Saturday, March 26, 2016

Goats and Artistic Cheese

Starting in March, my phone conversations with Tasha often discussed the first snowdrop or crocus to blossom, the return of red-winged blackbirds, or the constant cheeping of spring peepers. As much as we loved the first flowers and flocks of robins, one of the most important markers in the progression of spring was when our goats delivered their kids. Even though we had both kept goats for numerous years, we confessed tidbits of apprehension when we found a doe in labor. Most of the time the births were normal, but now and then, we had to assist the mother as she brought forth twins or triplets. When all the does had birthed their young, our conversations turned to how many kids now scampered in the barn, how well they drank from their bottles, and which female kids would make champion milkers.
 But of course, the spring ritual of goat kids actually began in a different shed where Tasha kept her male goat, nick-named Bucky after Buckminster Fuller, who lived with another goat in a separate shed. While Tasha never accepted my offer to milk her does, she sometimes sent me to fill Bucky’s water bucket and to feed him hay.
During the evening chore time, I would follow Tasha around, assisting in small ways. Milking her does was a cherished task. Her gentle female goats knew who was to be milked first, and without any prodding, the does would walk out of their pen, and jump on the stanchion. They needed no restraint to keep them on the small platform where Tasha stripped them of their milk as they munched on a pan of grain. As soon as one goat was finished, she jumped off, and allowed the next doe, her special moment with Tasha. The only sound was of milk flowing into the metal bucket and the goat’s teeth crunching on her feed. As the Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh wrote, these sounds are the “music of milking”.
Tasha preferred Nubian goats with their floppy ears and broad Roman noses, splashes of vanilla-colored spots shimmering on their brown coats. Nubian does love attention and can be one of the most vocal breeds, bawling about their need for more hay or a small snack from the garden. Because the goats provided a rich manure that Tasha spread on her vegetable and flower garden, so that those plantings yielded bountiful crops, and lush blossoms on her peonies, foxgloves, and numerous roses.

Although I had crafted cheese from cow’s milk for many years, I turned to Tasha for answers about how to perfect my goat cheese. She suggested a French cheesemakers book, The Fabrication of Farmstead Goat Cheese, and also gave me a subscription to Dairy Goat Journal. Tasha also pointed out that cheesemaking is an art that demanded precision, patience, and constant practice. Like the paintings and sketches scattered at the end of her trestle table, Tasha applied these character traits to her simple life and encouraged me to follow her example in whatever artistic pursuit I explored.