Thursday, April 30, 2009
We're also moving sheep almost daily. They do better on fresh feed, so we try to set up our paddocks with enough feed for 1-2 days. This means the sheep are always eating!
Finally, we're focused on processing firewood. We're cutting oak at the Hunt Ranch in Lincoln - they lost many trees in last summer's Gladding Fire. We're also continuing to cut Douglas fir and oak in Colfax at Edwards Family Farm.
I like the variety that farming provides - always something new. Each season brings new tasks and new challenges, but rarely boredom!
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
I love sheep’s milk and all of its unique qualities, and have been experimenting with the milk, making cheeses and yogurt to varying degrees of success. The first cheese I tried was ricotta, which came out fantastic. I made it a second time and it came out good, but with a slightly different texture. I decided I preferred the first batch. Next I have tried feta. I salted part of the batch to be able to try it quickly and brined the rest. The salted feta was a good cheese with great flavor, but in my opinion it didn’t really taste like feta. I am hoping that the brined feta will be taste more like other sheep’s milk feta I have had, with more acid and time to develop that characteristic feta flavor. Most recently I made cream cheese (I actually just finished the final step of beating salt into it with a wooden spoon tonight), and I think it is my most successful cheese so far. It has the right texture for spreading, a nice acid balance, and great sheep’s milk flavor. The yogurt I tried was a disaster (didn’t set), but I can still use it for yogurt drinks or sauces. All of the cheese I have tried so far has been made with the raw sheep’s milk, with the exception of the ricotta, which is heated to around 200 degrees to speed curd formation.
One source of frustration through this experimentation process has been the lack of information about sheep’s milk. All of the ratios and recipes I have used so far have been focused on cow’s milk and sometimes goat. Sheep’s milk is quite different from both of these (as I explained in an earlier posting), and therefore reacts differently to the various enzymes and cultures used for cheese making. I think my success will be due to a lot more research and understanding of the chemistry involved in the process. And a lot more failed cheese experiments.
Another challenge I have found so far is having enough time to devote solely to trying new cheeses. Most cheeses need at least 2 or 3 days of cooking, cooling, cutting, stirring, draining and hanging to come out right. If you try and rush the process, you are pretty much guaranteed poor results. Now that I have figured out these basic rules through trial and error, I have a little better idea of what to do or not do the next time.
Finally, a major frustration for me in these cheesemaking adventures has been that I haven’t automatically been good at them. Having spent my entire adolescent and adult life working with food hasn’t much carried over into the very precise and scientific world of cheese. Of course I was aware of the chemistry involved with making cheese, but I guess I was expecting to grasp the concepts involved a little quicker than I have so far. I know I will get there eventually, though. There is a reason most cheese makers spend years and sometimes decades perfecting their skills.
I’m looking forward to the continued failures and successes I will encounter. And if nothing else, at least Yola will still love me!
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Monday, April 27, 2009
Monday, April 20, 2009
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
April seems to be a month of preparation - we're getting ready to begin irrigating our finishing pastures, we're getting ready to shear our flock, and we're getting ready to plant vegetables. It's the beginning of our truly busy time!
To prepare for shearing, we do a number of things. First, we move the ewes and their lambs to a property where we have electricity (necessary to power the shears). This means 7 trips from Lincoln to Auburn - a very busy day! The ewes are used to the trailer, but the lambs are not - they take some convincing. Thank goodness I have a good dog and lots of friends and interns! This past Monday, we moved all 120 ewes to Auburn. On Tuesday, I moved several ewes and ewe lambs, and today, I moved the rest of our ewe lambs to Thompson Ranch. Next week, we'll set up shearing pens and our corrals. On Saturday, our shearer will be here to shear the sheep.
Irrigation season is also an intense time, but it lasts for 6 months. Once we start irrigating next week, we'll be moving sprinklers twice a day, 7 days a week, until mid October. We'll spend 3-4 hours each day making sure the grass is watered and growing. By October 15, we'll be looking forward to a break!
While these seasonal tasks take time, we're also continuing the ongoing work of preparing next fall's firewood. Firewood must be "seasoned" or dried, to burn well, so we're cutting and splitting next year's wood now. We generally spend every Wednesday at Edwards Family Farm in Colfax skidding logs, cutting wood and splitting the rounds. It's a nice change of pace from our other work.
I enjoy the seasonal nature of my work - there's always something to do, but that "something" is always changing. Variety keeps me interested!
Friday, April 10, 2009
I wonder if we're dealing with the wrong question. Do we need a food safety framework that recognizes the global food system as a legitimate method of food production, or do we need a food production system that recognizes the limits of our food safety system and focuses more on local production.
Make no mistake - I strongly believe that food safety regulations are important. Where I differ from the assumptions made by the CDC, I guess, is in the acceptance of global production as the norm. Maybe if we all ate more locally, we wouldn't be faced with the food safety issues that are so problematic. Perhaps if we knew the farmers and ranchers that produced the food we eat, we'd have a safer and more secure food supply.
I realize that some of this is wishful thinking - some communities and regions may not be able to grow their own food supply. But adjusting our food safety system to accept the problems inherent in shipping food around the world seems to me to be the wrong approach.
I'm very interested in hearing from others on this subject!