The Search for Local


We just got word that our olive oil is in. To back up a little in the story, we’ve been peeling back the layers of our cheese production, and attempting to source everything locally. The two especially difficult products to source have been olive oil (no olives in Maine, and not a lot of domestic olive oil) and interestingly, peeled garlic.
A happy meeting at a cheese class last year resulted in the discovery that one of our local caterers, a long-time friend and supporter of AC, Swan’s Way, imports her olive oil from friends in Italy. A couple of emails later, and we were in business! This year we doubled our order, and are eagerly anticipating our delivery of olive oil with a Story!
Stacey writes: “Lily Zanetti has been a friend of my family for 45 years. She began bottling her own olive oil about 17 years ago, made from the olives of 100 year-old trees on her property. Originally, she had the oil, which is processed in Lucignano, made for the enjoyment of her family and friends. But as she started getting more requests for the extra virgin olive oil, her oldest son Alex began to increase production and bottle the oil under the Villa la Piertraia label (Zanetti’s family villa in Lucignano). The villas and olive groves are situated on Zanetti’s family estate, just outside the 12th century town of Lucignano. Best known for its churches, art and Thursday food market, Lucignano is home to just 2,000 people. Located in Valdichiana region of Tuscany, Lucignano is nestled in rolling hills and is surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. Less than a half hour from the better-known towns of Siena, Arezzo and Montepulciano,  Lucignano is a  medieval walled city laid out in concentric rings radiating from the town square — the only town in Italy laid out in such a way.
I get a shipment once a year. I use the cans, with a milder but still fruity flavor, for all our basic cooking and some of our dressings. I use her bottled oil , which has a stronger flavor, for the oil I serve on the tables and certain other dressings that like having the olive oil have a dominant presence. And I use the oil  pressed directly from the olives in her front yard for the final finish on certain dishes. It has an intense fruit flavor with a strong bitter olive finish.
I have been in Lucignano and watched the olive harvest and the pressing. The bottled oils are still pressed under blankets and not with machines. After the pressing we went back to the contadina’s house (their resident farmer) and had homemade bread toasted in the fire, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with the just-pressed olive oil.”

Garlic remains another challenge. Apparently all the food service peeled garlic in this country is from China! How odd is that? Even the bulk garlic at the grocery store (if I had time to peel it) is from China. It comes with quaint brand names, like Hometown Garlic, but still…! This time of year, we go through probably 10 pounds of peeled garlic a week — not sure what that translates into for unpeeled garlic, but it’s a boatload. Sure would like to find local garlic. Hate the idea of lead in my cheese..

The Virgin Goat of Goatalupe

One of the reasons that I raise Alpines is that they come in a variety of colors and patterns. I would get so tired of looking at goats that all look the same. Every year I hope to get spots and stripes and bands, and am disappointed when I don’t. Any goat that is born on my farm with spots or splashes has a guaranteed place on my farm. Forever. Even if she is fat and non-productive. I yearn for the goat with the Mickey Mouse pattern on her side. I pray for a Virgin Mary image. A map of Maine would do.
I am constantly tempted to add Nubians to my herd. Not so much for the butterfat, and certainly not for their hideous voices or frost-bite prone ears, but for the possibility of spots and frosting and new colors. I need to be able to look out the window and see a canvas of patterns in the herd.
Last year we added a Nubian buck. Of course we claimed it was for the butterfat his daughters would add to the milk. Secretly, though, I was hoping for those spots. His kids turned out to be oh, so cute, and oh, so marketable. Of course, those kids went first, and we’re left with monochromia (if that’s a word). So, this year, we’re adding a Saanen buck. Perhaps next season we’ll have little white babies running around. With spots or an image of Jesus.
But our farm is still not open to the public, so the faithful need not stop by to check.

The Year of Little Pea


I have no idea why we named her Little Pea, other than she was only 4 lb. when she was born. Smaller than a peapod or a peanut? She was so little, I bought a special bottle for her. And of course she was spoiled rotten. She became our farmers’ market mascot, riding in the truck on Claire’s lap. Customers adored her.

We lost Little Pea last week — the saddest loss this year. She struggled so hard to deliver her first kid, and we tried hard to help her. We took her to the vet, a caesarian was indicated, against my better judgement, and she didn’t make it. She never got very big, and her kid was 10 -1/2 lb. Way too big for that little body to deliver. I’m so sad. All the yearlings miss her. Another disturbance in the force.

Welcome Spring!


Kidding is stretching out longer this year than it has in previous years. We’re into week three now, with 47 kids on the ground, and at least eight more does to kid. Spring itself seems to be stretching itself out as well, giving us a tiny gift each day. This morning, I heard the first peeper! On Sunday, the bees were swarming in the newly blooming crocus, and the chives are peeking out. The snow has receded gradually over the last week, with only isolated pockets left here and there. The snow and hay pack which has been burying the hay feeders has shrunk enough that the goats can stand and eat their hay again, instead of kneel. And the best part so far this spring is welcoming apprentices Jamien and Jeff. Welcome all!

March forth, Spring ahead, Sucker punch


To paraphrase T. S. Elliot, March is the cruelest month. Just when the sure signs of spring are starting to appear — sap buckets, frost heaves, skunks — the snow keeps on coming, and they take away an hour of daylight in the morning. Don’t they know that the darkness is the worst part of a northern winter? Our house is dark, I get up in the dark to do chores, I spend the day at work in a windowless room, I come home at dusk. Day after day is gray and overcast. Everything outside is monochrome and colorless.
This is one reason why I go a little nuts with the Christmas lights, hanging them everywhere, and leaving them up until Easter (as long as Easter is in April, that is). At least I can take a small bit of cheer from the colorful dots of lights everywhere. Until the snow is so deep, that all the outside lights are buried. And they are making them so cheaply that they do not last more than a season, and after three months of being on continuously, mine are all dying out. So, not only do I still have to get up in the dark, but my lights are going out.
I remember flying kites in March, in bare fields. I remember walking the goats with their spring kids in March in bare fields. I remember St. Patrick’s Day when there was green grass and daffodils. What is happening here? Winter lasts at least a month longer than it did when I was growing up, and I live less than 200 miles from there, and closer to the ocean. It’s so difficult to stay optimistic, when March just sucker punches again.

Where’s Mom when I need her?

Yesterday, in the height of the storm, there was a flock of little chirping birds in the crab apple tree, eating dried fruit. At first I thought they were robins, because I saw a flash of orange. But they were smaller, and had a tuft on their head, small beaks, and a little yellow stripe on the end of their tail. I looked up every bird I could think of, but nothing matched. Not titmouse, siskin, grosbeak, waxwing, towhee, nuthatch, redpoll, bunting or finch. This is when I miss my mother. She would have known.

Our Staycation


File this one under “Faves”.
We are supposed to be in France right now, touring cheese plants, and drinking wine and Calvados, visiting Mont St. Michel. But thanks to the economy, our trip was postponed. And thanks to the economy, a backup vacation to an undiclosed location was not affordable.
So we went to Portland overnight.
And had a blast just wandering around. We toured a few new places we hadn’t visited before: Allagash Brewery (http://www.allagash.com), Maine Mead Works (http://www.mainemeadworks.com/) and Maine Distilleries, home of Cold River Vodka (http://www.coldrivervodka.com), sampling happily as we went. The enthusiasm of these new young entrepreneurs is simply contagious. And they are all producing world-class products. I am looking forward to the Maine Cheese Guild working more closely with the Maine Winery Guild and creating some interesting partnering opportunities. (http://www.mainewinetrail.com/)
We visited with our new friends Samantha and Don at Rabelais Books (http://rabelaisbooks.com/), wishing we lived closer to Portland so we could take advantage of their book groups and some of the Slow Food events that take place there. We bought some books and new kitchen gadgets. We dined at Hugo’s, Duck Fat and the Good Egg Cafe. Walked the Old Port. Bought more wine.
We even enjoyed watching Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson on cable in our hotel room. (no cable here in Appleton)
We’re still riding that crest of deliciousness and delight today, and hope it will get us through this next storm. We’ve got some new recipes and great wine to keep us warm.

I’m worried about the Robins


I love seeing the Robins hanging around this winter, but what are they eating? Clearly, there are no worms available right now. The ones I’ve seen have been roosting in the crab apple, so I suspect that’s one thing they eat. There was also a bumper crop of pinecones this year, so maybe they can eat those. I don’t dare start feeding them, because if I forget to — and I will — it’s the kiss of death for them. But it’s so wrong to see the messengers of spring in a snow-covered tree! I can only have faith that they know things we don’t, and not only are they finding food, but spring is just around the corner.

Genny is deliriously happy


After Zelda went, we were so worried about Genny being cold and lonely in the barn that we retired her inside, for the winter at least. She is living in the solarium, rarely leaving her basket. She gets up to eat and drink, then goes back to bake in spots of sunshine. She purrs non-stop. If she wants to go back out when it’s spring again, she may, but it’s clear she is stone deaf now, and we worry about critters sneaking up on her. She’s earned her retirement. She’s older than my oldest goat — 17 at least. Brad is even hand feeding her canned cat food, without her even asking.

I’m so tired, my mind is on the blink

(With apologies to John Lennon)
I’m so tired of dragging around the 50-lb coveralls to do outside chores.
I’m so tired of frozen buckets of water to thaw each day, frozen pipes in the dairy to thaw each day.
I’m so tired of frozen fingers because I can’t get out my leatherman with gloves on, or open the gate with gloves on, or hook up the hose with gloves on, or bail ice out of the water tank with gloves on.
I’m so tired of seeing my breath inside the house.
I’m so tired of being cold at work because the heat doesn’t work right.
I’m so tired of carrying firewood with hands that can’t grip anymore, and arms that can’t reach or lift, and a back that can’t carry anymore.
I’m so tired of driving everywhere at 25 mph because the roads are so dreadful.
I’m so tired of all the extra effort of just getting through a winter day.

Please don’t let the groundhog see his shadow.