Life is sweet – especially when you know that soon you’ll be contributing to the local bee population’s survival. But more of that, later in this post….
Unlike the bees so far this year, we’ve had another busy week. After catching up with things following the Llanwrtyd Wells Festival last Saturday, we had another big batch of gelato to make – & this week, it was the more challenging chocolate: not necessarily so difficult to craft as with just Rich Chocolate, Mint Chocolate & Chocolate+Orange there aren’t the physical inclusions (such as strawberries or cinder toffee shards) to ensure are evenly stirred in; just the fresh, clean ice-cool of pure peppermint oil & the converse warmth of lovely, natural Valencia orange with which to infuse the cacao base mixture. However, it’s the pasteurisation technique which is crucial, as the poudre cacao has to be so carefully cooked in.
And this week – owing to our now seriously-depleted stocks – we were filling Food Centre Wales’ modest vat to capacity; which takes extra care & work as all the mixture in the pasteuriser has to be evenly agitated to properly mingle all the ingredients & to prevent the chocolate from sticking to the searingly-hot sides of the vat – which is not only a nightmare to clean but more worryingly, could potentially impart an overcooked flavour to the mix; which would then mean discarding the entire batch…an extremely expensive mistake. And trust me it isn’t easy, as the vat has only a tiny agitiation paddle & the mix gets burningly hot but still has to be hand-stirred for effective cooking.
Although in spite of the pressure of time & quantities we thankfully managed to create a beautifully-balanced chocolate, we did unfortunately suffer with considerable adherence to the floor & walls of the inner vat; thus Tony muttered dire imprecations as he scrubbed with an ineffective brush until I managed to scrounge a scourer from Mark which thankfully saved the day (as well as the pasteuriser’s stainless steel liner). So whilst cooking in the cacao is a hard enough experience in itself as the entire building is infused with the rich aroma of fine quality, dark melted chocolate (certainly not a job to do, if you’re feeling peckish!) admittedly it is enough by the end of the day to put you right off chocolate when you’ve spent a good 45 minutes trying to scrub solid chunks of it out of a stubborn stainless-steel drum.
OK; perhaps I’m fibbing about being permanently put off chocolate, make that ten minutes at most…! 😉
Around 150 litres & three varieities of the finest dark chocolate gelato later, & we were exhausted….well worth the effort though; especially as the Mint & Orange varieties sold out almost immediately. So, no rest for the wicked then; we’ll just have to make even more….!
Meanwhile, onto our exciting news. Just after lunch today, the aply-named Mel arrived to discuss a vitally important smallholding/farming/nay, living topic with us: bees. I say aptly-named, as his moniker in Welsh is also the word for honey; & the gentleman himself is famed throughout Wales for his beekeeping skill which produces such delicious & renowned, multiple-award-winning honey.
It just so happens Mel is President of our local Beekeepers’ Association; which I hadn’t realised until we were engaged in conversation the other week, casually leaning over the old stone bridge which marks the boundary between our land & that of his endearingly charming son – another true gentleman, in every sense – who farms the land on the eastern edge of the cwm (valley). The soft whisper of the river echoed Mel’s hushed tones as he spoke with due reverence about the wonder which is the not-so-humble honey bee, the trees dancing dappled shade-&-light across the laughing waters below.
I’d emphasised our increasing worries about the bee population as a whole; especially concerned that our current honey supplier had advised they may no longer be able to supply even their established customers in the locality as over the past year they’d lost a staggering 140 colonies.
After discussing our management of the Ffarm Mel had agreed it may indeed provide a conducive environment for beekeeping; & a couple of days later arrived to research a suitable site.
Now that Tony had returned, discussions commenced in earnest; & Mel had concluded that an ideal spot would be one we’d suggested ourselves; on an unused parcel of land between the hay meadows & our ancient, deciduous woods; providing a wide variety & proliferation of natural flora which has thankfully been untouched by chemicals for many a generation. Enthusiastically, Tony offered his services to prepare the site, by cutting back the brambles in the area.
“You’ll do no such thing!” Mel warned. “Those brambles will provide an ideal source of food for the bees later on in the season. In the meantime there’s plenty of gorse & an abundant variety of wild flowers for them; although the bluebell wood might not prove such a draw, as bees seem happier with hedgerow bluebells but less inclined to take nectar from the same flowers, when growing in the woods.” Well, they say there’s nowt as queer as folk – I suppose the same must go for bees!
So the Grand Plan is: Mel will establish the hives & their colonies, & then manage them for us; so that the bees enjoy the best possible natural habitat – & our gelato will benefit from the finest organically-managed wildflower/woodland honey….as we’ll buy it directly back from Mel. He’s agreed to loose-filter it too, so that there’ll be more of that gorgeous natural pollen flavour which we’ve found infuses so beautifully throughout the gelato. And he’s given us a jar of his own honey to try – we can’t wait!
Shortly after Mel departed, our old friends & highly-respected Goat Gurus – Dreda & Rowe from Monach Farms – arrived; they’re staying overnight after delivering some caprines to a smallholder in Crosshands.
And we were also the recipients of two new recruits to the Milkforce: the first generation of a new breed for us, a pair of statuesque British Saanen ladies – pure white goats who are a little bigger than the British Toggenburgs we’re used to & with (it would already appear, bless ’em) considerably less brainpower! Both first-kidders, one of the young ladies has already birthed healthy, robust triplets; & both have beautiful full, soft udders; although they were certainly very confused at arriving in unfamiliar premises & did not exactly relish being milked on an unfamiliar stand in spite of Rowe’s extremely skilfull & gentle technique. Roll on tomorrow; when they have the trials & tribulations of the-up-&-down ramps; & the noises & scariness of the Milking Parlour, to endure.
Oh dear. Wish ’em luck….
So this evening after the new goats had been milked & settled in as comfortablyas possible, we enjoyed a leisurely, lazy supper at home….& rather nervously, I served some of our Royal Bourbon Vanilla gelato with an apple & cinnamon pie, for dessert. I was relieved that these grateful gourmets evidently approved!
After an agreeable evening with wine & conversation flowing with equal enthusiasm, we all reluctantly turned in for another late night – as ever, there just aren’t enough hours in such a fulfilling day.
And tomorrow will have even more challenges – sad ones, at that…. 😦