Thursday, July 9, 2009

Baa Baa Black Sheep

Just a quick update from farmland at Black Sheep Creamery, or as I'm calling it, Sheep Camp. Naturally the minute I arrived in Chehalis my laptop decided to croak, so I'm limited to the use of the computers at the local library, which while generous since I'm not paying for it, is endlessly frustrating because I already have half a gig of pictures I'm just dying to post. Alas, they will have to wait until next week, so please check back then for a week in the life of cheesemakers in pictures.

Meg and Brad are amazing; funny, down to earth, at once everything I expected of sheep farmers and yet completely the opposite. Their kids are fun, they have a completely neurotic cattle dog that makes me miss my schnorky doofus even more, a great cat and about 70 of the most awesome sheep ever. My first morning on the farm I helped Brad with the a.m. milking, which involves walking up the road to the rolling green acres that the sheep inhabit, then herding them back to the barn. Of they all know the drill, and they know that milking time means sweet grain, so they are eager to bolt out of the fence and trot and clop their way with very little prodding. No pun intended. Every now and then one of them would stop, stare right at me and let out a forceful "BAAA!" Apparently they enjoy checking out a new person, it was adorable.

The milking process isn't too complicated. It involves hooking up two sheep at a time to the modest milking machine while they inhale their helping of sweet grain. The sheep aren't producing nearly as much as they were a few months ago, so Tuesday morning's yield was a mere 45 lbs. compared to highs of 100 or slightly more back in May and June. With the two of us, milking took about 3 hours, then sheep were herded back to their area to chomp clover and we were back to the milk house to finish pasteurizing many gallons of milk for a new cheese that Brad is trying out. It's a soft Libyan cheese that ages only 3 months with an olive oil brush on the rind. I'm anxious to hear how it turns out, and hopefully it will become something regular.

Wednesday I hit the Portland Farmer's market scene at the Moreland Market. I love talking to people about cheese, even more so when I can hand them a bit of what I'm gushing about, so this was an incredibly fun, albeit exhausting experience. Meg is charming and has many regulars who come by just because they know she'll be there with products promised from last week's market; in this case, fresh unsalted ricotta that I actually made and hung the evening before. I could eat the stuff by the handful, it is so incredibly fresh and just a little sheepy, throw that in a bowl with some fresh berries and mmmmm. Even though I didn't get home until 10 p.m. (and up at 5 a.m. mind you), I couldn't wait to get back today bright and early.

This morning Brad already had the vat full of milk that had just finished pasteurizing, and we got set into making a batch of their Christmas tomme, which is their tomme with green and red peppercorns sprinkled into the pate of the cheese. Set those to press, cleaned everything and did it all over again with they remaining whey for a batch of fresh ricotta. Clean everything again and it was onto hanging 80 lbs. of fresh cheese for packaging tomorrow. Their fresh cheese is just what it sounds like: pasteurized curds and whey that sit for 24 hours, then hang in cheesecloth for another 24 for whey to drain, then mixed with various ingredients on the third day and sold to eager customers. The base has just a little salt for flavor and reminds me of something between a chevre and a really good marscapone. There are a handful of other flavors like Chipotle and Tomato or Dill and Garlic, all of them delicious and it's so much fun to come up with ideas of things to spread them on, for instance, anything that doesn't move.

That's it so far, one quick computer break and I head back to sterilize bottles and make mother starter for the weekend cheese. Vive la brebis!

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