On The Farm
In this blog series intern Briana finds artisan cheesemakers from six regions around the country that represent our cheese nation. Venture along the ride as she goes coast to coast, discovering what makes the U.S. home to great artisan cheese. Read on and find out how you can win a subscription!
Welcome to the wild, wild west
Although the gold may be long gone, treasures of the West can still be found anywhere you look. From Seattle to San Diego, we have the West Coast to thank for a lot of our food trends (can you say organic?) There's an insurgence of high-quality products, particularly in Northern California, where the chilly temperatures give way to a bounty of good food. This includes a recent boom in wonderful locally made cheese.
When Rose and I first spoke about their cheesemaking plans, she explained that one of the big obstacles was that they had not yet found an appropriate place on the estate to build the dairy. A couple of places had been proposed. She had her favourite. Neither one was without its problems.
One of them, Manor Farm, was close to Rose’s house and the main road through Nettlebed, with a lovely view over the hills looking to the south west, but, unfortunately, also with a tenant who was not far into his new lease. It was pretty unlikely that he might be prepared to give up one of his barns just because we quite wanted to turn it into a dairy.
Well first off, apologies for a long absence. It’s not that I’ve been doing nothing worth writing about, it’s pure laziness. However to remedy this, it’s time to put pen to paper or rather fingers to keyboard and talk about something I’ve been superstitiously not blogging in case of jinxing the operation…. Nettlebed Creamery.
So what has changed? Well, it’s fast becoming the worst kept secret in my life anyway as I talk about it to everyone I meet and progress is being made, so it’s time to set it out on the world wide web for all to see.
What is Nettlebed Creamery I hear you cry? Well, are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
The miracle of spring is here in May. The farm had a bleak and wintry look through to the end of April, every bit of our 52 degrees north of latitude – we are as far north as Newfoundland. Buds burst into a blasting cold gale, the grass shrivelled into purple bonsai, all the right shape but dwarfed. The wildlife had a hunted, hungry look. I saw a treecreeper, the shyest of birds, come towards our bird feeders, where normally only the bolder birds come. Now, with sun and balmy warmth, birds are singing loud all day, bumble bees are starting their busy summer. I had no idea how much those simple sounds lift my heart. Oddly enough, the house martins arrived 11 days earlier this year than last year – perhaps they know something we don’t.
The end of our long winter? The bitter sting in the winter’s tail last month makes the sweet weather of April all the more gorgeous. The late spring has the plants seem prescient – primroses, bluebells, blackthorn seemed to hold back their flowering, waiting till after the frost, only to come with a rush when the weather finally warms up. The leaves unfurl, the hedges bloom, the grass speeds up its growth, young rabbits appear, birds take on the busy air of those with many chicks to feed.
We’ve been hearing in the news about how many deer other people have, how much damage they are doing to fields and delicate habitats. I’m glad to hear it’s not just us. I love to see the deer, and you can have too much of a good thing.
Yes the creamery is almost done for real, no April Fool's joke! It’s been quite a while since I last posted about our creamery project. Valentine's Day has come and gone, the annual California Artisan Cheese Festival is behind us, and I survived another birthday last week. In between all of that, we’ve been busy trying to wrap up this creamery project once and for all so we can focus on making cheese! I know the creamery will never really be DONE done, I’m not completely delusional. There will always be something - some new or unanticipated problem or need, always requiring more time, more energy, and more money, all of which are running pretty low for us right now. It’s been 75 days since getting our building permit, and so much has happened, I don’t know where to start. I have both good news and bad news. Which do you want first? Let’s start with the good.
Recently, Elaine and I took a trip to Rapidan in Virginia to visit Dr Pat Elliott at Everona Dairy, where she has been producing both raw and pasteurized sheep's milk cheeses for the last fourteen years.
Dr Elliott is now in her eighties and in addition to making some award winning cheeses, is still a practicing MD at her doctor's office adjacent to the farmhouse. Her adventures in the dairy world started after first buying a small number of sheep to keep her Border Collie occupied. Then, while researching ways for the sheep to earn their keep, she tried her hand at milking them with a view to making cheese on a commercial scale. In the late 1990's, after taking a cheesemaking course and traveling overseas to learn more about cheesemaking, Dr Elliott began cheese production in earnest at Everona.
While Seana and Dave’s main focus right now is the creamery, my main focus is growing my dairy flock and buying milking equipment. Ultimately I want to have a couple hundred ewes, so I’m going to buy 50 more ewe lambs this May. I also need to buy stanchions, milk buckets and maybe an industrial refrigerator…but more on that later. It’s hard to find quality dairy ewes and I’ve found it especially difficult since I’m trying to keep my flock CL-free. While not life threatening, CL causes large, bulging abscesses that show up continuously throughout the animals’ life. It’s impossible to get rid of once the bacteria are introduced to your farm. Dairy sheep aren’t common in our country and come from a small pool of genetics, which means CL runs pretty rampant in the U.S.
February has a reputation for being wet and gloomy. I long for it not be that way, and grasp at the lighter mornings and evenings. The sun does more than scrape itself off the horizon. The morning chorus of songbirds kicked off earlier in the season than I remember. I know it’s birds defending territory, but it is a gorgeous start to the day as first one bird, then others join in till you get a swelling joyful sound.
It’s been 20 days since we finally got the building permit, and there hasn’t been an idle day since. After all those months of waiting and trying to navigate through red tape and overcome bureaucracy, it’s actually happening. The creamery is really coming to life. The action has been fast and furious as we rush to bring the creamery into a functional state. We are pretty much working at a pace that pushes the limits of our budget, and especially our physical and mental stamina. Our muscles & joints have ached in new and interesting places, and we’ve only sustained minor cuts and bruises. It’s amazing though how the body can be so dead-tired, but the mind keeps racing. Well, mine does anyway. To paraphrase the lyrics of “Gin & Juice,” one of the greatest rap songs of all time: I’ve got my mind on my cheese and my cheese on my mind. Here is a recap of the big accomplishments of the past 20 days…