Still pissed off

We spent a very fun couple of days at the Common Ground Fair this year. We always have fun, eat lots of food, and find some new source of inspiration to carry us through the winter months. We went to Kendra Michaud’s wood-fired bread baking workshop and picked up a few more pointers for our new oven. Listened to Mark Guzzi’s keynote, as well as his garlic lecture. Checked in with Cheryl Wixson about root-cellaring.

Ten years ago, we used to be able to sell our cheese in the farmers’ market area of the fair. We sold a lot of cheese, had a lot of fun, and many new people discovered us that way. But that was back in the day when you didn’t need to be certified organic in order to sell there. In 2000, the fair organizers began requiring anyone selling any kind of food to be certified. For years afterward, there was no cheese, local chicken or several other foods, stilll grown locally and sustainably, but not certified organic. It pissed me off then and it still pisses me off, that it’s OK to truck in certified organic food from anywhere in the world (coffee is at the fair this year!!!) but our farm, a mere 25 miles from the fairground, is excluded because we are not certified.
This leads to MUCH customer confusion! They don’t understand why I am not at the fair. They don’t understand why we’re not organic –many people assume that we are since we sell at a farmers’ market. Not so!
Here are our reasons for not being certified organic, although we manage our farm organically:
We don’t have the land base to establish rotational pasture. We only have 6 acres, enough for goats, but not for pasture. Goats don’t really graze so much as browse anyway, and they are very happy browsing in our second-growth woods.
We buy our hay locally, from a farm six miles away. This makes much more sense to me than trucking in organic hay from Canada or wherever. Our hay farmer doesn’t use pesticides, he simply isn’t certified, either. We haven’t got storage for a lot of hay, so he stores it for us. Works well that way.
We can’t afford organic grain. We don’t feel what is available is dependable or of high quality.
We don’t use antibiotics, but reserve the right to do so in order to save the life of one of our animals. Wouldn’t you?
We never use artificial hormones. Why on earth would we? Our goats are happy, and give us all the milk we need.
I’m not sure I really want to sell cheese at the fair, truth be told. I have much more fun just going to the fair, and not working. But I am tired of explaining it to people, and tired of having to go incognito, because if customers see me there, they think the cheese is not far behind.

Gone again


Singing the praises of my 2009 apprentices! Seems like they, like the lost summer, only just arrived, and now it’s time to go. Somewhere toward the end of August, that faraway look creeps into their eyes, and while we are focusing on the rootcellar, woodshed, and freezer, they are checking on airline tickets or winter rents.
I can’t get through the summer without them, and it will be tough this winter when they’ve departed. They are like children that I’ve raised and am sending out into the world. Hope they come back to visit. Hope they send postcards!

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.