the dairy and cheese report: October 2022

Just last week, my husband switched to twice-a-day milkings. On average, we were getting just under 2 gallons of milk each day which wasn’t enough for all my cheesemaking projects (and as for extra cream for butter and ice cream, forget about it). 

Morning: my husband is milking Emma in the shed, Fiona’s to the left, Butterscotch to the right.

Here’s the new system: Fiona and Emma are separated all the time. He milks in the evening, and then, after the morning milking, he keeps Emma in the front paddock and brings Fiona in to nurse.

This once-a-day feeding helps to keep Emma’s production up, helps to prevent mastitis by stripping Emma out all the way, and keeps Fiona from bellowing all day long. 

Right before he leaves for work, he separates them again.

So far, we’re getting about 2 gallons in the morning and a gallon-plus in the evening, and there’s more cream to boot!

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The other evening, at my husband’s urging, I milked for the very first time. He was so delighted he took pictures. 

Emma’s a sweet cow. Once she’s done eating, she just stands there patiently waiting for us to finish milking. Even so, working with such a large animal unnerves me a little. 

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Nearly two years into this milking thing, I’m catching on to something: in order to get all the cream I need for butter, sour cream, whipping cream, cream cheese, etc, I need an excess of milk from which to skim that cream — and then to toss the skimmed milk. Even though I know that “tossed” doesn’t mean wasted — the skimmed milk goes to the animals, off-setting feed costs — it’s still physically painful for me to feed all that fresh skimmed milk to the pigs. But I’m learning, gradually adapting to a more pragmatic view of life with a family milk cow. 

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Speaking of cream, I’m addicted to my homemade butter. 

In the beginning, I wasn’t so sure (the flavor was stronger than I was used to and it just kinda weirded me out a little), but now I can’t get enough. I still keep store-bought butter on hand for baking projects where I don’t want to waste the homemade stuff, or in recipes where I’m worried that a variation in moisture content may adversely alter the final outcome, but for everything else, it’s homemade butter all the way, baby — and lots of it. 

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A couple months ago, we borrowed a bull.

Butterscotch was in heat when he arrived (she all but flashed her ankles and screamed pick me, pick me), and my husband gave Emma an injection to bring her into heat, but even though there was a fair bit of action, both cows’ blood tests came back negative.

Well, Butterscotch was negative and Emma was inconclusive. (I hadn’t realized we were suppose to wait 30 days before drawing blood and testing, so it was too early to tell.)

Last weekend we tested Emma again. 

a photo from the earlier blood draw

Testing involves a blood draw from the tail, and both times we’ve done it, my older son came over to help. I can get the needle in just fine, but then I have to wiggle it around to find the vein which makes my husband freak and then I freak. This last time, my son literally drew the blood blind while standing on either sides of the stall, straddling Emma and facing backwards. He held the tail and then reached around to maneuver the still-dangling needle and syringe, and then, mission accomplished, he dropped to the floor and declared himself the Spider Doctor.

I doubt Emma’s pregnant, so I have a feeling Mr. Big Balls will be making another visit soon.

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I’m beginning to experiment a little more with cheesemaking. I’ve done my first blue (the saga is thoroughly documented on my YouTube channel), later today I’ll be ordering some new-to-me molds and cultures, and I just made my first Bries. I also ordered pH strips, a cheese trier (for checking the center of the cheese without cutting into the wheel), and ash for some bloomy, white mold cheese.

I needed a bigger mold for Brie and then I found this thrift store colander. It worked!

Many blues, washed-rind, and bloomy white cheeses need to have a natural rind — no vacuum sealing — in order to properly develop. Since I don’t have an actual cheese cave, and the molds easily spread from cheese to cheese…

case in point: even in separate containers, this Jarlsberg still took on some blue.

…the cheeses need to be aged in ripening boxes which, I’m discovering, are ridiculously hard to come by. They’re just regular plastic containers, but properly sizing them is tricky, and who wants to spend tons of money on plastic containers? Not me! (I did just buy a couple at Dollar General that I thought would be perfect, but when I tried to clip on the lids this morning, I discovered that the lid dips down in the middle and presses on the Bries, grrr.)

eager to see how the flavor develops after six months in an 8% salt brine solution

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P.S. As I was finalizing this post, Emma’s lab results came in. She’s not prego, grumble, grumble.

This same time, years previous: currently, vanilla fondant, nourishment, the young adult child, growing it out, reading-and-ice cream evenings, the quotidian (10.27.14), in the garden, sweet potato pie.

3 Comments

  • Natalie

    Have you considered artificial insemination? For years my parents had milk cows and my Dad would borrow bulls from neighbors and it was such a hassle until the vet recommended the artificial insemination, since then it was such a breeze.

    • Jennifer Jo

      Yes, and we talked with our vet about it, but it’s pricey and the rate of success was like, I don’t know, 60%? I’m still open to it, but at this point a bull makes most sense, and we have access to one through a generous, supportive neighbor — though it is a hassle. (But farming’s a hassle, so…)

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