Cant do dinner tonite. Cheese poisoning.
That’s all Natasha’s text said, but I completely understood. Thank god, I thought, as I lay back down on the couch and unbuttoned my jeans. I wasn’t familiar with the symptoms of a calcium overdose, but I imagined my bones beginning to petrify into an adamantium-like super skeleton.
It all began with our discussions earlier this year about abandoning city life. First, Nat, Dee-Dee and I started a secret blog in which to document our progress at acquiring all the skills necessary to run a successful farm. We would need to learn to sow and reap, cook and compost, birth and slaughter.
Then, while flipping through an issue of Chicago Magazine, I read an article about a farm in northern Illinois that teaches cheese-making classes. It was clearly a sign from the agricultural gods, so I signed all three of us up for the next available class.
As we drove down the winding gravel road to the farm, we made a few requisite Children of the Corn jokes about how we have your woman, outlanders.
he wants you too, malachai
We hoped we’d get to see a lot of goats soon. We did.
The class was small – only six people – and we were informed that we would get to make six different cheeses that morning. I tried to play it cool as I squeezed Dee-Dee’s arm and shout-whispered, “OHMIGOD WE’RE GOING TO MAKE SIX DIFFERENT CHEESES TODAY! THIS IS THE GREATEST DAY OF MY LIFE! I WONDER WHAT KIND WE’LL GET TO MAKE!”
I didn’t have to wonder for long.
secret recipes
We each got to make one of the cheeses, and the instructor stopped us at certain points along the way and brought us all around one particular cheese to demonstrate a key step in the process.
Dee-Dee chose mozzarella. Here we all are watching Dee slice into the solidified curds. This is what learning looks like.
This is someone we don’t know making ricotta. She was nice, and put butter and rosemary in the cheese before we ate it.
This is me making feta.
This is what feta would look like if it were made by the residents of a 19th century insane asylum. I need to work on my cheese cloth skills.
Feta. No, really!
While we were waiting for some of the cheeses to drain, we went out to the barn to meet some goats. We learned that certain goats kind of look like greyhounds.
Then we met Cocoa. Cocoa is a big fat goat. She gets to sit around eating goat food while she waits to get milked. BY US!
Our instructor said that they can usually fill a pail of milk in about 3-4 minutes. It took six of us about 20 minutes to get three tablespoons of milk. Did you know that there’s no pulling involved in milking a goat? It’s just squeezing. In the cartoons, it always looks like pulling.
I don’t have a picture of this, but one of the women in the class told a story about how her young daughter accidentally milked a horse once. With her mouth. I just shivered again as I wrote that.
Here’s something I learned about cows. I thought only male cows had horns. WRONG! This is a female cow, and she has horns. She’s shy.
At the end of class, we filled our containers with samples of all the cheeses we had made, bought some local honey and goat milk soap as souvenirs, and said goodbye to Cocoa as we left.
It’s a small step toward our goal of living off the land, but an important one. And I’ve already signed us up for our next class: beekeeping. This could get dangerous…

16 Responses to “Fromagerie”

  1. vahid Says:

    Thanks for clearing up the “squeezing vs pulling” thing. So many people get that wrong.
    Is this farm going to be different from your Jentown project from last year? Do I have to start learning a whole new skill set if I’m going to sign up for membership?

  2. Dave2 Says:

    So how was the Feta? One of the bestest cheeses ever!

  3. Avitable Says:

    I hate when people try to milk me by pulling.

  4. You can call me, 'Sir' Says:

    I was going to make a naughty comment about you milking something, but the horse thing sent me spinning off into oblivion.

  5. jenny Says:

    vahid: oh yeah, this will tie into the overall Jenstown plan. and your services are most definitely needed. bard, blacksmith, town crier, town drunkard… the job opportunities are endless!
    dave2: i think the feta needed to age a bit to get really tasty, but the consistency seemed about right. i need to experiment a bit more before it’s ready for prime time.
    avitable: silly, you’re a boy animal. you can’t milk a boy animal.
    sir: seriously – isn’t that the creepiest image anyone has ever put into your head? you’re welcome!

  6. kat Says:

    oh man, can you BE any more awesome?

  7. Finn Says:

    So what you’re saying is that I might, in fact, be bisexual? In addition to the trans-species thing of course.
    My mom’s cousin had a dairy farm and I didn’t know that girl cows could have horns.
    How was the cheese?

  8. Tracy Lynn Says:

    I’m pretty sure that, despite my deep love of cheese, I don’t want to get up close and personal with it’s origins. Thanks for doing that so I don’t have to!

  9. sizzle Says:

    You milked a goat! That is SO COOL.

  10. Dave Says:

    You are well on your way to mastering the skills of farm life. Better start stocking up on duct tape and bailing wire.
    I wanna come to the farm too! can I can I can I?

  11. claire Says:

    I had some cheesecloth issues too when I was made lebni/kefir cheese once. More layers of it next time. Still, it was sort of an idiotic revelation: cheese + cloth = cheesecloth, a thing you use to make cheese.
    re: pygmy goat apt. pets, maybe. Better if you have a yard, I’m sure though. And they seem to like company, so I’d get 2.

  12. churlita Says:

    Very cool. I’ve never made cheese before or milked a goat before either.
    I’ve always thought that bee keeping would be cool too. Here I go, living vicariously through you.

  13. jenny Says:

    kat: i’m not sure cocoa the goat thought i was so awesome, but you’re very kind!
    finn: well, i’m not entirely sure where you fall on the kinsey scale, but i am impressed by your openness to dating other species. and i’ve never met a cheese i didn’t like, so i was in heaven!
    tracy lynn: i’m pretty cool with finding out where cheese comes from, but hamburgers? i’ll remain in my blissful state of ignorance…
    sizzle: i have to admit, i was pretty thrilled!
    dave: of course! we still need to fill the roles of hay baler, sheep herder and cattle wrangler.
    claire: you know, the whole cheesecloth connection didn’t occur to me either until i tried making paneer at home. and i can’t wait to see what my landlord thinks about me having two pygmy goats and a fiberglass mountain installed in my apartment.
    churlita: yeah, but you go to way more fun dance parties than i do. and you should totally try making cheese – it’s so easy!

  14. shari Says:

    My aunt and uncle raise goats now, and have their own little boutique business selling organic goat milk, cheeses, soaps, etc. It all started when one of my cousins joined 4H and got a goat about 20 years ago.
    Which is merely to say, be careful. You never know what a goat will lead to.

  15. MOM Says:

    I am making lasagna for Christmas…Can I order 2 pounds of ricotta ? Pleeeeze?
    P.S. You are still invited for dinner even if I have to buy the cheese at that local Italian deli. ;)

  16. tori Says:

    We had some of my homemade cheddar for Thanksgiving. I think tomorrow I’ll write about it and post a picture because I am certainly too lazy to write a post today. In case you ever decide to venture into making hard cheeses, you should know that I have a cheese press that you could borrow.

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