First of all, COWS! Shortly after arriving, a group of us took a walk into the hill pasture to check out the cows and to see if, perchance, a wayward calf had made her way back into the herd. Those of us who hadn’t worn appropriate footwear (i.e., most of us) piled into the barn to change into rubber boots. Mine were too big, but what can one expect when one has freaky small feet? They weren’t all that comfortable to walk in, but I was glad of them when we crossed a low, wide stream and slogged through knee high grass liberally strewn with cow pies. The day was warm and absurdly humid and I was dripping sweat within minutes.
The cows were at the farthest possible point in the pasture. As we approached, Jonathan (one of Bobolink’s owners) started telling us all of their names. They’re a beautiful lot, a mix of Kerrys and a Guernsey and other breeds I’m fully forgetting. There were five calves, too, one of which was the no-longer-lost Nadia. Her mum had to be euthanized, poor little lovely, but the mum’s sister has taken over Nadia’s care.
We walked back along the road and arrived back at the farm to see people carrying chairs from the house to the hay barn. Not that they keep hay in there; the wheels won’t fit through the doorway. It’s actually kept in a loft just above the hay barn. Anyway, the weather looked dodgy so they’d decided to set up trestle tables and chairs inside the hay barn. Jonathan arranged for an old chandelier to be hung from one of the beams. Tablecloths were laid and a hodgepodge of plates and utensils were piled to one side.
While we waited for food to be brought down and for a chance to be of some help, we sampled Johnathan’s mead flavored with sour cherries. YUM. And very, very potent. Then the food started to arrive. In between chatting with other guests, we grabbed platters and bowls and serving spoons and laid them out at intervals along the tables. Everything came from the farm, from the meat to the vegetables to the wood-fired breads. There were roasted pumpkin slices in a pomegranate glaze, fresh tomato and herb salad, wax beans in an asian vinaigrette, gingered carrots, stewed veggies and fruit, roasted corn on the cob and salad greens and a bowl full of small orange plums. Veal stuffed with cranberry bread stuffing, veal ribs, roasted pork shoulder*, boiled pork, an amazing pork belly in a reduction of some sort that I can only remember included five-spice. There was fresh bread (rye, olive, plain peasant) and three types of cheese. The lemon cake was insanely good. I think I could eat that every day and be blissfully happy. Later, there was a plate of sliced peaches, chilled and dusted with sugar and finely chopped mint. I don’t like peaches, but these? Food of the Gods.
After, some of us took a tour of the farm. We started in the dairy. He described, in brief his cheese making process. What is really the heart and soul of this is that his cows are grass fed: no grain, no silage, ever. It’s what they’re meant to eat, but it also means that they produce less milk than commercial dairy cows. He milks them once a day (to a commercial dairy’s two or three); if the weather sucks and grass is scarcer, they don’t provide as much milk. “When that happens, I just don’t make as much cheese.” Interesting, too: average life-span of a commercial dairy cow: 3.9 years. His live much longer; he has a fifteen year old cow who is his best milker, just had a calf and is pregnant again. Yes, they eat some of their cows (the males, mostly, as they’re not providing milk) and eventually all of their pigs**. “Some people say, ‘How can you eat an animal you’ve raised and know?’ to which I say, ‘How can you eat an animal you don’t know?’ Which is weirder?”
Learned about cheese production in general and Bobolink’s methods specifically, saw the ripening room and heard about the ‘cave,’ and then it was on to the bakery and the gorgeous wood-fired oven. Best bit of info: it was designed by Alan Scott. Nice to know the Green Lantern is looking out for the little guy. Really, though, it’s amazing. They keep a fire going for a day and a half, sweep out the ashes and cook everything with the retained heat. 350 loaves of bread (and their bread is astonishingly good) can be made with one heating. They made all of the bread we had today and roasted all of the meat in that oven.
We wandered back out to see if we could spy the cows. They were wallowing in the stream (the river, actually; it’s the Wawayanda). Jonathan waded out to fetch wee Rosamund closer; she’s the most adorable calf ever, and I’m not just saying that because she has Oso’s coloring. She has a sweet face, and is apparently very affectionate. Her mother, Brunhilde, is stunning. There’s a picture of her on the website (deep sorrel with long curved horns and striking white markings). She let Jonathan show off her baby for a few minutes before deciding enough was enough. Bellowing, she moved slowly forward to nudge the baby. Jonathan revealed that she’s quite maternal. In one of last year’s blizzards, he went out to check on the cows (they stay outside all year, though he moves them to particular pastures in the very cold and rainy days). All of the calves were nestled deep in the hay, and standing protectively over them was Brunhilde.
Then it was on to the pigs and to Abigail, the species-confused sheep. Apparently, she thinks she’s a pig. She digs in the dirt with her nose and even walks and stands like a pig. Anyway, Jonathan mentioned that people always talk about how smart pigs are. “I don’t see it,” he confided. About ten of them had approached the fence as we all stood there. “This is an electric fence. I guarantee one of them will touch it.” And sure enough, within five minutes, one of the large blacks hit its head upon the wire and jumped back, squealing. “Smart,” Jonathan said. “Cows will do that only once.”
As we left, we were encouraged to help ourselves to nearly-day old breads (olive bread, peasant bread, breads baked with onions and fresh rosemary and garlic... Nina, Jonathan's wife (gorgeous, by the way; can I be her when I grow up?) gave Don and I two bags' worth.
All in all, it was a fully enchanting day. Interesting people, spectacular food, fine drink, gorgeous scenery and COWS!
*all the pork is whey-fed***, which apparently is a time-honored method; many dairy farmers/cheesemakers have historically raised pigs as well which is why...
**...most great cheese producing regions are also known for ham. From a random google quote, “Italian farmers have used whey, the by-product of cheese, to feed pigs for centuries. This symbiotic relationship produces the most delicious pork imaginable. It’s no coincidence that the best prosciutto in the world is made in Parma, the epicenter of Parmesan cheese.”
***I can attest that whey-fed pork tastes amazing. I know Jonathan explained why that is, but it was a long day. Details elude me.