Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Cheesemaking

Around our house, we don't really make a big deal of Valentine's Day. But this time of the year, Dan is at home more, and we had a lovely day together. So, what do a pair of farmers do to celebrate? In our case, we made cheese. We've seen that our eldest Dexter cow, Lil, has been losing some weight, so we decided to wean the calf and put her in the barn so she could get some extra feed. And since we're going through all that trouble, we decided she should pay us back in milk. Dan milks her twice a day, by hand. Being a Dexter, she doesn't produce gallons like the big black & white Holstiens many dairies use, but it's been more than enough for the two of us.

Dan started out by making some farmhouse cheddar. To make cheese, you need to heat the milk to a pretty exact temperature, and hold it for a certain length of time before introducing a starter culture. I am still amazed that a few minutes or degrees more or less can turn your cheddar into colby. The recipes for many cheeses, for the most part, are very similar. (exceptions are things like Swiss or blue, which require some special cultures.)   After we strained the curds, which are the solids that will form our cheese, we had a quantity of liquid left, called the whey. I decided that, rather than just feeding the whey to the pigs or chickens, we should make ricotta. Ricotta is traditionally a way to make a second batch of cheese from the whey. We did add a bit more whole milk just to get a bit more yield in the end. This time, we heated the milk and then added some vinegar. Again, we strained it, and got ricotta!

After the cheeses drain out through the cheesecloth, there is still more work to do. We mixed in a bit of cheese salt, and then for the cheddar, we put it, wrapped in cheesecloth, into a press. The press uses a spring to put pressure on the cheese, which is in a cheese mold that has plenty of small holes. This way, it presses out the last of the liquid to give you a firmer, harder cheese, which will continue to firm up over the next 60 days as we age it. (This is a food safety requirement for cheeses made from unpasteurized milk.) The ricotta, however, is ready to eat the same day. I mixed in a tiny bit of salt and then crushed up some basil I had dried last summer.

This also solved my problem of what to cook for our Valentine's Day dinner. I decided to make homemade calzones. While calzones may not sound all that special, when they are made of lots of homegrown ingredients, they really can be! (And, for the record, there is no thing as delivery in Tionesta...we literally cannot call any restaurant, not even a pizza shop, and have them bring it to us!) I made pizza dough and crushed up some more basil and oregano. Fresh ricotta and canned tomato sauce went inside, as did the onions we have been keeping since the stand closed, as well as some homemade pepperoni. I added a bit of grated Italian cheese (the kind with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic & basil we offer from Whispering Brook Cheese Haus), sealed them up, and put them into the oven on my preheated pizza stone. They came out crispy & delicious, and I firmly believe everything is better when you use ingredients you've grown and/or prepared yourselves.   The only downside to this delicious feast was the mess in the kitchen.  However my kitchen is almost never cleaned up completely, because I spend so much of my time cooking there, or washing dishes by hand.  

 ...and for those of you inclined to kitchen adventures, ricotta is really easy to make, and can be made with pasteurized milk from the store.  All you need in some cheesecloth & vinegar or lemon juice.  There are plenty of recipes online, and I even noticed it's included in March's edition of the Food Network Magazine.  I encourage anyone curious to give it a try!

 
 

Counting Down to Opening Day

Only 9 more days until we reopen for the year!  I'm excited and overwhelmed all at the same time.  I'm glad I was able to take 2 more days away from my day job next week, because as it is I put in almost a full day every evening after I get home.  There is so much to do!

I bottled my first homemade vinegar this week.  It's champagne vinegar, made with nothing but champagne (ok, domestic sparkling wine) a little water, mother of vinegar, and time.  It's fantastic!! I'll have a few bottles for sale and I've already started the next batch, but it will be a few months before it's ready.  I've been drying herbs in my little food dehydrator, so far I've packaged chamomile and some oregano.  I need a bigger drying space!  

We got some quail eggs and set them in the incubator last night, along with some Delaware chicken eggs from my girls here.  If all goes well, we'll have quail eggs & meat for sale by mid summer.  The Delawares will be to increase my laying flock, because those are my most productive and favorites of all the breeds we raise.

I was going to transplant some zucchini and pepper plants just now, but I see a wild turkey at the edge of the garden right now.  They are so neat to have around, I'll let him clean up some insects before I go out to plant, as I still have a few hours of daylight left. 

We still need to clean up the stand, but the fridge is plugged in and full of cheese.  Tom, Dan's father,  picked up our first order of raw milk cheese from Whispering Brook Cheese Haus, so we're set to go with that again.  New this year (for us) is a cheddar made from goat's milk and an Italian cheese with sun dried tomato chips, basil, and garlic.  We also got a lot of the Dill & Bacon cheddar which was so good we sold out of it the first day we had it last year.  We also have Longhorn (Colby), Mild Cheddar, Smoked Sharp Cheddar, Jalapeño, and Horseradish again this year as well. So now I just need to forget it's down there so there is some left to sell!  

I've been working on updating the website page with products and prices.  A good portion of it is already live, but I'm holding off on listing the veggies yet.  I don't want to advertise things only to find they just didn't ripen in time for the first weekend.  I do try and go out to the garden nightly while I'm tending the rabbits... maybe if I just stare hard enough, I'll magically make the peas ripes or something...

I've also been working hard on getting the June e-newsletter completed.  It's almost ready to go out, hopefully I'll have the time to get that out next week.  We also participated in donating wool & hair for the oil spill, but that's a story I don't have time to type out tonight!  There is still so much to be done, and I won't get it finished if I'm blogging.  We hope to be seeing you next weekend! 

 
 
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