Creamy, fragrant, and slightly salty, our first batch of feta is ready for Greek Salad! Oh, our kingdom for a real tomato, now that feta’s here!
Amidst lots of work this week we finished our first batch of feta, and it was delicious. It was so good we made another on Memorial Day along with our first stab at gjeitost, a Norwegian goat cheese. Otherwise we are pretty much up to our eyes in goat kids and taking care of their mothers. The all of our cheeses have turned out beautifully so far: the chevre had a wonderful creamy texture with a slightly earthy, rich flavor, with a slight tang at the finish. We made well over a pound and cut it into four portions, one of which we blended with some local smoked salmon and slathered on slices of baguette. The feta was as good as any I’ve ever had, with a bit heavier saltiness to it, but definitely creamier than what one can obtain commercially. But the real triumph was the gjeitost, whose creation is a bit of a production.
Before we eased off milking we were taking nearly a gallon and a half of milk from our girls in the morning. Within ten days we are proud to say as novice milkers that we went from 2 hours to about a half hour for milking our three goats by hand.
You take whey no more than 3 hours old and boil it; skim the foam, and save it for later, then you boil over a low heat for a long long long time – 6 hours. You add back the foam, stir in 1-2 cups goat cream, then put in a blender, put it back in the pot until it’s the consistency of fudge, then plunge the pot into ice water and stir until it’s really thick, and put in a mold. The sugars emerge from the milk and cream to create a wonderful sweet, soft, caramel color cheese: its flavor is a cross between sweet and salty, with strong hints of caramel, and the consistency of soft rich butter.
For feta, the curds need to be stirred for about 20 minutes once separated from the whey; the whey itself can be saved and a little extra cream added to make either gjeitost or whey ricotta.
None of this comes without enormous background input from everyone around here, and this week Lori and Nancy were busy tending the goats. This week was just this side of crazy-busy: we all got concerned that Marguerite and Janet were getting excessively thin, so we took Marguerite to the vet. Her milk had also been off, with a heavy salty taste, which could be a symptom of mastitis, but she showed no other signs. It turned out that she had worms and that her two kids, Bucky and Pandora, had been so rough on her udder while feeding that they had caused some blood vessels to burst and enter her milk in her udder – this is apparently not uncommon, but who knew! So they loaded her up in the truck and carted her off to Dallas and once they got her back home we had to deworm the lot; we also increased their grain ration so that the kids don’t cause the mothers to melt away.
Poor Marguerite has taken a bit of a beating lately. First, we gave her a really bad haircut (to prevent too much hair from getting into the milk [which is why you filter and pasteurize!), then she gets her udder knocked about by Pandora and Bucky! We have now doubled her oat ration and taken less milk to give her a break – she is our easiest milker and deserves a vacation.
Pandora has lived up to her name: she is curious, a first rate escape artist, vocal, and a bit of a nudge! Here she is standing on her mother – I’ve been surprised how tolerant and patient the mothers all seem to be of their kids, even bruisers like Kastor and Pollux, standing on them full weight on!
Since milking and nursing have taken their toll on our three milkers we have backed off from how much milk we take for our own use, and in fact, we are not taking any at the moment, because we have a new arrival. His name is Binein, but we call him Benny for short, and he is a cute little Saanen buck of good stock; our neighbors down the road, Stacey and Emily, kindly offered him to us for free if we’d take him at three days old. We named him Binein after a Greek verb one finds in Aristophanes, whose meaning, well . . . let’s just say it is a strong term not meant for polite company that reflects what we hope he will do: Breed! Currently all the milk we take is saved for this little guy, because he takes so much of it – today our little 9 pound 5 day old Mr. Binein drank a hearty 62 ounces of our girls’ milk. While we milk that out, the rest we leave for the kids so they’ll have plenty of it and hopefully beat up less on the mothers. It has been something of a surprise how brutal kids are to their mothers: the kids jab violently with their snouts on the udders so that their mothers let down the milk. The three of us have been taking turns nursing Benny, and it is a gas to watch this little guy suck down 17 ounces of milk in nothing flat. Puck, against my wishes, has been slipping in during nursing time and playing with Benny, but the two have struck up quite a bond – but I never take my eyes off of Puck, in case he decides his friend might make a tasty dinner. The joke will be on Puck once Benny hits 350 pounds.
Hello World! Our newest addition, Mr. Benny, was still a bit wobbly on his feet, as most kids are for about a week, when Nancy and Lori brought him home on Saturday.
Lori, Nancy, and I have been taking turns bottle feeding Benny several times a day. He’ll suck down 17 ounces of our does’ milk in nothing flat.
The other big leap the three of us took together this week was castrating, or, more accurately, elastrating, our boys. It took three: Me to hold the goat, Nancy to secure its legs, and Lori who wielded and fitted the elastrator and the band around the bucks’ naughty bits. It was quite a surprise how easy a task it was, seemingly easier than trimming hooves. Kastor and Pollux were troopers, but Bucky, Marguerite’s boy, was not: he raised a ruckus and hollered through the whole procedure before we even touched him. We are leaning towards keeping Pollux as a friend for Bucky, whose job will ultimately be to propagate our herd (which now stands at 11 goats, but at least two of our bucks, probably Bucky and Kastor, will be roasted for Christmas barbecue!)
Apart from that, Nancy and Lori have been working like fiends to keep the milk operations running smoothly: the animals know their order for milking now, and we pretty much have down the rhythm of milking: pumping the first three squirts into a strip cup to check for mastitis; dip the teats in mild bleach; wash the udder; dry the udder; milk; spray the teats with anti-bacterial spray; filter the milk; taste test it; pasteurize it, then chill.
Worlds collide: Puck’s nose protrudes into our goat pen as he tries a little detente with Pandora.
The milk is a rich cream color, but the cream is ivory white, and thicker than any cream I’ve ever seen (and sweeter). But – and file this under another “who knew?!?!?!” – now is not the season for cream, now is the season for milk and cheese. Goats’ butter fat production changes with the seasons; in the fall, the fat content of their milk goes up high enough to make plenty of butter. For now we are saving milk for Benny and the kids. But soon it will be ricotta, yogurt, kefir, gjeitost, feta, chevre, occasional mozzarella, and some day, maybe, Havarti.
And our milk supply is destined to increase: Anna and Obie are about to give birth in the next few weeks. I am glad to have our garden in – it is going to be a busy summer of raising kids, building more infrastructure, and finding time to smell the roses – and taste the cheese (with our tomatoes) . . .