Early morning make. About to add rennet.
Early morning make. About to add rennet.
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Chasing down a four day old water buffalo.
We settled on a name for our cheese company.
Sometimes you just have to commit to something that you’re not ready for in order to finally be ready for it. Does that make any sense?
We’ve been living here for almost 2 months and as of last week there were still boxes unpacked behind the couch, various inappropriately sized pieces of furniture cluttering up the dining room, and a bunch of hoarder style junk sitting on the front porch (including a mini fridge cheese cave). I hadn’t taken one picture of the inside of the house since we got here. Needless to say, I didn’t feel moved in.
Probably because of that I have been extremely hesitant to commit to welcoming any farm animals onto our property. We got two feral cats pretty quickly (because our rental unit was being devoured by mice), but I was scared of the real animals. Chickens and the like. I really wanted to get started quickly growing a flock of chickens cause I’m sick of paying for eggs! Around here there is no good reason to buy eggs at the supermarket. Down every road there are signs on driveways and fence posts guiding you to honor system coolers filled with egg cartons containing multi-colored eggs. That is if you get there in time. By the end of the day most of these coolers are empty. That’s where we’ve been buying our eggs whenever possible. And I want my own egg stand!
So we committed to hosting Passover dinner. We finally have a dining room for the first time and I’ve been waiting for years to feel like I could have a sit down dinner party. The commitment really lit a fire under us. We unpacked boxes, got ride of ill-fitting furniture, swept the porch, and progressed so well that I felt ready to take some pictures of the house!
By no means finished, but we’re definitely moved in. And on top of feeling ready to take pictures, we also felt ready to get some chickens! Yay! We decided to start with pullets rather than baby chicks. They are about 2.5 months old, have their feathers in and don’t need to be put under heat lamps. We’re pretty inpatient to have eggs and buying pullets shaves off about three months from our wait. We contacted a woman advertising Barred Rock pullets in Forestville and went to her house to pick up our first three.
They made themselves right at home in the big chicken coop attached to our water tower. Notice the old pump to the right. That is actually one of the old abandoned wells on the property. Its a pretty nice space for the chickens and it was all ready to go when we bought the place. At some point soon we will be opening up the side wall of the coop to create another door and big chicken run.
So I quickly realized how addicting having chickens can be. I was immediately on the lookout for more pullets and as it turns out the same lady came across two more Rhode Island Red chickens a couple days later. So I rushed up and brought them home to join the others. We are now at 5 chickens and they seems to have bonded nicely during this first week in Valley Ford. I already have on order 3 more Buff Orphington pullets that I’ll pick up in May.
I’ve been choosing breeds based on 1) what’s available, 2) their temperament, and 3) their looks. These are all very common breeds for backyard chickens and they’re all different colors. The Barred Rocks are black and white, the Rhode Island Red’s are ummmm, red and the Buff Orphingtons are big and fat and yellow. They are all good layers and relatively calm birds. Eventually I will get some breeds that lay different color eggs, cause its really cool to have a multi-colored egg basket. But it seems that all my current birds will be laying eggs in varying shades of brown. Can’t complain about that. So excited for them to start laying!
It is impossibly hard for me to find a minute to write on this blog. Writing is one of the many things that I constantly feel guilty for not doing more of. Since leaving the city life to pursue our utopian vision of the cheesemaking country family, I have spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how to efficiently get through the day. So much of what I want and need to be doing consists of things that I don’t yet know how to do very well. Things that in my old pre-parent self would have poured over books and websites and blogs to learn about. Things that I could luxuriously spend whole Saturdays practicing and playing with. And things that in time, I would eventually master the skills to do.
And on top of that, throughout the learning process I would have been the old me- that person who didn’t have a piece missing from her brain preventing her from totally focusing and understanding deeply a subject unrelated to her son. The old me that was sometimes able to think past 8pm. The old me that didn’t necessarily start thinking about having a glass of wine at 4:30pm every evening (or is that afternoon?) The old me that had a balanced check book, kept track of what company insured her car and remembered whether she had paid that parking ticket. The old me that drank 1% milk rather than whole, wore shoes other than Uggs, and didn’t feel guilty all the time.
But I need to remember that the old me constantly daydreamed about the new me. I wanted to live in West Sonoma County. I wanted to make cheese. I wanted to live on a small homestead and grow my own food and have chickens. I wanted a porch and a pasture. And I wanted a kid (goat and human.) And here it is, everything I ever wanted (wooly pig included), and its really really hard. And it doesn’t feel like the utopia I thought it would. Monumental realization- dreams don’t usually include all of the logistics. Utopia doesn’t exist without hard work. Duh.
I think every day about how insanely blessed I am. Why am I so lucky to have what I want? (Cue guilt.) I must now earn this privilege by living my dream with whatever energy and brainpower I can muster.
As I sit smack dab in the middle of my old vision, surprise surprise I have a new vision. In my future utopia I see an organized life. I will make and sell cheese. I will plant a garden. I will learn to identify plants on my property. I will finish unpacking. I will cook a meal at least 3 times per week. I will stick to a budget. I will keep in touch with my friends more. I will try not to feel guilty. I will write. And just writing this makes me feel like I may be capable of achieving it.
We have a new side business raising heritage Hungarian pigs called Mangalistas. They are wooly and very fatty. Very good for making charcuterie. The pork chops taste like bacon, so naturally Jon was very interested. We picked up our pregnant sow on Sunday and next month she will have a litter of wooly baby piglets. The first thing she did when she was escorted into her new home was blow bubbles in the water trough. So naturally Bubbles became her name. I was against it at first, but its growing on me. Our friends at White Whale Farm are hosting her on their property along with their 200 goats.
And so I introduce to you Bubbles the Pig:
Warning, this post gets a bit gory.
We killed our own Thanksgiving turkey this year. Well actually our new acquaintance Shane is the one who actually pulled the trigger (so to speak), but we did the rest. We met Shane because he raises pigs, and Jon is intent on doing the same. We visited Shane’s farm in Suisan City a couple months ago to look into purchasing one of his heritage pigs. (We actually did get a pig. I’ll elaborate in a future post.) The above gorgeous creature greeted us when we pulled into the driveway. She was like a postcard turkey. All puffed up, very striking. She was one of three turkeys Shane raised this year. Right then and there Jon decided he wanted one of them.
So flash forward to the weekend before the big meal. Saturday night before bed, in his typical manner, Jon nerded out with some internet research about how to slaughter a turkey. We saw this video. I actually cried watching it. I thought a long time about whether this was going to be the thing that made me a vegetarian. I was truly scared but I figure if I’m going to eat meat, which I generally love to do, I should be able to deal with this.
And then there was the issue of whether we should let Ben watch the slaughter. I hesitated and Jon was adamant that yes Ben needed to be there to see everything. He should understand where meat comes from. I agreed although again I was a bit nervous.
Sunday morning we headed out early to help literally bring the farm to our table. We arrived at Shane’s as the above turkey was hanging newly lifeless draining from a tree. Shane is a man of few words. We greeted each other and got to work. Pulled the turkey down from the tree, dunked it in a pot of boiling water to loosen the feathers and then quickly started plucking. The feathers surprisingly came off easily. I couldn’t help but think about how painful it would be for the bird if it were alive. I felt bad. But then remembered that just because I don’t see the suffering of most animals I eat, doesn’t mean they suffer any less. Definitely more than this turkey who had a pretty sweet existence before he met his maker. Finally Shane removed the organs and other nastiness and separated out the parts he would use. Heart and liver yes. Intestines and head, no.
Then it was time to choose our turkey. Best described in pictures…
Now that we’ve got our own space to pursue similar endeavors, next year we’d like to raise our own turkey. This will definitely be a very different experience in that we will probably get very attached to our little friend if we raise it from birth. I see why people don’t name their livestock. Being new to raising farm animals, I anticipate that at the beginning we will make the mistake of falling in love with our livestock as we are used to doing with our pets. We may end up with a very old turkey who endlessly roams our property comfortably for years to come. Or maybe we’ll eat him. Only time will tell.
A couple significant things have happened since I last wrote two months ago. First is that our apprenticeship has come to a premature end. All is well and we are fine with it. Once the male goats were introduced to the milking mamas in September milk production drastically dropped. We continued milking the goats and making cheese until the end of October, but there was only enough milk for about one make a week. So things were really slow, which was to be expected. About that time we started to discuss the possibility of taking over Patty’s business in some form, which was the original plan.
Jon and I had made the decision early on that we were not ready to fully take over a goat ranch and cheese business. Embarking on two new careers while Jon maintained his law job seemed increasingly daunting. But once we started reaching out to other new cheesemakers in the area, investigating options other than doing a full farmstead cheese operation, we came to realize how incredibly difficult it is to make any money making cheese. Without the goats and without any land it is very hard to make cheese. Not impossible but very difficult and not very lucrative.(I hope to elaborate more on this in a future post.)
On top of that it became very clear that Patty was never going to sell her business. The ranch is her life and I’m certain she’s never gonna give it up despite her claims. It was immediately apparent that there would never be a meeting of the minds with respect to the value of her business. We are not the first ones to have this experience with her. We’ve come to realize this whole thing is kind of a rite of passage in the local cheese world. So there it is, we have completed the Bodega Goat Ranch initiation.
Just as we all formally agreed to terminate the apprenticeship, we saw a house listing in Valley Ford just five minutes down the road.
On a bit of a whim we drove down to take a look around the outside. There are not very many small properties in the area in our price range so it was definitely worth a snoop. A three bedroom craftsman farmhouse on an acre and a half. Perfect. There’s a rental unit, a three story water tower, chicken coop, big pasture, fenced in raised bed garden and a root cellar in the yard perfect for aging cheese or storing wine. I couldn’t have written a better list of property wishes.
To make a long story short, I got to talking about the place with a parent at Ben’s school’s Halloween party. He’s a real estate agent and offered to show us the property. The three weeks since then have been a blur. We put in an offer on election day. It was accepted two days later. We spent the last week doing every possible inspection and learning a crazy amount about septic tanks, drilling wells, attic framing, claw foot tubs, wood-boring beetles and single paned windows. Yesterday we decided to remove our contingencies if they’d take a huge price reduction. They agreed. We close the day after Thanksgiving. Holy shit.
Buying an old farmhouse and maintaining a homestead is going to be an insane amount of work and a decent amount of risk; Jon is going to have to continue being a lawyer for the near future and I may have to get a job at some point soon. But this place felt like home the minute we drove up the driveway. It is literally everything we have ever visualized. We are taking an extremely well thought out leap of faith and I’m pretty certain we are making the right decision for our family. More to come.