"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Day in Cheese Season (Okay, Half a Day)

A day during cheese season actually begins in the evening, when I make the decision whether or not to separate the baby goats from their mothers for the night so I can have milk in the morning. Checking the fridge last night, I saw that I had three quarters of a gallon of milk in the fridge, which would be enough to try making yogurt, but not really enough for cheese. Since I have some store-bought yogurt in the fridge, but no cheese, I decided to milk in the morning.

Right now I have two milkers, Flopsy and Polly. Each of them have a single buckling on them. They each threw twins, but Polly's doeling died, and I sold one of Flopsy's bucklings. Every evening, I have to go outside and catch the little buggers. Until recently, I was closing them in the mama barn during the night, but this had a few drawbacks. When Iris kidded, she needed the mama barn for a few days. I probably could have left the bucklings in there with her and the newborns - what harm could they do? However, there is another reason I wanted to find a different place to put them.

When I go out in the morning, I have a logistics problem to deal with. I have to get two babies OUT of the mama barn, and two mamas IN (one at a time, of course), because that is where the milking stanchion is. Once the babies are released, they will instantly run over and latch onto their mama's teat, and I will lose the milk. So I need to get them from  the barn into some other secure location. This other location used to be the adjoining small pasture, and the routine went like this:

- Open the mama barn door, keeping my body between the opening and the does, who instantly try to crowd inside, because they know that's where the food is.
- As the babies come hurtling by me, trying to get outside to their mamas, grab one.
- Shut the mama barn door before the other baby gets out.
- Carry a struggling, yelling baby goat fifty feet across the barnyard to the fence, and throw him over the top into the adjoining pasture.
- Repeat.

But bucklings grow quickly, especially when they are singles and are guzzling down a gallon or so of milk a day. Blizzard, the oldest, weighs about thirty pounds already, and chucking him over a four foot fence isn't easy. Also it is not uncommon that I get mildly injured somehow during the crush at the mama barn door - I've slammed my hand in the door; the mama goats stand up on me and knock me down; the baby goats struggle in my grasp and scratch me with their surprisingly sharp hooves.

the bucklings, Blizzard and Comet
Homero came up with the idea of putting them in the other pasture, with Rosie, at night. I don't know why it hadn't occurred to me. Maybe because until just a few months ago, that fence wasn't secure enough for goats. I fixed the low spots with cattle panels, and now the little guys can't get out. Suddenly milking is easy; I put the babies in with Rosie at night and don't have to think about them again until after I have milked both mamas.

Milking the mamas is another job. Polly, though a good milker with delicious sweet milk, has never learned to jump up on the stanchion. She will poke her head through the bars for food, and I can close the stanchion and trap her, but then I have to lift her hind end bodily onto the stanchion, which is annoying and difficult. Why she won't jump up I don't know; all the other goats do. Then she tries to squeeze her hind legs together and deny me access to her udder. Polly is giving about a quart and a half every morning.

Flopsy has a diminished milk supply on one side due to mastitis a few years ago, but even so she gives almost as much milk as Polly. She is much easier to milk, but all goats that I have ever known will start kicking as soon as they run out of food in the stanchion tray. I must always have a container of grain by my side, and as I milk, I toss scant handfuls into the tray. The idea is to extract maximum milk for minimum grain. Because there have been does in the mama barn recently for kidding, we have had to put the grain up on the highest shelf, and getting a container of it down isn't easy for me. I have to climb up on the stanchion myself, reach up over my head and pull a tote with fifty pounds of grain inside towards me, and try to scoop out a couple pounds without toppling it over on myself or falling off the stanchion. Maybe (and here's an idea that just occurred to me) a stepladder wouldn't be a bad idea.

Bibi with Iris' doling

7:45 Alarm goes off. Get up, wake up kids, pull on a sweater, grab two half gallon mason jars, and head out to the barn. Run through rigamarole described above, plus morning feed and watering.

8:15 Come back inside, curse at realizing I forgot to put on water for coffee. Put on water for coffee.
Realize it's okay there's no water hot because I have to use the Melitta filter to filter the milk anyway. Make a mental note to buy a second Melitta filter so I can make coffee and strain milk at the same time.

8:30. Yell at kids, try to think of something to feed them that I can make and they can eat in less than twelve minutes. Usually this means a banana smoothie and some bread. This morning, I have leftover beef vegetable soup from last night.

8:45. Kids out the door to the school bus. Milk filtered and put away in the fridge, coffee made. Homero and I have a few minutes to drink it and read the morning news.

9:00. Look around the kitchen and realize I have a solid hour of cleaning to do before I can begin the cheese making process, which requires a fairly spotless kitchen environment. Sigh heavily.

9:20. Make a deal with Homero that if he will clean our room, I will make him anything he wants for dinner. He chooses chiles rellenos, which means in exchange for his half an hour cleaning, I have to go shopping, and then spend about three hours cooking, and the children will all complain because they hate chiles rellenos. Oh well; I made this deal.

10:00 Dishes washed and sink scrubbed; put milk to heat on stove. Remember to check recipe for cheddar in cheese making book. Search for cheese making book. Find book under a pile of homework that probably should have been brought to school to turn in. Also find an overdue library book. Check recipe; proceed.

10:30 Check laundry on the line in the playroom to see if it is dry; it is raining hard outside and there's no drying laundry on the outside line. Also no drying laundry in the dryer, which continues, annoyingly, to be broken. It's not dry.

11:00 Add rennet to warm milk. Tell husband proto-cheese needs to sit for an hour and I will go to the store to shop for ingredients for chiles rellenos. He says he's going out to the shop to work. Not cleaning our room? No, he says, he'll do that later. If you think you are getting any chiles rellenos before that room is clean, you've got another think coming, say. Have small spat. Get in the van, notice there's no gas. Go back inside to get money for gas. Kiss and make up.

12:00 Come home with ingredients. Realize I forgot to buy Melitta coffee filter. Roast chiles under the broiler and cut the curds in the cheese. Next twenty minutes: go back and forth between stove top and oven, turning chiles, and stirring curds. Burn fingers. Drain curds.

12:20 Remove chiles to cool. Peel chiles. Salt the drained curds and mix well, then wrap and put into cheese press. Stare lovingly at beautiful cheese press made for me by my husband for mother's day a few years ago. Feel bad that I snapped at sweet husband who made me excellent cheese press. Wallow in guilt for two minutes.

the beautiful cheese press
12:45 Realize I am starving. Eat cold beef vegetable soup off kitchen table, where the kids left it four hours ago.

1:00 Check recipe again. Per instructions, unwrap cheese, salt, turn upside down, wrap again and put back in the press.

1:10 Facebook.

1:30 Turn cheese one more time; crank up pressure on cheese press. Think about writing this blog post. Think about taking a hot bath. Vacillate. Feel vaguely guilty about not writing much lately; wonder who the hell cares if I write or not? Feel vaguely sorry for myself. Decide to write.

1:50 Finish blog post. Take a hot bath.

queso fresco with chives


Anubis Bard said...

. . . mmmmm chiles rellenos . . .

Laura said...

I know it's not the point of your blog, but I would love some of your recipes for authentic Mexican food. I grew up on the SoCal border and now live in Oregon. It's not easy to find "real" Mexican food - there are good restaurants (one actually in our town has lengua - yum), and it's my version of comfort food.

I also love your cheese press - very jealous, since I have no husband to make one!

Aimee said...

Laura, actually I do have a fair number of recipes on the blog. On the side bar, to the right, there is a section with a list of tags- one of them is "recipes." I think there is also "Mexican food." The recipe for chiles rellenos is here, and one for posible, and Homero's favorite torta, and real honest to god tamales. I'm by no means an expert on Mexican food, but I have developed a pretty good repertoire.

Cameron VSJ said...

Hi Aimee! I just got done checking out your blog and had a quick question. I was hoping you could email me when you get the chance. Thanks! - Cam