So what do you do with all that milk anyway? We’re just in the beginning stages of establishing our dairy here at the farm – our processing room is fully functional, but our milk machines lay dormant in the garage, the milk parlor just an outline on sketchbook paper. In the meantime, we’re all scrambling to use up the milk before it turns.
So what do you do with all that milk? You make buttermilk, a whole bunch of buttermilk. It’s incredibly easy: heat the milk to 86 degrees, stir in the culture, and let sit at 72 degrees for 12 to 24 hours.
With buttermilk you have a baker’s dream. Think buttermilk cookies, buttermilk scones, buttermilk muffins… And of course, buttermilk cake.
This amazingly easy cake recipe is courtesy of the great Smitten Kitchen. It’s even simple enough to whip together after evening milking (think 11 PM, swollen hands, milky hair, etc.) and bake in our toaster oven, which is a true test of a recipe’s feasibility. Try substituting the raspberries for another of your favorite toppings like strawberries or chocolate chips.
Easily our favorite buttermilk recipe is Mark Bittman’s buttermilk biscuits. They’re perfect for greasy breakfast sandwiches, and yes, even sustainably-minded farmers eat fatty foods.
Buttermilk Biscuits from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 to 5 tbsp. cold butter
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. buttermilk
1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl or food processor. Cut the butter into bits and either pulse it in the food processor or, if you’re using a bowl, pick up the dry ingredients and rub them with the butter between your fingers and drop them again. All the butter should be thoroughly blended into the flour mixture before you proceed.
2. Pulse a couple of times or use a large spoon to stir in the buttermilk, just until the mixture forms a ball. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it 10 times, no more. If it is very sticky, add a little flour, but very little; it should still stick slightly to your hands.
3. Press the dough into a 3/4-inch thick rectangle and cut into 2-inch rounds with a biscuit cutter or glass. Put the rounds on an ungreased baking sheet. Gently reshape the leftover dough and cut again. Bake for 7 to 9 minutes, or until the biscuits are a beautiful golden brown. Serve within 15 minutes for them to be at their best.
It’s been about one year since I donned my purple graduation cap and gown. At the time, I had no job prospects; my immediate post-grad plans were to travel to Europe for three weeks and deal with the realities of adulthood after a binge in the French and English countryside.
One year later, I’m living in an a-frame studio apartment above a shed in Washington state; from our porch door I can see the summit of Mt. Rainier peeking above the tree line of the field across the street. I’m surrounded on all sides by goats, alpacas, hens, and cawing roosters.
Our set-up is not too bad. Of course this is only after a minor life crisis: a week and a half ago Noah and I were literally homeless and unemployed in a state unfamiliar to both of us. We drove all the way across the country with our belongings in tow to begin the second installment of our farm apprenticeship, only to experience something like anaphylactic shock at seeing the disarray that ruled our newest farm-stay. We lasted six days, the whole time cringing at the mal-treatment of the animals, the disgusting condition of the cheese room, and the complete battiness of the farmer. That’s what we get for taking an apprenticeship on blind trust. Early on a Saturday morning, we broke our six-month contract just in time (we were still within our week-long trial period), re-packed our car and headed to the nearest cafe to begin our research. Adrenaline pumping, we remained in a state of hazy disbelief until the following day. We camped that night in the Wenatchee National Forest (gorgeous), drinking beers by the fire and having minor existential frets. Both of us college educated, largely cordial and cooperative, and passionate. What the hell were we doing living out of our car in the middle of Washington state with no income and nowhere to call home?
What followed was a Jack Kerouac-esque adventure, with us sleeping every night in a new place, camping or motel stays. We spent our days surfing the ATTRA Internships and Apprenticeships and WWOOFUSA at cafes in random Washington towns, making phone calls, and visiting farms. Our friends and family all offered us the names and phone numbers of anyone they knew on this side of the country. We were determined, though, to make farming work. If all else failed, we were headed to Portland (I’m totally not kidding). In five days, we toured four farms and crossed the Cascades three times.
We ended our adventure here, at Left Foot Farm on the Western side of the state, only about an hour outside of Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle. We’re charged with evening milking, chores, and feeding kids. We’re also gardening a quarter acre lot on the farm – we’re both super pumped to finally be getting our hands in some real dirt, but there’s a serious learning curve as the largest garden we’ve worked was our tiny porch in Brooklyn last summer. Nonetheless, we’re ready for the challenge. Pictures to come soon.
I’ve started reading Margaret Hathaway’s The Year of the Goat (given to me by the wonderful farmers at Willow Spring Ranch in Montana). It’s the story of a former Magnolia Barkery manager and her photo-editing boyfriend who leave their comfortable life in Brooklyn to travel the country for one year visting various goat farms and dairies. It’s refreshing to know that we’re not the only ones totally insane enough to leave behind our former selves, all in search of the perfect goat farm.
It’s been almost 6 months since my last post, and in that time I’ve managed to quit my full-time job, buy a car, rent our Brooklyn apartment and pack our most necessary belongings into the trunk of our Subaru Outback. It was about time that Noah and I began realizing our dream of starting a farm: post-grad life in the city was making us restless. We said bittersweet goodbyes to all of our closest friends and moved our lives (temporarily) to the great state of Vermont where we begin our farmer training. Of course, we threw ourselves a bangin’ goodbye party in our gutted apartment for all of our friends. Balcony, keg, beer pong, good company, what more?
Our journey began here, interning at Consider Bardwell Farm during their busiest time of year: kidding season, when all of their 92 milking does give birth.
Sadly, our time in Vermont is already coming to an end. We’ve fallen head over Muck boots for this tiny village called West Pawlet and of course, the farm. We’ve met some pretty incredible folks during our time here, not the least of whom are the farmers. It’d be impossible to sum up all that we’ve learned in just a single post. Instead, I’ll offer a video of what fills our days:
Next up? Grand ol’ Washington state. Barring any more car trouble (check engine light blinked on yesterday), in four days, we’ll be packing up our lives once more and trekking it across the country where we’ll be interning at Pine Stump Farms. I’ll be posting a map of our route later this week; we have just 10 days to get ourselves across the continent!
Goat cheese is delicious – creamy and tangy, it’s perfect in an omelette, on a salad, or with some roasted beets. And goats themselves are the funniest little creatures. They have dynamic personalities and, as pack animals, they’re incredibly social. I spent some time with a herd of goats during my farm women research up at Cross Island Farms on the Thousand Islands. That fall day, the herd was checking out two new additions to their family:
As the women were trying to size-up their new sisters, the billies were off in a neighboring field mowing down some unruly brush. Dani chose to keep her billies to use as future agri-tourism for the farm. She envisioned them pulling wagons, accompanying children on farm tours, and aiding in the upkeep of their fields.
However, most dairy farms don’t have the capacity to keep their billies, so the males are culled at birth. Heritage Foods USA has a solution to the problem of billies on dairies that would not only give dairy farmers a fair price for their male goats, but it would also extend the market for undervalued goat meat. Check out the video below with the wonderful Anne Saxelby of Saxelby Cheesemongers here in NYC as she introduces “No Goat Left Behind,” Heritage Foods’ cleverly named goat program which begins in Goatober.