here are larger ‘truckle’ molds used for cheddar (pronounced like buckle) in our fancy cheese press.  Cheddar requires a lot of weight; more weight than most any other cheese we make!  We now have a pneumatic press that can handle this. We ordered this from a supplier in Canada who imports them from the Netherlands. It took a long time to get this jewel (and lots of dollars) but it is so worth it.

We wanted to make a really great cheddar. Having this press was essential to reach that goal.

Salting Cheese

Cheese needs salt! Just the right amount makes all the difference. And there are several methods of getting that salt in there. Camembert has it sprinkled on each side. It’s not even mixed in at all but makes its way into the cheese just the same.

As shown above, Cheddar gets salt added amongst the milled curds.

Most of the cheeses we make float in a saturated brine for hours and hours as the method to get salt into the curds that have been pressed together. Gouda, Parmesan, Raclette, and Gruyere are soaked in that heavy brine solution. The time varies according to the size of the cheese. And Havarti gets salt added during the cooking process and is also brined afterwards.

After salt and pressing or pressing and salt, the wheels of cheese come out of the molds and are air dried. Then they receive various treatments designed to create a most awesome cheese.

Begin the Aging Process

Aging in the cheese cave is called affinage. After the cheese is allowed to dry at room temperature or inside the cheese cooler / cave, various methods of helping the cultures continued their magic are employed.  These include: a clear coating to keep out unwanted molds and such, cheese wax to maintain moisture, cheese cloth ‘bandaging’ with lard as a barrier.  Various techniques are used to develop a natural rind – so many that it’s creative indeed.

Each method provides a different and unique end result. There is a lot of time spent in the cheese cooler / cave as the cheese goes through various stages of aging. There is also turning and turning and more turning: That will be daily during the first week or so and then usually once per week after that.

Whew! Keeping up with which cheese needs what treatment, and when, is a brain strain and maybe a spreadsheet as well.

We have experimented with a ‘clothbound’ cheddar and its surface mold.

We also use cheese coating and / or cheese wax, depending on the cheese. Those lovely green ones are Gruyeres. The red ones are Goudas. There are a couple of yellow-waxed Parmesans and some have a clear coating.

Packaging and Labels

Cutting and sealing the aged cheese, adding labels and getting ready to ship or get picked up is another set of choices, supplies and skills.

Each cheese is labeled on the ‘make day’ with a lot number. We use this for tracking and inventory.

There are labels for each cheese identifying the type of cheese, the approximate weight and price. But first the cheese must be cut to size, placed in the package and vacuum sealed. This happens just prior to sale.

The baby wheels don’t need cutting per se: They are w hole little wheel at about one pound. Though we are making 1/2 and 1/4 pound ‘babies’ available and those need to be cut and packaged.

The real work with cutting and packaging comes with those 12 pound wheels.

Let me finish up here with some other miscellaneous tools we use from time to time. You wouldn’t need all of these for making cheese at home, but we have collected all sorts of equipment over the years.

I mentioned the stainless steel jacketed vat where we heat up the milk and some food grade plastic boards to help collect the curds, separating them from the whey.

These are essential to our operation but not for the home cheesemaker.

Then there was the curd knives, the curd mill, cheese molds and the cheese press. A lot of these were necessary for making cheddar. Other cheeses can be made with some simple long knives and standard cheese molds.

We also use weights for pressing that are the same as those found at any fitness center. You can see them in the picture above under the Cheese Molds and Cheese Presses heading. They are chrome plated and range from 2.5 lbs to 10 pounds each in weight.

There are several hand tools that may also be used such as other long knives, scoops, buckets, and colanders.

We even have a couple of paint strainers that we use to catch curd. We use pitchers and quart-sized glass measuring cups. And one day we are going to get that pH meter mastered.

You might have guessed by now that cleaning all those things is nearly a full time job. Making the cheese is only half the time involved. The rest is spent cleaning all that stuff and getting ready for the next cheesemaking.

Summary

So, this was a pictorial review of the cheesemaking processes and equipment.  There are so many variations and details not included.

We are and have been making these types of cheeses: Our Ararat Legend is made in the Gouda-style, Pinnacle is made similar to Gruyere or other Alpine cheeses you may had tried, Peaceful Heart Havarti is a favorite, Patrick Parma takes a long time to age but is worth the wait, Blue Ridge Raclette will be great for your family gatherings and Clau d’ville Cheddar speaks for itself.

We have gradually ramped up in skills, recipes, experience and equipment.  We still need to increase our work space.  That next project is pretty big with a combined building for milking cows, storing milk, cheese making plus aging and packaging stages.

Please note that we are offering cheese samples in recognition of donations made to building that creamery. Go here to make a donation and receive your cheese sample.  Thank you for your support.

Happy cheesemaking and eating!

Posted on

Making Cheddar Cheese

Making Cheddar Cheese

making cheddar cheeseMaking cheddar cheese on Monday was a special event for us. I was ecstatic and enthusiastic throughout the all-day process. It has been along time since we have made this cheese. It requires an immense amount of pressure to form the curds into a wheel. We ordered a custom-made press to accomplish this task. Let me fill you in on how we got to this point so you can understand my high level of excitement of this pretty normal occurrence in a cheese-making facility.

I had made some really small cheddar cheeses in the past. I knew it required a lot of weight. But that all became very small potatoes the first time we tried to make a cheddar cheese with 25 gallons of milk. There was simply no way that we could apply enough pressure to get this cheese to come together. We couldn’t get the excess whey out of the curd and we couldn’t get the curds to form a truly solid mass. It was a complete and utter failure. It was about 25 pounds of cheese that ended up in the compost pile. You don’t want to repeat that mistake ever. It can be financially devastating. That, in addition to the sense of failure in not making an edible cheese. But we did not give up on our goal of making a really fantastic cheddar cheese for you.

pneumatic pressWe did lots of research and decided to invest in a pneumatic press and air compressor. Like all pieces of equipment for an operation as small as ours, this equipment is not readily available. In fact, we ordered it from a company in Canada who then had it custom-built in the Netherlands. This process was about 6 months from start to finish and receiving the completed press.

There were times when I was wondering if it was ever really going to happen. I didn’t want to give up my dream of making a really great cheddar cheese. Thankfully, our persistence was rewarded with a really great piece of equipment.

We Need Lots of Milk

Our next challenge was getting enough milk to make a large enough batch to test the special cheddar cheese molds (called truckles) that we had purchased to handle the task. These little gems will simply not work without sufficient curd volume. They are designed to press 25 pounds of curd — give or take a few pounds. Well, 25 pounds of curd requires approximately 25 gallons of milk. We are not getting anywhere near that amount yet. See this previous post for details on our make-shift milking operation.

I saved up 15.5 gallons of milk and we went with that. We knew it was not the recommended amount. Being adventurous souls we decided to give it a go anyway. It was not clear how little was too little to get the truckles to work. (Fifteen gallons was not enough 😀 ) It was a beautiful thing.

It is important to love making cheese in order to be successful in this business. Thankfully, both Scott and I are enthusiastic cheese makers. We finally got going around 2:00 pm. Making cheddar cheese takes the longest of any cheese. We got the curds in the brand spanking new pneumatic cheese press for the overnight pressing at 10:00 pm. Yes, it was a long day, but so worth it. The cheese press works fabulously.

There were issues, however. We still don’t know what the minimum amount of curd is for using the truckle. We do know that 15 pounds is not enough. As usual, we shot from the hip. We took out the stainless steel portion and just went with the molded plastic parts with a follower from another cheese mold. It was so close to being the exact size needed that it sparked ideas for how to deal with smaller amounts of curd in the future. But I want to get back to the truckle and how we got it to work — somewhat. We set this up in the fabulous new press and it looked like it was going to work.

The next morning the less than stellar performance of our altered mold was evident. The curd mass had pushed out beneath the bottom plate and the whole cheese was tilted at an angle. Not good. Being farmers with dedication to success, we pressed on (pun intended). I flipped the cheese over and moved the curd around to get it a little more level. This is simply not done but that didn’t stop me from doing it. We set it up again and started the pressing process.

The next morning, same thing. Curd pressed out beneath the mold only not so much this time. The curd mass was much firmer and it held together much better. I pressed on again. I flipped it and started the press again. Checked it a half hour later and could see that the same issue was going to reoccur yet again. At this point I made a small adjustment so that the press plate would sit directly on top of the mold.

The Cheese is Complete

We are taking this lovely cheddar cheese out of the press in a short while. I am resolved that this will be the final product on this trial no matter the outcome. It will make a decent cheese I think. And we have learned so much. I loved every minute. Well most of them.

Now I’m excited to make the next one. Even when we reach full production it will be important to be flexible in making small wheels or large wheels of cheese. We need consistency in the final product. This time we are going to try the smaller molds and see if we can make that work. It increases our ability to sculpt our creations as the amount of milk ebbs and flows throughout the milking season.

Long days and pleasant nights and may peace be with you always.

 

 

 


 

 

Posted on

Adventures in Milking or A Day in The Life

Adventures in Milking

adventures in milkingI’ll start by filling you in on our adventures in milking. We are only milking 2 cows at the moment. It is quite a challenge but we are tough farmers and up to the task.

One of a total of 6 cows did not conceive. Three others birthed calves with no issues. The two we are milking lost their calves. This spring has been a very trying experience for us. We have never lost any calves from seasoned mothers. But nature is in charge and lets us know it at her leisure.

One lost calf was huge. We had to call the vet for that one. It was quite the ordeal and fortunately turned out well for the mother cow. The calf was simply too big to be born. The other cow we are milking had a stillborn calf. It happens sometimes. While understanding nature is what it is, losing animals remains a somber event.

Milking

adventures in milkingIt has been a long, drawn-out process to get to the point where we are able to actually milk these two cows with relative ease. We have built the herd over the past 5 years but still don’t have the milking barn and creamery completed. So as all farmers do, we shoot from the hip and make it happen with what we have.

There is a temporary “barn” where we can work out of the rain. We milked by hand for several weeks while we got them used to the milking area and the process. In other words, we had to spend quite a bit of time training them. There are still a few issues but I consider these quite minor compared to the first day we milked.

Eventually, more than a month later that seemed like a year to my hands, we were able to start milking using a portable milker. This is a small vacuum pump with appropriate hoses that we can wheel around. It makes a mechanical noise, so we ran it while milking by hand so they could get used to the sound. Like I said, it was a long and drawn-out process. It was very hard on my hands. They are still healing but will be fine.

In the beginning we started at 9:00 a.m. and were finished with all milk-related tasks at 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon. Those were very long days. To be sure, there were contributing circumstances. We rotate our livestock through 14 paddocks. In the beginning the cows were at the farthest reaches of our property. That added a very long time to the routine for walking back-n-forth. I was walking a half mile each morning. It was uphill both ways. Just kidding but not really. It was uphill — but also down hill. . . . and then up hill and down again . . . and again. My health has improved dramatically.

I set a goal to be done with “chores” before noon. We reached that goal and now we start at 8:00 and I am back inside pouring up milk and washing up the containers by 9:00. It is still much slower than we would like but I’m pleased with our progress. We have come so far. Again, pasture rotation is contributing to that success. They are currently keeping these two cows in the paddocks closest to where we milk.

Soon we will start doing this twice a day. We will continue that routine through October or November.

Scott and I are quite a team. Just ask dad.

A Day In The Life

Thankfully, things have finally calmed down somewhat over the past couple of weeks. I get a lot more done each day than just surviving milking. Tasks I have completed today include:

  • Bottle feeding Punky, the orphan lamb (The other two needing special attention from last blog are out in the field and doing excellent.)
  • Milking cows — pouring up milk, cleaning all the equipmentfarm animals 1
  • Clean all cabinet faces and bleach all counter tops
  • Empty dishwasher, refill with breakfast dishes (Scott cooked this morning.)
  • Prep beef brisket to be cooked for dinner
  • Make ice cream
  • Set up waxing operation for cheese
  • Turn all cheeses in aging frigs
  • Quick check of garden and pull a few pieces of grass (It looks great: More on this later.)
  • Check email and note 19 reminders for tasks to be completed (I’m a little behind schedule.)
  • Catch up on news reports online (I check Drudge Report daily for headlines.)
  • Get started on Farm Blog post (to be completed soon.)

 

Ararat Legend BabyIt’s about 1:00 p.m.. Now on to the 2nd half of my day. Complete this post. Record and publish a Village Wisdom Podcast episode. Somewhere in there I’ll get that brisket in the oven and wax a few cheeses.

That’s only half of what is going on today. Scott is out there somewhere sweating and working and working at a dozen other tasks. (He’ll edit this post and perhaps add his own list.)

 

Okay, then from Scott

My tasks aftering milking:

  • Used the “clean-in-place” method of a triple wash to clean and sanitize the bucket milker machine including all of its hoses
  • Cleaned and washed down the milking barn floor
  • Got the cows back in the paddock while keeping the goats out of the milking barn.  And of course, it is very muddy from all the recent rain.
  • Made breakfast or brunch for us
  • Checked the weather forecast, email and facebook
  • Got back to burying the “barn” electrical supply line.
    A few weeks ago I had quickly snaked this required line across drives and through the woods to the barn to be able to use the milking machine or anything other electrical need. The milking machine saved our hands and has saved some time, but I had left that electric line on top of the ground where possible. Exceptions were driveways: The heavy electric wire is inside a PVC pipe as it goes under the driveway. Due to the farm layout, the line crosses the driveway four times over the nearly 400′ length.
    The wire on top of the ground went through the woods. It needed to be buried a couple inches at least.  Wow, there are so many roots and rocks in the top couple of inches!  I do not want to trip over it, snag it with the tractor or break it since it was not cheap.  I did not get the entire woods areas under the dirt and roots but did get a nice bit done.
  • Moved on to chopping down the tall grasses, small bushes and trees that were in the path to the “barn.”
  • Although the creamery building site had about 45 trees removed in a basic large way (think bulldozer), there were still lots of limbs, brush and roots to remove before work on the creamery could begin.
  • Used those all those trees to add into the bottom of the raised garden beds. See this post on hugelcultur
  • Gathered up and reorganized both small and large outside hand tools, gloves and work buckets to reduce clutter and rust.  
  • Reassembled the pond overflow drain pipe, 40′ and fittings which I had borrowed to drain the cheese making water and whey. Last week I had installed the floor sink to handle this cheese make drain water in a better way.
  • Finally, it was time to catch up with refilling the farm fuel supply.

 

That’s how our day went. How about you? Long days and pleasant nights.


Posted on

Farm Animals Update

Farm Animals Update

We are responsible for quite a few farm animals – cows, sheep, goats and donkeys. Sometimes they require lots of extra assistance and attention especially around birthing time. We provide protection and care to the best of our ability. Sometimes farm life is stressful.

farm animals 1Punky, the orphaned bottle lamb, is slowly getting stronger and stronger. I did break down yesterday and bring her inside right before a really, really bad storm. I know, I know, she has to eventually learn to be out in the weather, but I just wanted to make sure she stayed strong. We had a good time holding her while watching a movie during the downpour. After the movie, she returned to the outdoor world for the night. She still follows me around right at my heels as if I was her mom when we go for walks. But she is getting better at being a sheep and hanging with the flock.

Punky has come a long, long way. We thought we would lose her when she was only a few days old. Now she is nearly a month old and still hanging in there. Sometimes it takes a lot of extra effort to make sure they are healthy. But it is worth it in the long run. It is always hard to lose even one. And we lost Punky’s two siblings as well as another complete set of triplets. We are happy to have intervened in her time line and have succeeded.

farm animalsThen there was this little guy, a goat kid. They only weigh about 4 pounds at birth. At two days old he got really weak, too weak to hold up his head. We brought him inside for a bit to warm him up. Soon we gathered up his Mom as we realized he would need help for days.  She is better at feeding him than we are.

Scott’s dad (named Jack) wanted to call him ‘Jack’ but we decided that would be too confusing. Scott decided on ‘Billy Jack’ since it is a ‘billy goat’. Dad got to hold him while visiting and gave him lots of love; you can see a picture of this on the farm’s Facebook page. At night he stayed with his mom right outside the front door in a covered pen.  That went on for about a week as we treated him. It was a challenge, but we knew he would do better with his Mom close by.

We dosed him with some of my herbal concoctions. We also supplemented his diet with selenium-laced goat feed. He is now bounding around in the field with the whole goat herd good as new and growing fast.

farm animalsAnother lamb, Cupcake, went sort of lame a day or so after we picked up Billy Jack. He didn’t seem to be too bad off so we left him in the field with his Mom. We dosed him with some garlic just to be sure and kept a close watch on him. The biggest problem for him was to keep up with his mom with a painful back leg. That’s important – keeping up with your Mom. They need lots of nourishment in their early days. They are born with seemingly just some skin over some bones. It is important for them to put on weight very quickly and stay warm.

He’s still out in the field with Mom and she is very attentive. And while he is still a little slow, he seems to be keeping up with her and the rest of the flock. His limp has greatly improved. He will do well, I think.

Now we are very closely watching Claire, our matriarch milk cow. We milk her and her sister every day.  Claire appears to have mildly injured her left ankle or foot, probably slipped in the mud. Sighhhh. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Yet Claire’s limping walk is improving. Taking care of our farm animals is rewarding even if busy and worrisome at times like these.

Well, that’s it for now. Gotta go give Punky another bottle of milk.  She is staying with two ‘big girls’ to reintegrate into her sheep’s life.

 

 

 


Posted on

Welcome to Farm Life Blog

Farm Life Blog

The purpose of this blog going forward is to keep you updated on our progress with the farm and creamery. We want you to get to know us and we look forward to hearing from you in the comments section so that we may get to know you as well.

We hope to entertain you with anecdotes about the daily farm life. Somewhere along the way we will include educational topics on farming, cheese and life in general.

Today’s post is an anecdote about life on the farm — and life in general. There are lots of details to fill in, but the gist of the story is that I fell in the mud this morning and bruised my knee. Thank goodness nothing was broken or damaged too badly. Here are some details.

flooded pond - farm life blog
Front pond is flooded

For the past month we have had rain and rain and more rain. Rain is good for farmers but it makes a lot of mud when you have large animals churning it up all the time. We have 6 milk cows and 4 steers in our herd as of this writing. That’s a lot of hooves making pudding-like mud out of the dirt areas.

Coincidentally, last week I did my regularly scheduled Village Wisdom Podcast (you can find it here). I just happened to use an analogy that involved slipping and falling in the mud during the podcast. That day, and for many days after, I was always extremely careful where and how I placed my feet. I didn’t want it to be a self-fulfilling analogy.

The day before yesterday we separated the two cows that we are milking from the rest of the herd. We did this to try and minimize the mud that is getting deeper and deeper due to the heavy rains combined with the heavy animals. Thankfully, now there are only two animals slogging through the mud with us on a daily basis.

hand milking
Hand Milking

Another advantage of this arrangement was that we could keep them close to the barn, which is really only a make-shift shed to keep off the rain. We didn’t have to walk nearly as far. Some of our pastures are perhaps a quarter mile or more distant from the corral area where the “barn” currently exists.

Anyway, it was a new system and the cows were hesitant and slightly uncooperative during the previous day’s milking due to being separated from the rest of the herd. We managed, but there were delays while we waited for them to become accustomed to the new arrangement. Today, they were still having issues. Buttercup was particularly flighty and Claire was just belligerent.

As I entered the area to help Scott get them moving in the proper direction, I was very focused on how I was going to get Buttercup to cross the road. She had stopped running around and was just not moving at all. There is a trick to getting a cow to move when they normally are being stubborn and refuse to budge. You simply walk by them in the opposite direction to the desired move. They will compulsively move away from you and, if you set it up correctly, in the direction you desire and parallel to your motion. It’s sort of like two ships passing in the night.

So as I entered the pasture from the driveway, I was very focused, very focused indeed. Just not focused on where my body was in relation to the mud. I was focused 85 feet ahead of my feet. I could clearly see myself walking briskly past her. I could clearly see her move in the direction from which I had just embarked moving just as briskly. And then reality set in.

I planted my left foot into the pasture and it promptly slid another 8″ throwing me off balance in an instant. Then, as luck would have it, my right foot caught on a tree limb. We had put it there for some reason I can’t remember right now. I went sprawling. Down I went into the mud. But the worst part wasn’t getting myself wet and soggy with mud. It was hitting my knee somewhere along the way. I screamed very, very loudly.

Then I kept on screaming loudly because it hurt like the dickens. I just laid there clutching my knee and yelling as I waited for the pain to subside. I can’t remember exactly what I was yelling. Maybe Scott remembers. He was running over to assist. Claire calmly walked over with natural cow curiosity to investigate the scene then promptly went right into the barn area. Buttercup, on the other hand, was quite startled and suspicious, frozen in place; she kept her distance. I don’t think she liked all that noise and unusual commotion.

Long story short, after a few minutes the pain eased off and I was able to get up with Scott’s assistance. My right hip and side were covered with mud. Good thing the phone was in the other hip pocket else it could have been muddied and smashed beyond use. I could walk with a slight limp and powered on with milking.

Claire had plodded on into her stanchion while I was still down so I hurried (carefully) to lock her in place before she finished eating her treat.  Her curiosity could draw her back to the scene of the incident. Buttercup arrived shortly thereafter with Scott just behind.  She looked only a little unsettled from the scare.

portable milker
Portable Milker

We finished up milking and all the while I was steadily getting better. The pain eased off and I could walk easier. I carried the milk to the house with only a slight limp. At the kitchen sink, before pouring up the milk, I loaded up with Ibuprofen and Tylenol. Scott continued his part of the morning chores which includes cleaning up the milking equipment and checking on the rest of the animals. He then gave me a physical exam and proclaimed me only bruised and scraped. We’ll see how it goes in the morning.

All’s well that ends well but it was a scary moment. Initially, the pain was excruciating. I could tell I hadn’t broken any bones but was concerned about ligaments and tendons and such. Those take forever to heal. And as we age, that time span can be longer and longer with the very real possibility of never regaining full function. Keeping our health is an important blessing that cannot be taken too much for granted.

Today I was blessed.

I hope you enjoyed that little story. I look forward to writing more of our adventures in the coming days, weeks, months and years as we build our farmstead business.

Long days and pleasant nights and may peace be with you always.