Monday, April 30, 2012

May and Markets, Oh My!

So in a surprising (but not unwelcome) turn of events, Mark and Clare informed me this week that my schedule will be changing. Starting this week, I will be doing the Penn Quarter Farmers Market every Thursday from here on out. 

The market is located in Penn Quarter, which is in downtown Washington, DC, sandwiched between Chinatown and the National Archives. It takes place from 3 to 7 on Thursdays, and apparently is quite popular with DC chefs. Maybe Sam Kass will be there! (Hey, I can dream, right?)

Most excitingly, I will be doing this market by myself. Clare is going with me this week to show me how to get there, where to park, etc... but after that, it will just be me, myself and I.

I'm pretty stoked. Markets are hard work, to be sure - I'm usually dead in the water by around 4 each Saturday, when my day is over - but I really enjoy them. I love the feel of a busy market, the bustle and smells and sounds. Which is good, because now I'll be doing two, including the Arlington market on Saturdays.

The other change is that Melissa, who normally works in the creamery, has returned from her honeymoon. As a result, I'll probably be spending less time in there. For the last month, I've been in the creamery pretty much every afternoon to help with bottling and such. I'll still be in there some, but I think my time will be split more evenly between that and helping Mark out with more outdoors-y, farm-y tasks.

Like fences. Lots of fences.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Milking Revisited

When I wrote a while back about the enjoyable process of milking, anyone who read that particular little post had to use their imaginations because I was sadly lacking in the picture department.

I am now happy to report that the situation has been rectified! So gaze away, my friends.

The milking parlor, all nice and clean. Picture eight cows lined up on the left and right, where they stand with their heads facing the troughs (the white bits) and their rears facing the sunken center part, where Mark and I work our milking magic. The rest of the cows hang out in the back of the parlor (where I was standing when I took this) while they wait their turn.

The food trough. Cows are bribed to stand still and let us milk them by the judicious use of grain, which comes down the plastic pipes you see along the back end of the trough.

One of the milkers. The black caps are put on because a washing/sanitizing solution is run through them before and after milking. During milking, we take those off. There are eight sets of milkers, so we start by doing the row of cows to one side, then switch over to the other side as the first batch finish.

Cows seem to take pleasure in leaving their "mark" wherever they go. So as part of clean-up, I use this gargantuan hose to gently persuade any "deposits" to evacuate down the drain at the end of the barn.

The End.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Great Raw Milk Debate

I've been asked a few times now several variations of the following questions: Do you get to drink raw milk on the farm? And can you get me some?

The answers are no and no. But the topic has come up often enough that I think it's worth discussing.

Raw milk is a topic that can be pretty polarizing. People feel strongly about it from both sides - from the public officials who cite it as one of the leading causes of dairy-related illness to the moms who drive for two hours to purchase it where it's legal. Since the FDA banned inter-state raw milk sales nearly thirty years ago, illegal raw milk sales have skyrocketed. Now, many raw milk lovers have to get their dairy fix using methods that more resemble a drug deal than anything, from joining secret milk clubs to buying their milk labeled as pet food.

The sale of raw milk is illegal in Washington, D.C. and in the state of Maryland, where the dairy is located. Hence, no raw milk for us. We milk straight into the pasteurizer, where the milk is pasteurized at the lowest possible setting, which some people believe makes a better-tasting milk than ultra-pasteurization, where milk is heated for just a couple seconds at extremely high heat.*

According to Clare, one of the biggest differences between our milk and store-bought variety is actually the fact that we don't homogenize our milk. Homogenizing milk is the process of breaking up the fat molecules so they stay suspended in the milk. If you let unhomogenized milk sit long enough, the fat drifts up to the top, creating a layer of cream with the milk underneath. (Check out the picture.) Clare believes that homogenizing not only makes milk harder to digest - she's had lactose-sensitive customers who can drink the farm's milk with no ill effects - but also ruins the taste.

Here's my two cents about the raw milk debate: cows are dirty, dirty, dirty creatures, and they have an unfortunate tendency to get manure all over themselves. When we milk, we dip the udders in disinfectant and clean them off before putting on the machines; we also use a filter to catch any pieces of dirt or hair or what have you that sneak in.

But mistakes happen. Just this week, one particular cow with a sick sense of humor took a huge dump on me right as I was getting ready to put the machine on her. It's entirely plausible that in a situation like that, manure could make its way into the milk supply... and it only takes a little bit to make people sick, if that little bit has some E. Coli hanging out inside. Hence, I am inclined to view some judicious pasteurization as a good thing.

Additionally, while many pro-raw milk folks tout the various health benefits that raw milk supposedly provides - benefits they say are destroyed by pasteurization - Marion Nestle goes to great lengths in her book What To Eat to explain that the jury is still out on those claims. According to Nestle, the body of scientific knowledge for raw milk benefits is somewhat shaky, with studies going both ways on the issue.

Which brings us to the question of taste. Having never tasted raw milk, I can't comment on how Clear Spring Creamery's milk compares. But I can say definitively that this farm's milk gives your average grocery store milk a good spanking every day of the week, and is the best milk I have ever - EVER - tasted. Frankly, I really don't see how raw milk could taste any better.

That being said, I feel that anyone seriously dedicated to drinking raw milk should go to great pains to research their suppliers. That means going to the farm, asking questions, getting a tour, meeting the cows, and so on. Raw milk buyers need to hold their suppliers to the highest possible standards if they want their dairy to be E. Coli-free.

*A quick pasteurizing tutorial: Pasteurization, named for Louis Pasteur who came up with the modern process in 1862, is the process of heating a food at a certain temperature for a definite length of time and then cooling it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Her First Calf

Her First Calf
Wendell Berry

Her fate seizes her and brings her
down. She is heavy with it. It
wrings her. The great weight
is heaved out of her. It eases.
She moves into what she has become,
sure in her fate now
as a fish free in the current.
She turns to the calf who has broken
out of the womb's water and its veil.
He breathes. She licks his wet hair.
He gathers his legs under him
and rises. He stands, and his legs
wobble. After the months
of his pursuit of her, now
they meet face to face.
From the beginnings of the world
his arrival and her welcome
have been prepared. They have always
known each other.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Truth About Cows

Cows have long eyelashes.
Cows are curious.
Cows are timorous.
Cows are great mothers.
Cows want to know what is in the bucket I'm carrying.
Cows do not moo politely.
Cows sometimes sound like angry dinosaurs.
Cows do not like it when their calves disappear.
Cows are not generous with their food.
Cows are not clean.
Cows do not hesitate to poop on whoever is behind them.
Cows like clover.
Cows disdain vetch.
Cows do not like to be touched without permission.
Cows have wet noses.
Cows have dainty ankles.
Cows eat their afterbirth.
Cows explore things (like my sweater) with their tongues.
Cows do not like the 4-wheeler.
Cows have large, luminous eyes.
Cows respond to kindness.
Cows are sneaky.
Cows think I don't hear them when they walk behind me.
Cows are creatures of habit.
Cows are superstitious.
Cows are patient.
Cows can get a little frisky.
Cows have grass stains on their knees.
Cows don't always understand death.
Cows can get depressed.
Cows are picturesque.
Cows like to be photographed.
Cows will win a staring contest.
Cows do not have a strongly developed sense of philanthropy.
Cows don't like to get their feet wet.
Cows want to know what you're doing.
Cows are methodical.
Cows are graceful, except when they're clumsy.
Cows are easily startled.
Cows like salt.
Cows hate it when they're blamed for global warming.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Digs At Clear Spring Creamery

I have now been at Clear Spring Creamery for exactly one month and one day, and I realized that I have yet to put up pictures of my new digs. For shame! So here we are.

Mark and Clare have put me up in a camper - one of the little trailer-types that you hitch to the back of a husky vehicle. It's quite a step up for me from last year... remember the tent?

Don't get me wrong - I loved last year. And the tent was not bad at all. But at the end of the day, I spent very little time there. We ate all our meals at the house, the shower was at the house, the internet was at the house, my cell phone only got reception on the front porch of the house... I'm sure you get the general idea.

One of my biggest challenges at Brightwood was not having much, if any, alone time. I'm pretty evenly divided between being an extrovert and an introvert, and if I have too much or too little alone time, I start getting cranky. And sometimes, all I wanted was to be able to fix my own dinner and eat it alone, then enjoy a book and some tea and revel in my solitude.

It looks like the pendulum has swung the other direction this year, for I am the only intern. Being the only intern, I have the trailer entirely to myself. This is good, since it is tiny and there is only one bed. A HUGE BED ALL FOR ME.

....and a bathroom! (I'll spare you a picture of the toilet. But it's clean, I promise.)

I'm not too concerned about not getting enough human interaction, since I'm working with Mark and Clare during the day, and I've been eating dinner with their family (which includes their kids, Paul and Paige) once or twice a week. It's a nice balance. The other nights, I'm free to use my tiny kitchen to my heart's content, which can involve some creative repositioning of certain elements.

The camper comes equipped with a stove and a non-working oven, so Mark and Clare got a very large toaster oven (with a convection oven setting, even!) for all my baking needs. I have so far used it to make a sweet onion tart and a spinach-mushroom quiche, both of which were delightful. (It's in the corner, looking suspiciously like a Cold War-era microwave. See it?)

I tend to spend my evenings reading and drinking tea to my heart's content.

And my fridge is full of dairy products. Wonder how that happened?