Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Eye Spy

It has been a difficult week here at Kurtwood Farms.  I tend to prefer to only describe the more positive aspects of this small farm.  The benefits, the joys, the challenges that conveniently end in a positive outcome. But, like the rest of life, this farm life is often difficult.

Three weeks ago Dinah 2.0, the new Dinah, was in the milking parlor with me.  I was in the process of the regular twice daily milking when the exuberant young cow swished her tail to rid her back of the errant flies.  Cows, and especially this cow, are quite strong despite their gentle appearance and I often forget to be prepared for their strength.  Unfortunately her long, bony tail did not swish the flies but rather landed square on my right eye.  I remember thinking how painful it was and what a good shot she was.  Actually I think I was much more vocal than that. I was most un-pleased to say the least. But I went on about my day.

A couple of weeks later I began to see spots floating across my field of vision.  By the end of that day the spots had graduated to large rafts of smoky moving across my eye.  A few minutes later I lost all sight in the one eye.  As I had recently had Lasic surgery a few months prior, I thought my eyes were simply dry and proceeded, to apply a lot of eye drops, to no avail.  Panic began to set in.

Early the next morning I called the eye clinic where I had had the Lasic surgery with the guess that something had gone terribly wrong with my corrective surgery.  An hour later I was in their office and when I explained to the doctor that I could not even see the wall much less the chart on the wall he got a bit nervous.  He called in a retina specialist who confirmed that my eye was filled with blood from a torn retina.  I was scheduled for surgery a few days later.

I have come out the other end of the surgery process.  With technology incomprehensible to me, the surgeon went into  my eye and repaired my retina, drained the fluid and replaced it with new, and inserted a gas bubble to hold the retina up until it can heal.   

As I sit here and attempt to see the computer screen, I am using one eye and a very blurry second eye. The gas bubble is grossly limiting the vision through that hopefully repaired eye. In addition to the possibility of the eye never fully healing, I have the greater anguish.  The gas bubble is very sensitive to atmospheric pressure. The surgeon has banned me from flying for weeks for fear of the bubble dissipating.  Hence I will not be attending the cheese making course I had so looked forward to at the University of Vermont next week.

And so I have found the occupational hazard of the small dairy.  I always believed that the country life, the calm farm job, the life out of the city was the safer option.  Living here I would eat well, work well and live well.  Alas, not always true.  I still have not decided if I will fly out later in the fall or if I will count on my own abilities to make cheese here at the farm. Thankfully for Dinah 2.0 she is with calf.  Had she been not yet bred, she most likely would be headed to slaughter, as the focus of my frustration and anger.  

Friday, August 14, 2009

Book World, Cheese World

Today is a great day here on the farm.  The sun has come out from behind the much more fall like clouds.  I have a great batch of cheese in the works in the vat and I just got this image from my editor for the cover of my book.

I have to admit that as I have been writing this book for the past year on my lap top and delivering it back and forth to New York electronically, it has never really seemed like a book.  It is a file on my computer.  A very large file, but simply a digital file none the less.  There is a part of me --  the nervous, anxious part -- that thought that the W.W. Norton company would take my manuscript and file it away in some dead storage in Queens and never actually publish it.  Oddly, with this cover art, I think they might actual publish it.

Growing a Farmer; How I Came to Live Off the Land, is the story of this farm here, and how I came to be the guy who milks the cows in the mornings and make cheese in the afternoons.   With a bit of luck it will come out in summer of next year.  I think you will rather enjoy reading it.  

Friday, August 7, 2009

An Update

Okay, so I have been most lax in writing this blog.  Actually quite lax. Friends have shamed me into returning to the computer to update.  It also helps that I have finished my manuscript and have more time -- and interest -- to write.

In our last episode, the cheese making equipment had arrived.  Or at least partially.  I expected the shipping and installation of all of the equipment to all be rather quick and painless.  Unfortunately, it was anything but.  The Dutch cheese vat took weeks longer than expected, the Slovenian milk bulk tank arrived weeks late, and then I discovered that it was damaged and needed repair.  The French cheese molds still have yet to arrive. The French take the longest vacations it seems, and will not even discus the order until September.  

By mid June the cheese room was ready for inspection by the Washington Department of Agriculture.  After a day long review of the facilities and a quick pasteurization exam, I received the permit to pasteurize milk and make cheese.  I must say that the inspector loved the facilities.  

And then it all got more complicated.  I began the next morning to use my new equipment.  There I was with the many instruction manuals, trying to figure out this pipe and that plug, this valve and the other shut-off.  I was most confounded by unforeseen problems.  The cheese vat is cooled down with water.  Sounded simple enough on paper, until I realized I had thirty gallons of steaming hot water pumping out all over my floor.  In a few minutes, I was sloshing around in a sauna, trying to figure out what to do with the water.

A few more visits from my friendly local electrician, plumber, and carpenter,and a month and a half eaten up moving pipes and drains and installing shelving and fans and vents and the cheese room is pretty much useable.  Now the business of making cheese needed attention.

What I discovered fairly quickly was that I can make competent cheese.  Probably rather tasty cheese.  But I just don't completely know why.  Cheese making has a long list of variables: the actual milk, the way the milk was cooled and its age, the starters, the rennet, the temperature and timing of all of them and the procedures of molding cheese.  I want to know what each of these different variables controls.  Why the rind is this thick or that thick, how to get the center to be crumbly or smooth, and how to bring out different flavors.

My decision is to pack my bags and head for the University of Vermont school of artisan cheese making.  I am headed out in three weeks to start their introductory cheese making course.  As I have never been to Vermont, I am really quite excited.  With luck, I will get my questions answered and be on the road to competency in this ancient art.  I keep thinking of French peasants could make tasty cheese, certainly I can with a room full of gleaming stainless steel.

So, I have brought this blog up to date.  At least a bit.  In short, the cheese I am making is good, but I want it to be great.  And it will be, just not by tomorrow.