Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Cheese

Happy Holidays my lovelies! Again, I must apologize for the lack of posts. I have a slew of happenings that I have been meaning to relate to you, but when it rains, it freakin' pours. For the past month, my nephew has been in the hospital. Last week, he was airlifted from Dallas to Cincinnati, where he is now at the children's hospital receiving excellent care. My daughter and I are flying out there tomorrow to help out and help drive my sister and her three boys back home to Dallas. The stress and uncertainty has been unbelievable, but I have to say, the Ronald McDonald House has been an amazing beacon of light in this mess. For all the crap I have talked about the fast food chain, the foundation has done excellent work for families with sick children in times of crisis by setting them up with a free place to stay, food, activities for kids, and an incredible amount of generosity, kindness, and unconditional love. As an advocate for healthy food, the irony is not lost on me. However, I thought people should know about some of the good work that the RM Foundation does.

I didn't want to let the season pass without sharing something with you all so I thought I would post about my Christmas cheese. Everyone knows how tasty goat chèvre is, but something that you might not be aware of is that the breed of goat can determine the flavor of the milk and cheese. Nigerian Dwarf goats, the breed we keep here, have a milk that is sweeter than the cow's and lacks that twang that we are used to in a good chèvre. In the past, my cheese has come out tasting like a creamy ricotta, lacking that depth of flavor that one looks for in a chèvre. Fortunately, my chef friend Tabitha of Friend in Cheeses Jam Co. gave me a tip of adding a touch of lemon zest. It doesn't replicate the flavor of the classic chèvre, but it increases the zing on the palate. This is also a great way to make chèvre with cow's milk, as the flavor of the milk is similar to the Nigerian Dwarf's. Here's how to do it.

Nigerian Dwarf (or cow) Chèvre

  • chèvre culture - available from cheese supply stores. I got mine from Hoegger Goat Supply. I prefer a culture that you can use direct set, rather than creating a mother (like a sourdough culture requires). We don't make enough cheese around here to warrant a mother.
  • rennet
  • 1 gallon of fresh milk
  • lemon zest, I prefer that of the Meyer lemon
  • soft cheese molds or cheese cloth
Pour milk into a non-reactive pot and get it to 72 degrees. Add 1/8 tsp. of chèvre culture (or as directed on culture packet) and stir until dissolved and combined. Add 2/5 of a drop of rennet by adding 5 Tbsp. of water to a jar with a drop of rennet and then extracting 2 Tbsp. of the watered down rennet mixture and adding it to the milk. Stir. Now add lemon zest. I only use the zest of half a lemon. This is really a personally taste thing, so feel free to improvise. Let sit covered in a warm place, ideally 72 degrees, for 18-24 hours. At the end of the resting period, you will see that the cheese solids have coagulated into a firm, creamy mass in the center of the pot. You can check for set by pressing gently against the cheese near the edge of the pot with the back of your fingers. The cheese will yield to the pressure and you will see the whey having clearly separated. Pull out your molds and spoon the solids with a slotted spoon, preferably one of those flat ones used for this type of thing, into each mold. This recipe fills up three of these small basket molds. Pace the molds on a deep tray and cover. Allow them to drain for two days. Pouring off whey as needed. I usually let them sit in the refrigerator. You can also use a cheese cloth and hang it to drain. Some people salt their cheese after it has fully drained. I usually add the salt as I am spooning the solids into the molds. This way, I can alternate solids and salt to make sure that it is seasoned throughout. Once you have finished draining and salting the cheese, wrap it up in saran wrap or put in a glass container in the fridge. Serve with your best preserves. For a holiday party, I usually serve the cheese with my tomato jam, pepper jelly, green tomato chutney, and chipotle plum sauce. Delish!

I hope all of you out there are having a wonderful and stress free holiday season. A merry merry and happy happy to each and everyone of you. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Marek's Revisited

What better time than Mercury retrograde to revisit old problems (as Californians, we have the obligation of referencing astrological happenings with every possible opportunity) and as long time readers of this blog well know, one of our biggest problems on the farm has been Marek's. What an appropriate time for one of our hens to fall ill.

The other morning when I opened the coop door for the ladies, Ruby, our Black Australorp, hopped to the ground and just kind of stayed there, crouched and unable to fully stand. Crap! No need to consult the experts on this one. I knew. But just to confirm, I picked her up and pressed a finger into the center pad of a foot. Nothing. Paralysis was setting in. This was definitely Marek's. But all our birds had been vaccinated, which is 95-98% effective! Pretty much sums up my luck with chickens.

I should have known that she might not have been right since she hadn't been on the roosting bar for a couple months and had stopped laying. However, it's winter so I figured that she had stopped laying due to dwindling daylight. The roosting thing I chalked up to her being low on the pecking order. But I guess in retrospect that didn't make much sense since she had been one big ass bird back in September.

As always , it was my little Googlebear to the rescue. But this time it had nothing to do with a cure and everything to do with a practical solution: compost pile or dinner table. Don't cringe, my dears. We've lost so many birds to this disease that it seemed like such a waste to bury another.

Well kiddos, it seems that it is perfectly fine to eat a bird with Marek's. In fact, you probably already have at some point as almost all birds have been exposed to it. An infected bird most often develops lesions or tumors on the nervous system in the legs and neck. Like cancer in animals, the disease doesn't transfer to humans.

I culled Ruby within a few hours of determining that she was ill. The poor thing had become very thin, her skin so loose that only the sharpest of knives would do the deed. There was barely any food in her crop, save for a few greens, and almost nothing in her intestines. I cradled her in my arms before I sent her to the big sleep. She was a good, sweet bird who laid a few giant eggs in her short strut upon this stage. I was sad to have her go.

I know a lot of you out there are thinking "Gross!". Yeah, that's what I thought last year. This time around I'm thinking stew pot and tamales. Waste not, want not.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, December 5, 2011

How Embarrassing!

Awhile back, I was interviewed by *fair companies, a website with a ton of awesome videos and resources on sustainable culture. To tell you the truth, I had forgotten all about it until I received an email from the videographer, Kirsten Dirkson. I think we spent less than an hour shooting, which amazes me that they could turn out such a lengthy video with so little footage. What I love most about it is that it has a much more natural feel to it, in contrast to our more highly produced video for the Whole Food's Grow program. But OMG, I am so embarrassed by the state of my disheveled backyard and messy, cluttered refrigerator. And check out those "There's Something about Mary" bangs! I thought I was being so clever with that kerchief, hiding away the bad hair day. Total fail.

I read through some of the comments on YouTube and a common perception amongst viewers is that we keep our goats in a little prison like cell, which makes me so sad. *sigh* I swear to you, our goats have a good life. Yes, sometimes they get cooped up in the pen for too long, but they get access to the rest of the yard and the neighbor's. I have seen pens in the country with just as small of a space as we use for our girls. Don't forget, aside from terrorizing the backyard weeds and rose bushes, they also go for strolls around the neighborhood and canters through beautiful McLaren park.