No Cow? No Problem!

Up until now, I have written countless blog posts on gardening and music. However, I have yet to post anything having to do with my other favorite pastime — home cheese making. So now, I’m going to fill that hole. Here comes my very first Garden Troubadour blog post referencing this wonderful dairy delight — and please don’t tell me that this is cheesy or an udder failure!

When most of us think about milk for making cheese, our first thought is of cows. And why not? The vast majority of the fluid milk in the US dairy industry comes from high-yielding dairy cows. But when it comes to milk, cows are not the be all and end all. Here in the United States, cheese is also made from the milk of goats and sheep, but throughout history, man has obtained milk from a wide variety of mammalian species. Can you imagine making cheese from the milk of a mare? How about from a camel? A zebu? A yak? An ass? (Okay, get your minds out of the gutter)!

The truth is that all of these animals and many more have been used throughout the history of mankind to produce milk for drinking and cheesemaking. Mozzarella cheese was traditionally made from the milk of the water buffalo. The Laplanders of Finland used the milk of the reindeer. (And you thought they were only useful for pulling Santa’s sleigh!)

On one occasion, in one of my classes, I had a student ask me if human milk could be used to make cheese. In my opinion, that would be a waste, since human infants need the milk more than we need cheese. It could be done, I’m sure, but why?

Here in the US, we are pretty much limited to the milk of cows, goats, and sheep. Here are some tips on using all three.

Cow’s Milk: Cow’s milk will produce a firm curd when properly renneted. Since it’s the most prominent dairy species in the industry, cow’s milk is abundant and relatively inexpensive.If you plan to buy a cow to produce your own milk, Jerseys or Brown Swiss are the best species to purchase. Both produce milk with a high butterfat content and both animals have a sweet temperament that makes them easy to manage.

Jersey CowBrown Swiss Cow

Goat’s Milk: Goat’s milk has smaller butterfat globules than cow’s milk, so it tends to be naturally homogenized (as opposed to cow’s milk which must be heat-treated and pressurized to homogenize it). As a result goat’s milk tends to produce a slightly softer curd when renneted, so they must be treated a bit more gently during th cheesemaking process. Goat’s milk also contains no carotene, so it produces a much whiter cheese. Because goat milk contains naturally occurring lipase enzymes, it produces cheese that has more of a pepper hot pungency to it. If you wish to purchase your own goat, recommended breeds include the Nubian, Alpine, Saanen, and Toggenburg.

NubianAlpineSaanenToggenburg

Sheep’s Milk: Sheep’s milk tends to have a higher vitamin and mineral content than goat’s or cow’s milk, making it a more nutritionally dense liquid. Sheep’s milk contains about ten percent less water than either cow’s or goat’s milk. Because of this, it nearly twice as high in solids and tends to produce two and a half times the cheese yield of the milk from the other two species. Sheep’s milk can also be frozen until you obtain enough to make cheese; freezing will not adversely affect the quality of the milk or the cheese. When making cheese with sheep’s milk, use three to five times less rennet; make larger cubes when cutting the curd; use half the amount of salt called for; and exert light pressure when pressing your cheese. The most common breed of sheep for milking is the East Friesian.

East Friesian Sheep

So if you find that you do not have access to the right kind of milk, don’t have a cow! Wipe that sheepish grin off your face, and don’t let it get your goat!

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Come Taste the Summer

canned veg (640x603)

You can taste a little of the summer
My grandma’s put it all in jars

― Greg Brown

When the cold winds of December and January penetrate through to our very bones, and the snow is piled up all around us, we often find ourselves wishing for the warmth and “easy weather” of spring and summer. And we gardeners especially miss all of those fresh summer vegetables that we work so hard to grow each year. Nothing can beat the flavor of a fresh picked tomato or the sweetness of corn on the cob, and the fruits and vegetables we buy at the grocery store are a poor substitute.

We can’t extend spring and summer weather on the planet, but we can extend spring and summer for our taste buds. How? By taking steps to preserve our summer fruits and veggies for consumption through the winter. I’m talking canning, freezing, drying, and cold storage.

Decades ago, before there was a supermarket or Wal-Mart on every corner, food preservation was a necessity. The food that people grew (or hunted) in the warmer months had to last them through the winter. Therefore, it was essential that they took steps to store that food in such a way that it would not spoil so that they would have enough to eat from November through April.

Nowadays, food preservation is no longer essential to surviving the winter. But what better way to ease those winter blues than by dining on delicious summer fruits and vegetables. I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I bite into one of my homemade pickles or dine on a pasta dish liberally slathered with my homemade pasta sauce, it’s summer again for those few minutes. The winter winds seem less harsh, and the mounds of snow seem less depressing.

So if you still have summer vegetables left over, now is the time to act. Now is the time to begin canning, freezing, or drying the leftovers, or storing them in a root cellar, window well, or other basement enclosure. Now is the time to start making pickles, chutney, jam, jelly, etc. If you don’t know how to do any of this, there are a multitude of books out there that can teach you how. Or you could take one of my classes (hint, hint!). But however you do it, start soon, because warm weather won’t last forever and those fresh summer fruits and vegetables won’t stay fresh for long. Summer cannot be extended, but it can be preserved. And come come the frosty blasts of winter, your soul (and your taste buds) will thank you.

The Precious Lifetime Gift of Music

You feed your children. You clothe your children. You wash them, dress them, protect them, read to them, and send them to school. All well, necessary, and commendable.

But do you sing to them?

Perhaps you misunderstood me. I did not ask if you turn on the radio, plug in your iPod, or throw on a CD. I’m talking about actually making musical sounds with your voice in the presence of your offspring.

Mother Sings to Baby

Growing up, I remember my mother and father singing all the time around the house. My father sang as he was getting ready for work in the morning; sang in the shower, and sometimes would just spontaneously break out into song whenever the mood struck him. My mother sang us to sleep, sang to comfort us, sang to make us laugh, and, like my father, sometimes sang for no good reason other than she just felt like it.

As I’m typing this, my mind is racing back in time. I can see and hear my father singing “Up, Up, and Away” while shaving in front of the mirror in the bathroom of the apartment where we lived in Chicago. I can see and hear my mother singing “Scarlet Ribbons” as my sister and I were getting ready for bed – again, in that same Chicago apartment. So many songs, so many wonderful memories. I could fill a book with them.

My parents sang many of the songs from their own childhoods, as well as some of the popular songs of the 1960’s and 70’s. My father sang Civil War tunes, Spike Jones songs (“Der Fuhrer’s Face”, “Behind Those Swinging Doors”), songs from movies (“More”, “The Shadow of Your Smile”) as well as classics such as “Daisy Belle”, “In My Merry Oldsmobile”, and “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.” My mother, who was blessed with a beautiful voice and sang with a band, would croon a lot of 40’s and 50’s songs such as “How Much is That Doggie in the Window”, “Oh Johnny”, and “If You Knew Susie”, to mention a few. She sang kid-friendly tunes like “The Mulberry Bush” and “Did You Ever See a Lassie?” and folk tunes like “Shenandoah” and “Buffalo Gals”. She sang novelty tunes such as “I’m a Lonely Little Petunia in An Onion Patch” and radio show theme songs such as “It Pays to Be Ignorant”. She even sang the Chiquita Banana commercial jingle.

Now I’m quite certain that my mom and dad did not wake up every morning and think, “What can I sing today that my son is going to remember all his life and years later can write about in a blog?” I have no doubt that both my folks were singing just to express their joy. But they didn’t realize that I was listening and remembering.

And what was the result of all this parental singing? Well, for starters, I have a brain as full of song as a cornucopia is of fruit. I have songs for every occasion that I can trot out at a moment’s notice without needing to have the words in front of me – a heaven-sent asset for any musical entertainer. When I sing some of these songs for senior citizens, I can see the light of recognition in their eyes and the joy on their faces as I, no doubt, stimulate a few memories of their own. I can sing “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I’m going to eat some worms” to children and watch the looks on their faces when I ask, “Who wants to eat a worm?”

DSCN8077

I also have an appreciation for a wide variety of music. My cornucopia of song consists of country-western, bluegrass, rock ‘n’ roll, pop, movie tunes, Broadway show tunes, TV show theme songs, commercial jingles, folk, and even songs in foreign languages.

But most of all, I have a lifetime of cherished childhood memories that adds another facet to the love I feel for my mom and dad. All it takes is for someone to sing or hum a few bars of one of my folks’ songs, and I’m a carefree child once again.

brain-with-music-from-Denise

They say that “little pitchers have big ears.” Well, with what do we want to fill those ears? Electronic Pablum to make them crazy? Or songs from our hearts that we sing to express joy and that will make them smile and laugh and give them wonderful childhood memories?

So by all means, sing to your children. And for heaven’s sake, don’t worry about whether or not you have a good voice. I promise you, your children won’t care. Sing rock ‘n’ roll songs. Sing silly songs. Sing anything as long as it makes you happy. You’ll be strengthening the ties that bind and giving your children a precious gift that they’ll carry with them all their lives.

Music is the food of love. So serve generous helpings.