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Homesteading Update: I'm a cheese maker

So now that we’re knee deep in Pippa milk from our goat share, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with it all. The whole notion of cheese-making made me nervous–I don’t usually have the patience for things that require adherence to absolute precision over the course of many steps. Turns out, it doesn’t have to be that way! There are naturally occurring bacteria in raw milk that will do all the work for you.

Readers, meet bonnyclabber.

Bonnyclabber, meet the readers.

If you want to know more than you ever thought possible about bonnyclabber, you can read this. If you want to know what you really need to know, I’ll tell you. Bonnyclabber is essentially what happens if you take raw milk directly from the udder, pour it into an air tight container and let it sit for anywhere between one-and-a-half to three-ish days. Apparently, my dear grandmother used to talk to my mom about bonnyclabber. She would pour it over cornbread and eat it for breakfast. She also used to talk to me about the ways they would get around having no refrigeration in the Texas heat of her childhood. And now that I’ve been goat-milking for a couple of months, I get it. When you have an animal in milk, you get a lot of milk. Everyday. The milk piles up. And if you happen to live in 1920s midland Texas, you can’t just pop the extra milk in the freezer. What you can do is sit a jar of the stuff out on the counter and let it go all bonnyclabber on you. And then you have a creamy cheese that you can spoon onto things to make them more delicious, like cornbread.

So here’s how I’ve been doing it. I start with a jar of goat-milk, still warm from Pippa’s generous udder.

I usually get 2 quarts when I milk, so we drink one and make cheese out of the other.

I bring the jar right home and put it on our stove top, where it’s kept consistently warm by the pilot lights. And in about 36 hours, it looks like this:

See how the milk has separated? And it did it all by itself! No rennet, no super heating, no starters. After we admire our impressive, spontaneous cheese through the glass jar, I pour it into a cloth-lined colander, and I put the colander over a bowl, to catch the whey. More about how fascinating whey is in a moment. Then I tie up the four corners of the cloth (in this case, I used a square of cloth that I cut from an old, clean pillowcase) and hang the little bundle on something, with the whey bowl underneath.

drip. drip. drip.

And then I wait until it’s not dripping consistently anymore, usually 3-5ish hours. I got all eager beaver at one point and decided to help the draining along by squeezing the whey through the cloth. Turns out this is not a good idea–it gets cheese into the whey and then the whey goes kind a funky and it didn’t make the cheese drain much faster anyway.

Once the dripping is done, untie the cloth and admire your cheese!

J likes to greet the cheese with a good old sniff.

And then I just scrape the cheese into one of my vintage pyrex containers with a spatula.

It just seems like bonnyclabber woudn’t want sit around in some new-fangled tupperware.

Oh, and the whey! You can pour all of the whey that drains off your cheese into a jar and keep it in your fridge. Whey is a great source of minerals, vitamins and probiotics, so it’s a great digestive aid. You can drink it straight–my friend R’s 2-year-old S can’t seem to get enough of the stuff. And you can also add a few tablespoons of the stuff when you soak and cook beans and grains. It helps to make them more easily digestible. I’ve been using a whey and water mixture to soak beans and rice before I cook them, and call me crazy, but I do feel less heavy and bloated after I eat them.

So there you have it. The easiest cheese you ever made in your whole life. I’ve been using ours in place of sour cream, cream cheese or cream fraiche, or eating it with nuts and a swirly honey drizzle over the top. It’s dreamy. And a cheese I have the patience to make.

Homesteading update: I'm a goat milker

I have always loved goats.

Spending time with goats during a trip to Greece in college.

I love them so much, that I was given this as a birthday present.

And I wear it all the time.

So it does seem like destiny – perhaps even my purpose finding me??! – that I would now be doing this:

Back in the spring, my dear friend R said that she might be interested in getting goats. After nearly peeing my pants, I assured her that I would do everything in my power to help her with said goats, if that would make any difference in her decision. Whether it did or no, she got them. And she made the whole venture delightfully communal, offering a small group of her (and my!) friends a share of her gorgeous milking goat, Pippa.

Isn’t she beautiful?

So now, on Wednesday mornings, I leap out of bed, grab my 2 quart jars and head to R’s for my morning milking.

After a few milkings, my hands have gotten into shape enough that I can milk the entire 2 quarts all by myself in one sitting! Then I filter the warm, foamy milk (thank you, Pippa!) into my jars.

I get a small thrill every time I go to the grocery store and leave without needing to buy milk. And when I think back to how far I’ve come since posting this. And every time J asks for “Pippa milk.” I also feel a deep connection to the whole process, since I am also a lactating mammal. Everytime I milk her, I thank Pippa profusely. Because after all, we’re harnessing her body’s amazing ability to produce milk for our own benefit. And when she runs to the gate in the morning with her udder bulging with milk, I croon to her–I understand. I remember what that over full, desperate-to-nurse feeling is like. And I share some of her relief when the first streams of milk spray into the pan.

And just in case this has been stirring some homesteading dreams of yours, I wanted to offer that R doesn’t have a palatial property for this whole operation. She does have a pretty big back yard. But more than that, I think she’s had the vision and done the work to transform her small space in the world into a thriving homestead (she has a garden and chickens too…swoon).

See? Doesn’t this make you think you could do this too? Or find a friend who would let you in on their operation?

My version of Fight Club

I took a suggestion from Garrison Keillor this morning in honor of April Fool’s Day. Wrapped a thick blue rubber band three times around the sink sprayer handle and aimed it straight at the space where A’s body would stand while innocently turning on the tap. Not 2 minutes later, I tried to rinse off a baking tray and instead, the sprayer nailed me square in the face. Welcome, April. I needed that.

For most of March, I had to lean hard into the days like a toddler pushing a bike uphill. Not a lot of momentum over here. With the energetic crater of February came my seasonal depression that settles in until warmer weather airs things out a bit. Add to that the rearing up of my rabid inner critic and J contracting a case of hand, foot and mouth disease during a week-long rain storm…well, lets just say my mood has been flat.

Mr. Hand Foot and Mouth himself

As though the outside world has no understanding of my inner turmoil, things are really perking up. Those little vagabond plants that snuck in with our strawberries are freesias! And their succulent, yellow blooms swelled up and popped, so that corner of our backyard smells like a dream. And my ode to a driveway garden and backyard chickens was not in vain! We are now the proud owners of 2 redwood planter boxes I found on Craigslist and a chicken coop I scored after posting a coop-wanted ad on Freecycle. We picked up the coop yesterday—turns out it was sitting vacant in a backyard only 4 blocks away, and it just took a little internet miracle to connect us.

Oh, the things you can move with a Honda Accord...

As A and I slogged through the rain, pushing the mucky coop end over end, I thought, “This is like my version of Fight Club.” I haven’t seen the movie forever, but I connected with that need to be shocked into aliveness, to deeply feel and experience something beyond sitting in artificially heated and cooled rooms and eating Trader Joe’s bagged dinners. So instead of having the crap beat out of me by Brad Pitt, I’m going the chicken coop route. The combination of mud and wet working skin and purpose reminded me that I’m a creature. An animal with working muscles and bones. Alas, there IS more to life than the internet and man-made playground facilities and vacuuming and the internet. There’s the springtime blooming and rain. The pile of soaked clothes kicked off at the back door. And the promise of little green shoots pushing through and a dark corner for laying eggs.