The Farm on Oak Creek

A Time to Wean, A Time to Make Cheese

I’ve separated Hannah from her mother and I’m sure my neighbors are thrilled.  Not.  The bellowing is pretty much continuous.  Hannah is calling to Elsie, Elsie is calling back and Georgie is just joining into the chorus because he can.

I’ve got Hannah locked into the orchard garden with Georgie to keep her company.  It’s actually a great place for both of them.  There’s still very green grass, lots of Endive (coming back on its own) and bunch of bird-nibbled squash as well as tons of arugula.  So I lose some tat soi and bok choi.  They were volunteers from last year anyway. Most importantly, there’s a 10 foot tall Elsie-proof chain link fence around the garden.

That fence was a “dude” mistake.  I’m not sure why we thought a taller fence would keep the critters from getting into the garden.  One night, Moosie “treed” two raccoons on top of one of the fence posts.  Now that I’m more seasoned in the ways of the wild, I can’t wait for the chance to take 3 of the 4 sides down.  I’ll keep the side nearest to the pasture, extending it all the way across the expanse with a gate at either end of this wall of fencing.  If I can figure out how to do it, I’d like to extend it across the ditch.  That would leave me with almost half an acre near the barn to use as a garden that is nearly cow-proof.  Well sort of.  It’s certainly won’t be bird proof.  And there’s the issue of bringing the cows up to the stanchion at milking time.  More puzzles to be solved.  But at least with 3 of the sides down I’ll be able to use some sort of tractor to rototill the garden.

Speaking of tractors, I sold the old John Deere.  Good riddance!  It left spouting hydraulic fluid like a geyser.  Next spring I’m going to be looking for something smaller and newer, like the Kubota I drove a few months back.  What a difference between a vintage (read: piece of junk) 1985 tractor and the mini-tractor of today.  Wow.  But I’m still struggling with the three-point hitch problem.  Whatever I get, I have to be able to change the implements on my own.  When I dream of farm equipment, I fantasize about a skidsteer.  They have a-sixty-year-old-woman-can-attach-it-herself implements.

Back to forlorn and bellowing Hannah and the cow-proof fence.  Trust me, I’m sure it’s cow proof.  Hannah and Elsie have tried it all to no avail.  Hannah’s even willing to let me pet her as much as I want, trying to trade compliance for “O-o-o-o-o-ut!”  I swear that’s what she’s bellowing.

Elsie, to her credit, is behaving like she’s almost upset.  Or at least almost upset as long as there’s no food involved.  All I have to do is show her the dish I use for her milking treat (1 cup of barley seed, a scoop of kelp and organic molasses to make it tasty) and enough of that broken heart and unreachable baby!  Up she comes to the stanchion.

Even better, she’s not dry!  However, it seems that Hannah is a left-side girl.  I’m getting about 1.5 gallons from the left two teats and about .75 from the right.  In another week or so that should balance out.  But I’m thrilled.  This means CHEESE!  And cheese means my favorite comfort foods.  Did you know it doesn’t matter what sort of cheese you put between lasagna noodles and under lasagna sauce, it still tastes like lasagna?  Since I’m the only person I know who has to make the cheese before I make mac and cheese, I tend to keep to the simpler cheeses, like Ricotta, Cream Cheese, Feta, Cheddar and Gouda, with the occasional Romano (Romano is occasional because it needs to age 6 months).

Ricotta and Cream Cheese are incredibly simple.  Ricotta is supposed to be whey and milk (but can be made with just milk) brought to 185 degrees, then “broken” into curds with an acid such as lemon juice or cider vinegar or ascorbic acid.  Once it’s broken, you let it sit for 10 minutes, then drain it, pop it in a container and use it within a week.  Cream Cheese is a gallon of milk to which 4 drops of rennet have been added–culture is optional.  Let it sit on the counter for 24-48 hours at room temperature, then drain.  If you love the Philly stuff, you won’t recognize this as cream cheese, though.

Feta, Cheddar and Gouda are more complex, with the milk needing to be heat to 86 degrees, culture added, then an hour later rennet added, then stirring and heating and stirring and draining, then forming and pressing–or in the case of my cow Feta, being placed in a sack made from a cotton tea towel and left to hang on the faucet for 24 hours.  But no matter the work, the taste is unbelievable, so unbelievable that a friend named my Feta “Betta Feta” because it’s better than any feta he’s ever had.

So here it is.  The Betta Feta Mac and Cheese recipe I love.  It makes an 8 x 8 pan of macaroni and cheese.

  • 1/2 lb of elbow noodles, cooked and drained
  • 1 small onion, chopped as finely as you like
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
  • 2 tbsps butter
  • 2 tbsps flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • ground pepper
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 8 oz shredded Betta Feta (or cheddar or whatever other cheese you like)
  • 12 oz cooked spinach, chard, or other greens but don’t use all arugula

Set your over to 400 degrees, then grease the pan with butter.  If you prefer your onion and garlic sauteed, do that.  I don’t bother but I don’t mind crunchy onion.  You can leave the sauteed onions and garlic in the pan as you add the butter.  When it’s melted, whisk in the flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg until thickened and browned.  Whisk in the milk.  When that has thickened, add the chicken broth.  Then, switching to a wooden spoon because you’ll NEVER get the whisk clean again if you use it with cheese, add the shredded cheese.  Taste your cheese sauce and add more of whatever it needs.  Put about half the noodles in your greased pan, top with the greens, then add the rest of the noodles and pour your sauce over the top.  If you want, you can make a bread crumb topping by mixing bread crumbs with olive oil and grated Romano cheese, but this is fine without that.  Bake 35-40 minutes.  Cover with aluminum foil if it starts to get too brown.


© Denise Domning, 2023