The beauty of sheep in pasture
Farm News: My sheep milk adventure
This week, Wes is in Oregon visiting his family, so Ben and I headed down to Arthur at 5AM this morning to pick up the sheep milk from the Plank Farm. Waking up at 4:30 in the morning is not something I come to naturally. It's usually Wes' job and he does it twice a week with little fanfare. For me, however, coffee preparations (grinding the beans, pouring the water into the coffee maker) the night before were essential. Milk cans loaded onto the trailer-check, sanitizer and sample vials in the cooler with ice--check. Pouring my tired body into clothes at 4:45AM and walking out the door at 5AM--check.
I have to admit that once we were underway, the sight of the giant red ball of sun rising on the eastern horizon was breath taking. As we left I-57 and headed west toward the Amish town of Arthur, we started seeing several Amish men on bicycles toting their coolers with lunch as they made their way to their off-farm jobs in the many factories that now line the highway. Sadly, like many Amish communities in the east, the Arthur-Amish are leaving their farms for secure off-farm jobs, slowly eroding their agricultural way of life.
As we arrived at the Plank Sheep Dairy Farm, we saw the sheep out in his pasture grazing on the sparse grass in their paddock. Eldon's family milks at 4:30 in the morning, so that the milk is cold and ready for pickup at 6AM. The purple field in the foreground (photo above) is Eldon's drought-stressed and flowering alfalfa hay crop (looks a lot like ours).
The sheep move en mass in the pasture, almost amoeba-like. Although sheep and goats are "small ruminants" and herd animals, that is where the similarities end. As you watch sheep graze, you notice that the flock behaves as a single unit. In contrast, goats on pasture keep an eye out to make sure their buddies are close by, but they wander in several different directions as they nibble here and dabble there. Sheep eat uniformly; goats graze selectively.
Ben backed up the trailer at the Plank Dairy's milk house. We unloaded the milk cans and were greeted by two tiny kittens peering out from the horse stalls. Inside the milk house, I recorded the milk temperature and volume inside his generator-powered refrigerated bulk tank. I then collected a sample for quality testing, and we started transfering the milk from his bulk tank to our milk cans. Everything was hosed off with warm water, and the milk cans were reloaded back onto our trailer. We headed back home with the precious cargo in tow. About 45 minutes later, we arrived back at our farm, and Ben off loaded the heavy cans. Our cheese makers were there to take the cans inside the cheeserie, clean them again and pour the rich white fluid into our cheese vat for the cheese make of the day. Today, they made Roxanne, our raw sheep milk brebis. In two to three months, you'll be enjoying this cheese made today with sheep milk from Arthur.
This week, we're attending three markets: Urbana, Springfield and Chicago's Green City Market. Our cheese makers, Nat and Alison, will be selling in Urbana, while I will venture to our state's capitol, Springfield, for the first time. I am looking forward to selling our cheeses in Springfield and meeting our new customers there. The ever charming Pat McCroy will be selling at Green City Market. We've got a solid lineup of cheeses for you:
- Fresh chevre--plain, herbs de Provence and cracked pepper
- Sheep milk feta
- Angel Food
- Black Sheep
- Ewe Bloom
- Pecorino Romano--the first and only batch of sheep milk romano that we made last year, so come get it while it lasts
Urbana shoppers can enjoy some cool and refreshing gelato and sorbetto:
- Stracciatella (chocolate chip)
- Honey Lavender
- Vanilla Chevre
- Margot's Mint
- Plum Sorbetto
- Peach Sorbetto
- Nectarine Sorbetto
There may be a few other flavors added for good measure, so let us surprise you at the market!
Thank you to those adventurous souls who came out to the farm during the blazing hot afternoon this past Wednesday. We'll have lots of goodies for those of you who come out next Wednesday. Stay tuned for details.