Lest there be any confusion on this point, I took last year to get up to speed to be able to run a goat farm, but I’ve been closely involved with goats for a number of years. If you’d like to go back to an earlier chapter in my life, feel free to take a look at my goat posts on my first blog: An American in Avignon : http://american-in-avignon.blogspot.com/
Living in Provence and caring both for food and the people who create it leads one into some marvelous adventures, and offered me the nearby opportunities for learning and discovering. Particularly after the world economic downturn of 2008 I chose to spend my extra “free” time learning at the shoulder of dear friends. And thus began a year of interning a day a week with one of my favorite goat cheese makers.
It was a soul-nourishing time that happened to coincide with post-divorce and a need to find deep meaning in my life over and beyond the daily routine.
I love pretty much every aspect of goats and goat cheese-making. I love the animals. I love being with them, having them nibble at my fingers, or my clothes, having them rub up against me and nuzzle me. I love their personalities, their balance of skittishness (when it comes to my dog…) and forcefulness when they wish to impose themselves and/or get to the grain trough before the others.
Being with my goat cheese makers returned me to a seasonal existence. It is part of their way of living and working to keep to the natural seasons of goats – in heat late summer to early fall, births in the late winter – all before Easter – and milk from spring through late fall. Many years I would take my children (and a few extra) to visit my friends’ farms so they could hold those newly born kids in their arms, feel their tiny beating hearts, and truly be part of the “re naissance” the re-birth of life in the spring. Their years flow through seasonal rhythms, following those of their animals, their milk cycle, and the cheeses they will make.
When I started actually making cheese I felt at ease in the cheese-lab – always at 70F/20C, which is such a comfortable temperature winter or summer. I loved handling the curd, discovering the persnickety twists and shifts as the season evolves. I go into a meditative trance when my hand gently stirs a low-heat tomme. Continuing as I gently press down the curds post heating to form a solid mass on the bottom of my pan, and then lifting this squishy mass out, dividing it up and gently pressing it into my molds. As one teacher said to me (most suggestively), be gentle, as you would with a man… And so at least for that moment of the day, I slow down and I permit my hands to caress and most gently, ever so doucement, handle my curds.
Amongst the first cheese experiments I did at home was whey ricotta (or brousse as we called it in Provence, or Broccio in Corsican). Claudine told me how, and would send me home with large tanks of whey from her ‘caillé doux’ (somewhat like a small camembert) and I would simmer away till I’d lifted all those curds off and gotten the small but precious yield of high protein bits.
Then I found a source for raw cow’s milk nearby Arles and started making yogurt for our bed and breakfast. The occasional over-heated curd (my methods weren’t very standardized) never got tossed, it was simply drained and salted and became whatever sort of cheese it wanted to be – and generally pretty darn good.
I loved that every mistake is simply another sort of cheese. And thus they were discovered ever so long ago.
Jump forward to today and the joy of more discoveries, more lessons learned, humility cultivated, and a lasting fascination with curds and whey.