The Learning Center

Last Saturday, two friends and I went to a cheese making course at the Angelic Organics Learning Center in Caledonia, Illinois.  The farm is an hour and half drive from Chicago, so we were up bright and early, ready for a day of fun.

Angelic Organics is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) that grows fresh biodynamic produce. Last year, Dan and Annemarie shared their produce share with me. It was truly amazing!  Every week, we got a box full of the freshest, most delicious produce I’ve ever tasted.  Each box had information about the contents of the share. Ever wonder what those crazy, curly, chive-shaped things are?  They are garlic scapes and they’re delicious when made into a pesto.  Each week, we received online news from the farm and flyers about events at the learning center.

You may already know that I have a pipe dream that somehow involves farming. My big plan might involve goats and it also might involve making cheese. My plan isn’t very well thought out, instead, it’s a nebulous but simple five step plan.

Step1: Get money.

Step 2: Buy land.

Step 3: Buy goats.

Step 4: ?.

Step 5: Profit.

For all of you goal centered people out there (and I’m not really one of you), I learned something this weekend. It turns out that you can and sometimes should start with step four!

Annemarie, Maija and I arrived at the farm in the morning and were greeted by Mama Bunny, a white goat with asymmetrical horns and a very friendly disposition. Mama Bunny just had a kid days before we arrived. We could see her baby’s tiny face peeking out at us.

Within minutes, I forgot everything I know about goats being destructive and ramming people in the ass like they do on the cartoons. It was then and there that I decided I really ought to have goats. They are exceedingly cute in a kind of pre-historic alien way and the ones we met seemed very docile. (Yes. I already asked my landlord if I could have a goat in the courtyard.  And, yes, I know most small farm animals are not allowed to live in the city.)

Wouldn’t you want one? Look how cute they are!

Female Kid

After a tour of the learning center area where the goats, chickens and two cows are pastured, we hit the compost toilet which was surprisingly not at all unpleasant. Forget what you know about those outhouses at the county park. This one was nearly odorless.

Oh, I should mention, too, that Angelic Organics has one of those chicken houses on wheels that provides an ideal, moveable structure for free-range chickens. Of course, in true hippie/artist fashion, it’s painted bright pumpkin orange and matches the farmhouse and the outbuildings around it.

It turns out that goat cheese is not difficult to make. The class divided into five groups of two. We each, then, started making the cheese.  The process involves acidifying the milk, curdling the milk and separating the curd from the whey. Really–it’s that simple. This book seems to be the favorite if you’re interested in learning how to do it at home.  Much of what you need, you might already have on hand. Things you don’t have like rennet, bacterial cultures, cheese cloth, and a small cheese colander for draining whey can be ordered. Many of our supplies came from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. One problem with home cheesemaking–you need pasturized (not homogenized) milk. Raw would be ideal, but it’s not legal to sell raw milk. (See? More reason for me to get a goat!)

Holly makes chevre

After we did a tasting of our cheeses (ricotta, chevre, fromagio, queso blanco, mozzarela, and feta) we walked over to Coco’s place.  Coco was waiting with a full udder of milk.  We all took turns milking her. I was a natural! I’m sure you would be, too. It’s not difficult, but it’s good to have strong hands. (As Maija said, “You need to use your knitting muscles for milking goats.”) On the way home I mentioned that if I had Coco, I’d like her to wear a Chanel collar and then quickly realized that the other goats would probably eat the Swarovsky crystals right off of her designer neckwear.

Annemarie milks Coco (Deb holds her feet--just in case.)

Maija milks Coco

This was an exceptional experience and well worth the class fees.

Goats!

Gentlemen: If you’re in the market for a farming partner and happen to have a fair amount of money and a strong work ethic, please send me photos of yourself for consideration. Farmer’s wife is a job I’m willing to seriously consider.  Men who had unhappy childhoods who are prepared to take them out on me need not apply.

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