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Winter dreams of goat milk

January 17, 2011

I was just thinking, as I loaded the wood stove with seasoned maple and oak to stave off the winter’s chill on this, the coldest night of the season; I was thinking that if it was summer I might be unwrapping two pounds of goat cheese. I might be inhaling that unique fragrance, like yogurt mixed with fresh grass and other faint scents impossible to describe. I could be lifting some wayward crumb of chevre from the folds of butter muslin and tasting the finished product; noticing its smooth, slightly creamy texture; enjoying the complex flavor as it melts across my palate: sweet here and tangy there, subtle overtones of foliage and bloom, offset by an undertone of randy, visceral goat. My mind might travel to a National Geographic story about goatherds in Turkey and the women who gather to milk hundreds of goats in an hour’s time.

I might flash on that story again early tomorrow morning when I pull my stool up to the milking stand to draw the first milk of the day; making a couple of slow pulls, checking the first milk and tossing it out, then warming the doe up with short, fast squeezes. I’ll gently lean my shoulder into her warm side and envision the rapid suckling of her kids, paused momentarily with intermittent, energetic upward nudges to coax the milk to flow freely. I’ll start as fast as I possibly can, then, when her milk is let down, I”ll slow slightly and settle into a strong, constant rhythm.

Bottles of milk will gather, morning and night, and after a couple of days I’ll take two gallons to make cheese again. A gallon for drinking, a gallon or two for a friend or two, and cheesemaking two or three times a week will use up our seven gallons a week from two does. If it seems like a lot of milk for the homestead, it is, but you really shouldn’t keep a solitary goat. And I freeze cheese to enjoy in the dry, milk-less season.

I have my fingers crossed in hopes that the dairy does successfully freshen this spring and milk will once again flow in our little valley, metering our days and filling up the fridge. We miss the fresh, raw milk, and, after a couple of months free from punching the milking and cheesemaking clock, I miss the routine. As the days noticeably lengthen even as the harsh winter weather envelops, I invite you to enjoy, in pictures, a taste of my memories of the past milking season and my hopes for the coming spring.

fresh spring milk

ladling the curd

hanging cheese

awaiting release

finished chevre

ready for fresh-cut herbs

spring kids!

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