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Easy to Make Goat Cheese

Renee headshotGoat cheese, also known as "chevre," is a really easy cheese to make. The only cheese that is easier, in my opinion, is paneer cheese. To make paneer cheese all you do is add lemon to cow's milk for it to curdle and then you squish out the whey. You can use it right away. I make Sag Paneer, which is an Indian spinach and cheese dish.

I live in an area where there are a lot of back yard goats. I didn't want to keep any goats of my own because we're too busy fixing this place up as you already know! So when I made friends with a neighbor who keeps goats and she offered me fresh milk I jumped at the chance.

Here's how I make it. This recipe makes about a pound of cheese.

Supplies

  • Large stainless steel pot, heavy bottom is good, with lid or something to completely cover it.
  • Butter muslin or fine cheesecloth or a clean single layer of a clean pillowcase.
  • Large spoon for stirring, measuring cups and spoons, colander. (All stainless steel: these can be boiled to make sterile).
  • Cheese thermometer (I got mine from New England Cheese makers).
  • Optional: Chevre molds (I've never used them because they are a little expensive, but if you want little cylinder shapes they are great).

goat cheese ingredients
I made this at night so my photos are a little dark.

Ingredients

  • 2 quarts goat milk (can be pasteurized store bought. If you buy fresh milk make sure it is from a person who keeps everything REALLY clean).
  • 1/8 tsp MM100 (mesophilic) culture (Look online for this unless you know of a handy place. There's New England Cheese makers, for example. I get my culture at Mountain Garden Supply in Ben Lomond, CA).
  • 1/4 cup cool water.
  • 1 or 2 drops rennet (can be vegetarian or non-vegetarian type. Non-vegetarian is made from the lining of the 4th stomach of a new born calf. Some people object to that. Vegetarian is made from fermented soybeans).
  • Salt to taste.
  • Fresh or dried herbs to taste.

Method

  1. It's best to pasteurize this milk at a low temperature because it's going to sit on the counter for a few hours to culture. I do this so I don't worry about it going bad. Also doing this makes the cheese last longer in storage. Up to two weeks in the fridge. If you decide not to heat it make sure you keep everything clean. That's why I suggest all stainless steel equipment so it can be sterilized.
  2. heating up goat cheese

  3. Pour milk into pot and using your thermometer heat it to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. I am not so lucky as to have a gas stove, but if I keep a real close eye on the thermometer and when the electric coils start to get hot and the temperature is approaching 145 degrees I turn it down. Keep it at 145 degrees (5 degrees more or less) for 30 minutes.
  4. Cool milk to 80 degrees. To speed up the cooling process you can put the pot in cool water or even an ice bath.
  5. If a "skin" formed on the milk while it was heating just stir it in and then sprinkle the MM100 culture over the top of the milk. Let it re-hydrate for two minutes. Stir it in gently.
  6. Drop 1-2 drops of rennet in the 1/4 cup of cool water. Remove 2 tablespoons of the water and mix it into the cheese. Discard what remains of the water.
  7. Cover the pot and let it sit at room temperature for 8-12 hours. I make my cheese in the early evening. It cultures while I sleep. The longer it sits the drier it will eventually be.
  8. In the morning a soft curd will have formed if everything goes right. Like thin yogurt. There will also be clear whey on top. It will smell like tangy yogurt. Yum!
  9. goat cheese curds

  10. Drape the butter muslin over the colander which is set in a large bowl. Carefully decant the curdled milk into the center of the colander. The whey will drain into the bowl for other uses. Another trick is to gather up the bag by the corners and tie them. Then hang the bag from your cabinet doors over the catchment. Let a good deal of whey drain out and then lift up the corners of the muslin and tie around a stick which you can suspend between cabinet handles.
  11. If you've decided to use chevre molds carefully ladle the curds into each mold that are set over something to catch the whey.
  12. goat cheese draining

  13. Drain cheese for another 8-12 hours. Like I said before the longer you let it drain the drier it will be. If it is very hot out, I put it in the fridge after six hours or so. The curd is ready when the whey stops dripping. The cheese will be the consistency of cream cheese. If you want a "harder" soft cheese let the cheese age and further drip whey out in the fridge for a day or so.
  14. drained goat cheese

  15. Blend the salt in, about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon for a pound of cheese according to your taste. Start with a little, taste it, and blend in more if it's not enough. You can't take it out! It's fine not to use salt at all. I use herbs. It's up to you what tastes good to you. The resulting cheese will keep, covered in a glass container or packed in olive oil, for about a month in the refrigerator. It also freezes really well. Bon Appétit!

Author's Note: I'm taking a break from thinking about what it's like to renovate an old ranch. My neighbors gave me some fresh goat milk so I just have to make some goat cheese!

Photos property of Renee-Lucie Benoit.

A Fixer-Upper Farm

Renee headshotI remember the first time it hit me. I was standing on the back porch after a long day's work and all of a sudden reality set in. This is never going to end.

Let me pause here and say this is not going to be a doom and gloom story. There's reality, and then there's truth. Reality is what gets you in the day to day. Truth is what keeps you going to find the rainbow at the end of the storm. I have found my rainbow and let me tell you how I did it.

In 2016 we bought an acreage where we intended to keep our horses, have a household garden from which to feed ourselves, and for simple room to breathe. Some days I think all the work we have to do will do me in. It seems like just as I get one thing fixed another thing breaks.

Most days there are many, many things broken all at once and it's hard to figure out where to start. My farmer uncle from Illinois said, "Don't buy a place of your own unless you like fixing things," and he was right.

Who can afford to buy bare land and then build from the ground up? Most of us, and that's including me, have to buy something that someone else's grubby little paws have messed with (I'm laughing I hope you know!). If you're lucky whoever they were did it the right way but I'm here to testify that most of the time they don't!

Not only that but the current owner is very likely to be the 3rd or 4th in a succession of owners and never did know, for example, where the water lines were or where the electric lines to the barn, the arena or the yard lights are. They just always worked until they didn't so when you buy the place they're still broken!

Here's an example: when we managed a cattle ranch in Northern California prior to coming here we were shocked to see that how they fixed broken electric lines. Since they had no clue where the real lines were they just strung heavy duty extension cords!

Anyway, that was the predicament we found ourselves in three years ago when we bought our 2-1/2 acres in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley. Everything was in disrepair. But we knew that then and we accepted it.

We knew that the bones of the house and outbuildings were good and we got it at a fair price. Our plan was to put in a lot of sweat equity, sell it in about two years so we didn't have to pay taxes, and move up to something even better.

Two and a half years later...

I should have known. Everything that we have worked on has become more complicated than I thought or could have imagined. Nothing goes the way it is planned.

Some days we laugh. Other days we cry. We soldier on. This is our dream, after all. This is what we signed up for and we can't quit until we succeed.

So, like I said, we're currently half way through our "Two Year Renovation Plan," and it's been two and a half years. Marty keeps saying, "Next year when we finish...!" And I keep saying, "Yeah, right!"

Let's go back to the day we moved in. Just to keep it interesting, that very evening the well quit on us. Home warranty insurance took care of the majority of the cost to put in a new pump and we only had to go without water for a couple days.

Fortunately the livestock troughs had been topped off the day before the well broke and the weather was cool so the animals could make it. Good and auspicious start, don't you think?

Roofing and windows

OK, well fixed. Now what? Clearly the roof and windows had to be replaced. We had a 35 year old shake shingle roof and there was no way we were going to take a chance trying to make it through the winter. This was one thing we did not want to fix on our own.

We got a HERO loan so we could pay for it and then we got a window contractor who subcontracted to a roofer so we could get everything done at once. The windows were original single pane, metal builder grade and covered with dirty screens which made the interior of the house dark like a cavern. The hippie in me started singing, "Let the sunshine in!"

roof
A "before" picture of the windows and roof.

Fencing

So, while that was in the works, we turned our attention to our rotting infrastructure. Nearly all the fence posts and many rails were rotten and the only thing that kept them from falling apart was the no climb fencing wire.

However, we had to put our horses some place right away and could not afford to replace all the fencing at once. The first thing we did was put up hot wire inside all the horse pens to prevent the horses from pushing down the fences until we could get to a more permanent fix.

fences lake
One of the reasons why the posts were rotted is that they were inundated with water every spring.

Weeds

The next thing we did was rent the T1000 version of a "terminator" lawn mower to take care of the hip high weeds. Finally things were getting under control. When we were out and about we discovered ReStore for many of our materials (thank you, President Carter).

Garden

I did a sediment test to see what soil composition I had and it was mostly clay and sand with a little bit of loam. Then I sent another soil sample to a laboratory to discover all its other qualities.

When that returned, I found I had what I thought I had all along: very little organic matter and low calcium. So I added gypsum and put down heavy mulch in the area where I planned to plant next spring.

Then it started raining and we got almost nothing done all winter. It was a 100 year deluge.

future garden
My vegetable garden starts out nicely fenced but that's about it.

Some days it's exhilarating and other days it's overwhelming, but in the end it's satisfying. I can go to bed at night and sleep like a log satisfied in the knowledge that I have accomplished something even though the progress is glacial.

We have improved our land and by extension our planet. Even a little bit of progress is progress and that's what I remind myself. I am content.


Next chapter: Some details of renovating a broke-down ranch.

Photos property of Renee-Lucie Benoit.

Music to My Ears

Renee headshotEvery evening we get treated to the most wonderful music from the back of our acreage. If you don't already know, we have two and a half acres in the middle of the Central Valley of California.

The foundations for this music were created back in December when Marty accidentally left the water running to one of our horses water troughs. He let it go all night long! Can you believe it? I keep saying, "Put in those automatic floats!" He keeps procrastinating and for what I don't know!

So when we went out to feed the animals on that morning we found a big shallow lake spanning both horse pens. Marty! I'm glad we have a really good well!

It hadn't rained much up to that point and we weren't sure if it would rain at all, so I hoped that the "lakes" would evaporate or at least go back into the ground. Around here we have hardpan so going back into the ground takes a long, long, time.

Then it rained. And it rained some more. The lakes got bigger.

This month we have discovered the silver lining to that accident: Frog music!

Every night this is what we hear:

They are Sierra Tree Frogs. I think. Or they might be Baja Tree Frogs. I'm not a herpetologist and my internet research indicates the likelihood of the Sierra.

They are tiny and they definitely come out at dusk, but once in a while I have seen them during the day. I saw one in a rose bush yesterday. I think that one was lost. My rose bushes are nowhere near the lakes.

frog toad
I found one in the breezeway of our horse barn. Frog? Toad?

This is the greatest harbinger of spring I can think of. Now we have cattle egrets in our lakes from time to time and even a pair of mallards. They are looking for a froggy meal. There are also wading birds, which I can't identify.

I wish Marty hadn't let the water run but since there's nothing I can do about it now I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the Evening Chorus!

Photo and video property of Renee-Lucie Benoit.

An Old Schoolhouse

Renee headshotWay off in a large field of scrubby bushes a herd of pronghorn antelope are grazing. One looks up suddenly at the sound of children playing. It's a rag tag bunch of boys with bowl cut hair and girls in pigtails. Some are very young and some are almost teenagers.

There's a woman standing on the porch ringing a bell for the children to come in. Her hair is pulled back in a severe bun and her wire rimmed spectacles sit on her nose. Her prim white blouse is buttoned up to her chin and her feet are clad in sensible shoes. She has a kindly but stern countenance.

Ding dong! It's time for school!

school house
The old Berenda school house. Berenda is the anglicized version of "verrendo" which is Spanish for pronghorn of which many were found in the area .

Such was the image that conjured up in my mind as we stood before the old Berenda School just north of Madera in the middle of California's Central Valley. It was a cold and rainy day but we had gotten a break in the weather. The green grass bespoke of a kinder, gentler time. Soon all the grass would be dried up and the summer heat of the Central Valley would be oppressive.

How did these people do it? Furnace heat and air conditioning wasn't even a glimmer in an inventor's mind. Heat came from a wood stove in the middle of the room. On a cold rainy day would the teacher rotate the kids, in back of the room freezing to the front of the room where they were roasting? Or did she let them all gather round the stove?

Imagine the community of a one or two room school. You certainly knew everyone. Did everyone treat you with respect? Were there bullies and if there were how was the victim expected to react?

What did the children bring to eat? It had to be something that would travel well and not go bad before it was eaten. There were iceboxes but did the school have that luxury? Did the children get to bathe on a regular basis? Did they have to endure a bit or a lot of body odor from each other? Hopefully lice was not a big problem but if it was what was the remedy?

What kind of things did they learn? How did they use what they learned in life? Did they have "attitude" or did they knuckle-down?

school house
The row of lilacs stands as testimony to happy times.

The school, as I learned, was not just a place of learning. Sometimes it was a place where church services, Christmas parties, hoe-downs, community suppers, lectures, and spelling bees were held.

In the beginning school attendance was voluntary and varied from day to day depending on the weather and need for labor at home. Often children were sent to school before the age of six not only to get them out of the house, but because it was thought that school was a better place for children.

The school had both male (schoolmaster) and female (schoolmarm) teachers. It was the rule that if a female teacher married, she had to quit teaching because her most important job then became taking care of the household for her husband.

Many country schools were ungraded and in the beginning Berenda school was not an exception. Students were seated according to their level of ability. The youngest students sat in front and older ones in the back. Students were promoted to the next level when the teacher believed they were ready. Also children were exposed to lessons many times. Therefore, the younger children would know the lesson well when it came time for them to study it. Older students would sometimes help the younger ones.

Reading, good penmanship, and arithmetic, were stressed more than the other subjects. These subjects were known as the "Three R's" — Reading, 'Riting, and 'Rithmetic. By adding recitation, an important element of the reading lesson, teachers would sometimes call it the "Four R's". Because books and paper were scarce, much memorization and oral drilling took place. Students would learn by "'Rote," which meant to memorize and recite. To "cipher" was to do arithmetic problems, either orally or on slate boards. To "parse sentences" was to explain the meaning and function of each word in a sentence.


From the diary of Mrs. Woods:

School is where my Aunt Mary's memories began, a memory of the older kids going to the school and leaving her at home:

"I cried because I missed the older kids so much, so Mom would let me visit school with them. I was so thin. Mom put *pluma mooss in a jar for my lunch, and somehow it dropped and broke and I was brokenhearted. It happened in a sort of sandy creek, and the older kids helped me cover it up so no one would know."

*Pluma Mooss — A sweet, cold, pudding-like soup made from dried fruit.

From the diary of Jacob "Jack" Willems:

"As a little boy, second or third grade, I stayed back one year and the next year was put back. I was so embarrassed I would just freeze up when they talked to me. Nothing went in and nothing came out but Miss Garbedian, she was an Armenian, and she was a sweetheart, and she stayed with Pete Walls, had a room there, and she would teach and she could sing pretty good."

"And I could sing like the dickens. We had an annual play, and I was Jack Frost. I had little shorts on: 'I'm Jack Frost as you can see. I make the cold wind blow. I cover all the hills and dales with a lot of frosty snow.'"

"I sang that song as a solo, then the next year they wanted me again! And I had to play cupid. And I had these little wings and stuff like that, and a little wooden sword. 'Cupid then will teach you. You'll understand, oh, you shall understand.' I still remember that."

school house

As it sometimes happens the proximity to a convenient supply of customers dried up when the railroad was built and bypassed Berenda. The town disappeared as the people went elsewhere. But the school building still stands to remind us of what went before. Here's the monument the good folks of E Clampus Vitus put up.

Information courtesy of the California History Room at the Madera County Library. Images courtesy of Renée Benoit.

Homesteading: Hard and Rewarding

Renee headshot 

"I love to garden." "I would like to build my own house." "I want to be my own boss." "I want to be self-reliant."  "I want some peace and quiet." "I love animals." "I think chickens are neat." "I would love to have milk from my own cow or goat." "I want to live far away from the city." " I'd love to have a home heated by a wood stove." "I want to get healthy and have more fresh air and exercise."

If you've made any of these statements or given any of these as reasons, you would be very much like me. These are all reasons for why I wanted to have my own place.

Now that I am two years into it I say,  "Be careful what you ask for!"

Before you take the plunge perhaps it might be wise to talk to some honest homesteaders who will tell you what it really takes to have your own place. Make sure they are honest with you!

The number one thing I was shocked over was how much work goes into your own place. If you owned your own home in the city with an average-size lot you would know a little bit about maintenance. Now take that and multiply it exponentially. Unless you're just out of your teens I would counsel you to not even think about taking on an acreage unless you had the means to purchase or rent mechanical assistance!

We came here with a push mower, a pile of hand tools, a truck, and a horse trailer. Now we have a self-propelled walk-behind mower and a riding mower,  a tractor and a back hoe, a flat bed trailer, a log splitter, three chainsaws and all manner of smaller mechanical devices. I'll probably think of some more while I'm writing this. We are both 66 years old and it's hard on a body without mechanical assistance!

If you think you will get more exercise it won't be the kind you expected. On a homestead you will be required to do heavy lifting (hay bales, feed sacks and digging). You won't be getting much aerobic exercise unless you're running away from the bull and then it will only last until you get to the fence! Out in the country every time you need something or go somewhere you get in the truck. I actually got more exercise when I lived in the city. It just wasn't the peaceful and quiet kind.

Here are a few things we've had to deal with over the last few weeks:

Repairing the barn roof. We had a big wind storm that knocked some tin off the hay barn. We probably should tear the barn down and sell it for recycled barn wood and build a smaller, more efficient but less picturesque barn.

fix roof

Painting the house inside and out.  We finally broke down and bought an airless sprayer for under the eaves. It was simply taking too long and was too hard on our poor bones to do it manually.

Learning how to tile the bathroom floor and then doing it. Fifty square feet of floor took us three weeks to accomplish. We might have been able to do it faster but other projects came up and got in the way.

Repairing a stretch of rotted fencing posts.  A hot wire kept it going long enough so we could finally get to it and kept the horses from breaking it down.

The truck started acting up. Thank God for the dash board plug in computer diagnostic tool and for Marty's skill with fixing mechanical things!

Getting my onion seedlings in the mail. That created a rush to prepare the garden beds, including a last-minute decision to buy 1 1/2 yards of garden soil. I was tired beyond belief of trying to amend the clay/sand soil so anything would grow bigger than a golf ball. This required a road trip to get said soil and take a half day to unload and spread it.

Since it's been cold at night, down in the low 50s, we are still processing wood for the wood stove. Thankfully we were ahead of the game with lots of stockpiled firewood. We just didn't foresee how much we'd use. That meant a trip out to the orchard to get a half cord to make sure we make it through.

Then there's the daily stuff. Laundry, food preparation, and feeding the animals. This brings me to the subject of house cleaning.  I once heard an old friend say "It's a ranch house. Don't worry about it." She was letting someone off the hook for walking into the house with their dirty barn shoes on. House cleaning will be the last thing on your to do-list. You will find that the minute you finish cleaning, someone will track more dirt in. The house stays clean for about 15 minutes. Tops. I say: Only clean when you absolutely can't stand it anymore.

There are other things that can be a big shock. It's one thing to have your own place in the city with your water delivered to you with a turn of the faucet. Your heating and cooling, too. All courtesy of the public utilities company. You might have an old boiler in your basement or a rusty old air conditioner/furnace unit out back or on top, but if you rely on wood heat you'll be sourcing or processing a lot of wood. This is where a skilled ability to handle a chainsaw and log splitter will come in handy. Otherwise you're dependent on buying it all. And if you don't have a registered permit to burn you might not be allowed to burn except on certain days. Just sayin'.

Do I have any regrets? Maybe a couple. Overall it has been worth it. If you ask me would I do it again, knowing what I've learned? Absolutely, yes. And I would certainly do it much better if I had a do-over. Here's the main take-away: it's work! And time! Homesteading is not for the lazy. If you're industrious I say go for it! 

There’s No Need for Language!

Renee headshot 

Marty and I were making the bed the other day. Some people say that people who make their bed right when they get up are more likely to be successful. I don’t know about that but in the middle of making it here comes, completely out of nowhere, a word from my childhood on the Iowa farm. I said “Oh, the sheets are all whopperjawed. Let me fix ‘em right.”

That got me obsessing about all the weird words from my childhood. It all began with my German gramma who would exclaim “immer etwas!” (always something!) every once in a while when things were getting out of control. Here are a few words that I could remember.

Hornswoggle — bamboozle, as in “I think we was hornswoggled by the Fuller Brush man.”

Cattywampus or catty-corner, or kitty-corner — opposite each other on a diagonal. Research has revealed that this is the mispronunciation of the French word “quatre” (caught-tra) to indicate the four dots on a dice that suggests two diagonal lines.  As in, “Jack’s grocery is catty corner to the bank.”

Bumfuzzle — confuse; perplex; fluster, as in "Billy Joe can bumfuzzle anyone."

Clod-hoppers — large, heavy shoes worn by farmers

Dern tootin’ — an expression of agreement, as in, Sam and Opie are at the café counter. To the cook Sam says “Louella, you make the finest biscuits this side of the Mississippi.” Opie agrees, “Dern tootin’!”

Fixin’ to — getting ready to, as in, “I’m fixin’ to go to the Fairway meat counter. Y’all need anything?”

Granny-slappin’ good — very good, usually delicious, as in “Her apple pie is granny-slappin’ good!”

Gussied up — cleaned up and dressed very nicely, as in “Yore all gussied up. Where ya goin’?”

Hankerin’ — a craving for, as in “I have a hankerin’ for chicken fried steak.”

Hit with the ugly stick, drive a fly off a gut wagon, fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down — what you say if someone is unattractive to you.

Druthers — preference, as in “What’s yer druthers?”

Knee-high to a grasshopper — very small, as in, “The last time I saw you, you was knee-high to a grasshopper!”

Lick — no amount at all, as in “Billy Joe didn’t have a lick of sense.”

Mash — to press, as in “Mash that green button and turn on the TV.”

On-ry — difficult to deal with, as in “My horse gets on-ry sometimes.”

Piddlin’ — a small amount, as in “He jist has a piddlin’ amount of intelligence.”

Reckon — suppose, guess, as in, “I reckon we’ll see you at church.”

Language — to swear, as in “there ain’t no need for language.”

Skedaddle — to leave in a hurry, as in “Let’s skedaddle.”

Stove-up — broken/destroyed, as in, “I’m all stove up from workin’ in the field.”

Tore up — broken/destroyed, as in, “That orange flower smell ‘bout tore me up.”

Usedta could — used to be able to, as in, “I can’t touch my toes any more, but I usedta could.”

 “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!” — an expression of surprise or disbelief

Pie hole — mouth, as in “Shut yer pie hole!”

Whopperjawed — out of place/crooked, “The sheets is all whopperjawed. Lemme fix ‘em”

What are your unique country sayings?

fence
Photo by Getty Images/jandrielombard

Gramma E's Stereopticon

Renee headshot 

stereo
The stereopticon and how the postcard is inserted

postcard
An example of a postcard

looking
How to look through the viewfinder

Long before we had television and all the electronic-based instruments we now have, people had to entertain themselves somehow. Can you imagine that? Some learned musical instruments. Some learned to sing. Some sang and played well. Some didn't but they sang and played anyway. Many people played games outdoors. Croquet and badminton comes to mind. Baseball and football as well. Lots of people played cards, dominoes and checkers.

I think we could all learn something from these simpler times. By engaging in sports and home-based, self-propelled entertainment we learn sportsmanship, generosity and the satisfaction of accomplishment. Our brains and bodies are healthier. Our fingers more adept. One example of what I call "self-propelled" entertainment is the "stereopticon." My Gramma E. had one and we kids played with it constantly.

We kids thought that the stereopticon was very cool and somewhat magical. It had a handle and a viewfinder and then about a hundred different little postcard sized images that were double. Each side was the same and when we inserted the postcard in the holder and held the view finder up to our eyes, lo and behold, we saw the image in 3 dimension. How cool was that? This held our attention for hours. Some of the images had a description on the back that went into great detail with information about the image so you learned something in the process. Some had a titles in four different languages.  Some were obviously old family photos. For example, one image proclaims "Brother John's First Christmas."  Some asserted "Around the World: Without Leaving Your Home — Just Like Being There!"

When we were done looking at each image we were told to go outside and play. We'd go over to the next door neighbor and pick and eat blackberries from her patch, swing on the porch swing or play hopscotch on the sidewalk. No one ever announced that they were bored. We didn't know what that term meant. It just didn't occur to us. I really miss those days and now that I am old I try to make an effort to still live that way.  I think that life was a lot more healthy than the one we've gotten used to.