Today could not have been more nail-bitingly different, to yesterday:
the grey halflight of dawn was suffused with a dark, damp mist hanging heavy over the hayfield. To be honest I’d had an uneasy feeling as I quietly closed the farmhouse door late last night, after checking all the animals were safely tucked up in their comfortable beds: the breathtaking brilliance of the edge of our galaxy’s delicate necklace of a million milky pearls of stars, which had so delighted & amazed me only hours before, had been swiftly obscured by an obstinate layer of pendulous, creeping cloud. So when the full morning light drearily revealed grey, gloomy skies I was fully prepared for a rainy morning & a ruined haycrop.
I gritted my teeth & coordinated Nanuk’s early walk with pulling up clumps of that evil yellow weed, ragwort, from Parc Ysgyfarnog (the ‘Harefield’) as the dog tore around the field in high-speed delight until she literally dropped to the ground with happy exhaustion. All too often one sees patches of dangerously-fenced, pathetically over-grazed pasture, overburdened with skinny ponies scratching at the few remaining dock leaves & tall tufts of scrubby, sherbert-coloured ragwort flowers – plants which will bring about the ponies’ slow, painful deaths if left unattended. I don’t know whether it’s sheer ignorance or sheer laziness which leads to such tragic neglect; either way, those responsible should be ashamed to keep animals in such disgusting circumstances.
Will turned the hay again at around 2pm, when there was a tentative break in the cloud & even a few scant rays of watery sunlight. But all too soon the cloying mist had returned; & I set off up to Parc Cam (‘Bendy Field’), pitchfork over my back, in a mood of grim determination despite the fine but relentless grey drizzle to turn the hay away from the perimeter of the hedgeline, by hand. It was energetic but energizing work despite being mostly uphill, although with the heavy, lowering cloud, I was beginning to debate with myself why I was bothering.
By the time I’d finished & returned to the ffarmyard to resume the ceaseless round of chores, a brief break in the clouds revealed a stunning sunset behind the majestic backdrop of the two Frenni Mountains, silhouetted in a blaze of deep, fiery orange as the sky succumbed to darkness. But all too soon the mist was snaking back up above the river in the valley, & the windmills on Moelfre (‘Bare’ i.e. treeless ‘Hill’) were shrouded from view. I’m helpless to change the weather, though; there’s nothing that can be done, other than hope that tomorrow is a finer day.
But that wasn’t the only thing to go wrong, today: venturing up the lane to check the postbox & close the gate after Will had been to turn the hay, I found to my dismay a crisp white envelope from the local Planning Department….informing us (almost to the day of the planning deadline, & a month after we submitted it) that we would have to now reapply for FULL planning permission rather than obtain permitted development rights, as the proposed development was ‘within 400 metres of a protected building’. This has flummoxed me, somewhat; there are no ‘protected’ buildings at Ffarm Fach, to our knowledge. There was no explanation as to which of our buildings is designated as protected; nor what the term, ‘protected’, actually constitutes. I tried several times throughout the day to contact the Department for some clarity, but there was no answer from the number given. This is a grave, & unplanned, setback. To obtain full planning permission to build the Dairy Complex is a far more protracted process, which will take at least another six to eight weeks; during which time we cannot possibly begin the groundworks in case our application is refused for any reason. This takes us into October – season of mists & mellow fruitfulness etc etc – & of frosts. We cannot lay concrete, if it is frosty – which could even delay the whole project until the Spring….& we desperately need the room in the new building for our ever-growing dairy herd, as we cannot put the goats ‘in kid’ if there’s nowhere for them to be born – so no milk either….what a disaster.
With a sigh as heavy as the deep evening dew, I returned to the cottage to find solace in a little cheesemaking, starting the magic of conjouring a soft goats’ cheese log based on an ancient recipe from Bordeaux, but adapted through personal experimentation to best complement the creamy, rich milk produced by our goats, with the morning’s milk. This is a wonderfully simple, delicious cheese & can be made relatively easily in the kitchen at home; I’ve dubbed it ‘Cilrheydyn’ after the old name for our locality. So, especially for fellow cheesemaker Nora (aka ‘Chicken Dumpling’ in San Fransisco – see my Blogroll for a link to her humorous cheesemaking antics), here’s how to do it:
CHEESE RECIPE: ‘CAWS’ CILRHEDYN CHEVRE
5 litres fresh, full cream goats’ milk; one-tenth of a sachet of MA400 DVI starter culture (or other soft cheese starter – 5mls if using liquid starter); 4 drops of rennet; salt (table salt is fine; don’t be tempted to use sea salt flakes).
Large pan or stock pot with lid, for the milk; clock, for checking timings (particularly stirring times); thermometer; long-handled spoon, for stirring in starter & rennet; dropper (if required), for measuring rennet; tablespoon, for diluting rennet; approx 2-7 small plastic cheese moulds, depending on size/shape; slotted spoon or spare mould, for ladling curd; a length of cheesecloth or a thin teatowel to cover the moulds; suitable vessel in which to stand the moulds as they drain; cheese matting (if possible) on which to dry your cheeses for a more even finish.
N.B. Sterilize ALL equipment before use!
Pasteurize the milk by heating to 66°C for 30 minutes (if required) then allow to cool to 22°C. Carefully add the starter & stir for five minutes. Cover the pan & leave for 30 minutes. Dilute the four drops of rennet in a tablespoon of boiled, cooled water & stir for two minutes. Cover the pan & leave to coagulate overnight in a warm place (@ 21-22°C). The following morning you should have a neat ‘moon’ of curd floating in a cradle of whey. Gently drain off a little of the excess whey & carefully ladle the curds evenly into moulds (I find small plastic log moulds work particularly well with this cheese), piling in the curd because over the next two days it will sink to around half its height. Cover the cheeses with cheesecloth & leave to drain in a warm place (@ 21-22°C).
After two days remove the cheeses from their moulds, rub a little salt on the surfaces & leave to dry on mats, again at the same temperature; turn occasionally (more frequently at the beginning of the process). Once they are dry – after approx 24 hours – they are ready to eat but will acquire a more tantalizingly robust taste & firmer texture if left to ripen for another 2-3 days or so.
Cheesecloth, matting, starter & rennet can be purchased from suppliers such as Moorlands, Goat Nutrition Ltd, Ascott, Smallholding Supplies, & Jongia (see Cheese Links). Oh, & don’t be tempted to use homogenized milk, as it won’t work!
For variety you can roll the surface of the finished cheese in dried herbs or cracked black pepper, for example. I’d recommend doing this after the cheeses have been drying for around 12 hours – this way the salt has been absorbed but the surface of the cheese is still sufficiently moist to allow the herbs to stick.
It’s fascinating to observe the taste & ‘mouthfeel’ of the cheese, as it matures; you’ll find it changes every day & you’ll soon get an idea of what depth & complexity of flavour & texture you prefer. Keeping careful & accurate records of exactly how you make your cheese will prove an indispensible part of the process: this way you can gain a better understanding of what went right (when it did) &, if it does go wrong, why it did (for example, fluctuations in temperature; deviations from the timing parameters; starter failure; etc). It’ll help inform your experience & develop your expertise to produce increasingly consistent results. I’ll design a ‘Cheese Checklist’ & add it to the Cheese Notes in the Dairy Page – so keep an eye out for it as I’m sure you’ll find it helpful. Enjoy your cheesemaking – let me know how it goes….!