Churn baby churn!

Guest post from Cheenius!

It’s cold, it’s January, everyone just wants to eat healthfully, so Cheenius, Mr. Cheenius, and two intrepid friends got together to… MAKE BUTTER!!! Butter Boy had brought back his grandmother’s butter churn from visiting his family over the holidays, hoping to relive his butter-making experiences from the 1970’s. Why? We find it’s best not to ask sometimes. But, given that three of us were Butter Virgins, it was crucial to have his only slightly creepy guidance. That guy knows butter.

His Butter Babe provided a gallon of non-homogenized heavy cream from Mt. Crawford Creamery [Ed: love their motto!], enabling us to attempt to make sweet cream butter (as opposed to cultured butter, which comes from non-pasteurized cream). Butter Boy kept the cream out of the refrigerator for 24 hours ahead of time so that it would sour a little bit. And then we were ready to start!

Pouring milk into the churn

That’s right!  We crossed the streams!

We decided on 5 minute shifts of churning, which everyone commented wasn’t tiring at all. Although, Cheenius would like to note here that we’re all incredibly fit, truly prime specimens of strength, endurance, and general rippedness. Who can say how the average person would perform under the same conditions? Anyway, it was only 10 minutes before we could see…

Clumpy cream

CLUMPING!!

After another 20-25 minutes there was definitely something buttery happening:

butter in churn

It’s even turning yellow!

And after a total of just 40 minutes we actually had the much-anticipated

Getting buttery

BUTTER!

After using a slotted spoon to transfer the yellow miracle to a bowl, Butter Boy and Mr. Cheenius rinsed our butter with ice cold water until the water ran clear.

rinsing the butter

Then we sat down to warm biscuits with the freshest butter Cheenius has ever tasted. We all agreed the flavor was of buttery goodness! Might have benefited from some salt after the rinsing, but otherwise we all felt quite proud of our accomplishment. Yield from one gallon of cream: 2 lbs. 11 oz. of butter, and 3 quarts of buttermilk.

biscuits and butter

And yeah, afterwards we bellied up to the bar and did buttermilk shooters. THAT’S how we roll on a Saturday night.

buttermilk shooters

Thanks, Cheenius! This wacky bunch will be presenting their churning smarts at a Transitions Charlottesville skill share soon. Keep your eye on the Transitions calendar if you’re interested in attending!

And the best cupcakerie in Charlottesville is…

The Occasion

Cheenius had a birthday, and her birthday wish was to eat ALL the cupcakes. So, she and Mr. Cheenius hosted a cupcake tasting featuring cupcakes from four Charlottesville bakeries. Below, I present the science of the great experiment.

cupcakes

The Contenders

(Descriptions from the bakeries’ websites)

Sweethaus: All of our cupcakes and frostings are small-batch, homemade treats and they come in 2 sizes, mini and regular.

Pearl’s: Our products are perfect for any celebration, offering nostalgic classics and retro creations combined for flawless presentations.

Cappellino’s Crazy Cakes: Featuring over 20 flavors of cupcakes that are as delicious as they are beautiful, Cappellino’s is quickly becoming known as Charlottesville’s premiere cupcake bakery.

Charlottesville Cupcake: Farm fresh eggs, organic ingredients, and the best chocolate and vanilla obtainable will always be our preferred choices. (Available by pre-order only)

cupcake tasting

The Method

Mr. Cheenius ordered basic chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting from each of the bakeries, and cleverly asked for no decorations, such as edible glitter, that might give away the origin of the cakes. He also went to great pains to cut the cupcakes into uniform slices, masking another clue: some bakeries are known for smaller or larger cakes.

The testers were instructed to sample a slice from each new platter and rate them on the following attributes: appearance, aroma, texture, frosting taste, and cake taste. We were able to try any of the cakes again after we completed the rotation of the four to minimize positional bias, and were encouraged to cleanse our palates with milk and/or pretzels between cakes.

cupcake tasting

The Results

Our initial glee at the bonanza awaiting us quickly gave way to sugar jitters and groans of indigestion. Hearts racing, we waded through the tasting and bravely soldiered on to demolish many of the unique flavors, such as red velvet, pistachio, lemon, and Oreo, from each bakery that Mr. Cheenius presented upon completion of the tasting, to keep us occupied while he tallied the results.

cupcakes

The unanimous winner was Pearl’s, although the pistachio cupcake from Sweethaus may have been the overall favorite. We’ll have to do a separate experiment to rate the non-standard flavors.

The sugar overload made us a little batty…

cupcake icing on toilet

Yes, that is glittery icing from an Oreo cupcake. The amount of sugar consumed in a cupcake tasting is not for amateurs. Don’t try this at home, kids! Or do, and invite me.

Get your lamb fix here!

Guest post from Buzzy! Thanks, Buzzy!

I went on the “Meet Yer Eats” farm tour last week, and of course it was great — educational, interesting, blah blah blah.  But let’s get down to serious business:  Lambs are cute.  So this is your lamb fix for the week (I bet you didn’t even know you needed a lamb fix, did you?).  Special thanks to Everona Dairy for providing the lambs!

Everona lambs
They had lots of lambs.

Everona baby lamb
Some had even been born THAT DAY.

Everona lambs and kids
They had kids AND lambs together!

Lamb's ear
And for the cherry on top: they even grow Lamb’s Ear!

A Day of Cheese-making at Caromont

Guest post from Cheenius! Thanks, Cheenius!

At last!  Cheenius‘ dream has come true:  She was able to spend a whole day (with spouse even!) at Caromont Farm, learning about cheese-making, complete with hands-on experience!  Here was the itinerary:

7:00 AM  Help milk goats
8:00 AM  Feed baby goats and visit rams in the pasture with Stuart, Intern
9:30 AM  Make cheese with Bridge, Cheese Maker
4:00 PM  Cheese tasting with Gail, Owner

baby goat feeding

Feeding the baby goats

The goats seemed to have a great life — lots of sun and pasture, and shelter from the rain (which they really don’t like).  They get their high-protein grain when they come to milk, so jostle each other to move up in line.  Of course, the baby goats were the highlight of the morning!

Milking the goats

Milking the mama goats

The milking process seems pain-free, and the goats aren’t given any weird chemicals or forced lighting to increase production.

Vat of curds and whey

A vat of curds and whey

Once we were properly suited up for the cheese-making area we made chevre and feta, and helped with some other cheese-based tasks.  The workspace is small but efficient, with cheeses waiting to be salted and turned, cheeses still in liquid form needing stirring, and cheeses ready to be “caved” (put in a refrigerator specially engineered for the proper cold and humidity).  Bridge patiently taught us all about proteins, fats, flocculation, whey, and resting times.  Turns out successful cheese-making means knowing a lot of biology and chemistry, as well as understanding the craftsmanship side of the product.  It’s also a lot of cleaning!  They’re very careful about who and what goes into the cheese-making area, and recognize the importance of cleanliness in every aspect of production.

caromont cheese tasting

An educational cheese tasting

Afterwards, Gail taught us how to properly taste cheese and some of the finer points of the craft, and then sent us home with some of Caromont’s first rate cheeses.  We left full, happy, and newly appreciative of the art of cheese-making.  Cheenius may try to make some feta or chevre at home, but is humble enough to admit that some things are best left to the experts . . .

Fruit Grafting and Propagation Class

Guest post from Cheenius; also posted on the Transition Charlottesville blog.

You have to love a class where one of the first questions the instructor poses is: “Does anyone here faint at the sight of their own blood?” Good stuff. Luckily, Cheenius is known for being fearless and intrepid.

About a dozen current and wannabe orchardists met for a one day workshop led by Alexis Zeigler of Living Energy Farm. Alexis has hundreds of fruit trees at various properties, and this self-taught expert provided a wealth of information as well as hands-on experience. He pointed out that we have all been duped by a culture of deception when it comes to fruit, thinking that the shiny apples and plump peaches of the grocery store are desirable. In reality, those fruits have been sprayed with fungicides and pesticides up to 14 times during their growth. Meanwhile, because industrial farming only serves up a relatively small number of fruits varieties, we don’t realize that fruits like the paw paw, persimmon, and muscadine are much better suited for the mid-Atlantic and are incredibly disease and insect resistance. In some cases, these little-known fruits also offer more vitamins and even protein than we get from the ubiquitous red delicious apple. I was definitely inspired to think about my fruit tree choices in a completely different way.

Alexis Zeigler

After learning the characteristics and hardiness of some of the main fruit and nut tree families, we moved on to propagation. We covered seed and root cuttings, and then spent the rest of our time learning to graft. Turns out, once you know which parts to line up, it wasn’t that hard, but it was invaluable to have Alexis there — definitely not the kind of thing you can learn from a book. Along with knowledge, we all left with some actual grafts that we should be able to plant in 4-8 weeks. What did I end up with? Pretty excited about some blight resistant pears, hardy almonds, and some paw paw seeds that I’ve already put into pots. Planning to add kiwi and persimmon to my yard as soon as I can figure out a good location. Great class!

Grafted Plants

Thanks, Cheenius! Can’t wait to hear how your new plants turn out!

“Women and Land” Workshop

Guest post from Buzzy! Thanks, Buzzy!

Thanks to Haute Pasture, Buzzy recently attended the “Women and Land” workshop, put on by the Virginia Department of Forestry.  They gathered together four different federal, state, and local agencies, and introduced the 36+ women in attendance to all their services.  Turns out, the government actually offers some great programs and cost share incentives!  I would encourage anyone who has even a small amount of land to call the agencies directly; they seemed incredibly willing to do phone consultations, site visits, etc.  Here are some tidbits to get you thinking about the possibilities:

Essentially, farmers and ranchers have a whole panel of experts just a phone call away.  Buzzy’s got some dialing to do!

Meet Yer Eats 2012 Recap

Last year, our Meet Yer Eats route was planned around getting maximum bang for our buck: we picked three farms that were close to each other and a short drive from Charlottesville, and had a variety of animals and plants on display. We visited Ted’s Last Stand, Brightwood Vineyard and Farm, and Forrest Green Farm, an easy and fun trio I would recommend to Meet Yer Eats first-timers. This year, however, we had a more specific goal: to target farms that raise animals for meat, and learn a bit about humane care and respectful killing practices used by small-time producers. We chose a couple places we’d purchased from at the City Market and seen on local menus at places like Brookville and The Local: Babes in the Wood and The Rock Barn. We couldn’t drive through Caromont‘s neighborhood without stopping there, so we added it to the itinerary, and set off on a rainy Labor Day adventure.

First stop: Babes in the Wood

Driving into the farm, past the Pig Xing sign, we started spotting small groups of pigs napping, mudbathing, and rooting around. What a life! I already posted some happy pig photos here, but here are a couple more:

The very friendly, very knowledgeable proprietor led a group walking tour around a loop through the forest. The pigs have 75 acres to roam, at a density of no more than 2 or 3 pigs per acre. The herd is made up of several breeding sows (BIG girls), youngsters who will grow to 10 or 12 months before becoming pork chops, and boss hog Kevin Bacon (!):

Kevin lives in his own private enclosure, with visitor Monster (not sure if that’s a name or epithet) who cannot be contained by fences and goes where he pleases. The breeding sows consort with Kevin twice a year, and often have their litters in nests in the woods, showing up for mealtime a week later followed by a trail of piglets.

The pigs forage for acorns, berries, roots, mushrooms, bugs, and anything and everything edible in the woods. Their forest diets are supplemented with grain made from local corn. They naturally form cliques and don’t normally fight–so no need for cutting their tails or teeth as often done on industrial farms to limit injury. The low-stress environment, natural diet, and exercise contribute to happy pigs and healthy, tasty meat.

Read more about Babes in the Wood on their webpage. We very much enjoyed our visit to the farm.

Second stop: Caromont Farm

Our adventure took us from pigs to goats, and from quiet walk in the woods to chaotic kiddie land (ha, pun not intended). We stayed at Caromont briefly, only long enough to sample a couple cubes of delicious cheeses, pop our heads into the milking area and listen to a few minutes of the tour of the facilities, and take a couple goat pictures. There was soon to be a special cheese tasting with the cheesemaker, but we were worried about having enough time at stop 3, so pressed on. The goats seemed happy and safe, grazing in movable paddocks by day and coming into the safety of a barn at night. They’re milked twice a day–how do goat-keepers go on vacation?

Stop 3: The Rock Barn

Our last stop was, fittingly, an education on what happens to the pigs after they leave a farm like Babes in the Wood and reach the end of their porcine journeys. Will, the general manager, gave us an overview of the history and mission of The Rock Barn, which was started by Ben Thompson as a high-end catering company with special focus on local foods. They have since added whole-hog custom butchering to their offerings, which is of particular interest to this blogger, for their respectful, humane practices as described on their website:

 Whole-hog processing, or butchering “snout-to-tail,” is a practice that pays deserved respect to slaughtered animals by finding meaningful uses for all of each pig. By working in conjunction with environmentally-sound farms and humanely-operated slaughterhouses, Will oversees the processes that bring Rock Barn meat products from field to fork without sacrificing either craft or ethics.

We got an up-close and personal explanation of pig butchering, which was fascinating even for the squeamish pescatarian in the group.

As he carved, Ben hit on many butchering topics: various cuts of meat (Rock Barn offers different cuts than you find at the grocery store), the two types of pig fat (illustrating the difference between soft fat and hard fat by handing us fresh-from-the-carcass pieces to play with), how the pigs are killed (knocked unconscious by carbon dioxide or electric shock, then shot in the head with a .22 or a bolt gun), and the importance of bleeding out the pig within seconds of killing it (to prevent stress hormones from fouling the meat).

The scene in the meat room was very clinical: the carcass being operated upon was clean and dry, and the carving, weighing, and packaging process was smooth and efficient. Those guys are good at what they do.

Adding to the experience was the setting of the facilities: it’s housed in a cottage on the expansive grounds of Oak Ridge Estate. The stone dairy barn next door looked eerily pretty in the misty rain.

For more information about The Rock Barn, see:

http://thefeteblog.com/tag/rock-barn/

http://www.therockbarn.com/#/services/custom-butchery

http://www.readthehook.com/84411/special-weddings-field-fork-altar-new-caterer-sets-bar-higher

And here are some great tips from Whole9 on how to get the most out of a farm visit.

Thanks to Market Central for the opportunity to see where our food comes from!

Meet Yer Eats: Happy Piggy Photos

I’m working on assembling a real post on our fun and educational day visiting Babes in the Wood, Caromont Farm, and The Rock Barn (I, the squeamish pescatarian, watched a pig get butchered–and took photos, don’t worry) as part of the Meet Yer Eats Farm Tour. In the meantime, I wanted to share a few of my favorite (live) pig photos from Babes in the Wood. Those are some happy pigs. Enjoy!

Cheenius fights the law: Urban Chicken Keepers vs County Planning Commission

Guest post from dear friend Cheenius, who got political last night to fight for the right to keep chickens in her backyard. Go Cheenius!

Cheenius likes to stay active politically from time to time, and this evening she made it to Albemarle County’s Planning Commission meeting.  Why?  Because the topic was urban agriculture, and like all HP readers, she knows that favorable zoning is crucial to the local food and sustainability movements.  Andy Sorrell, Senior Planner for Albemarle County, gave a thorough report to the 10 commissioners on pros and cons and how other cities and counties are handling this issue.  Then the commissioners gave some initial thoughts before opening it up to the public. Cheenius, as a gardener, beekeeper, AND chicken-keeper, felt compelled to get up in front of the microphone and shout out:  “MAKE LOVE, NOT WAR!”  Well, actually, not quite.  She thanked the planners and the commissioners for moving urban agriculture forward, and said that they seemed fully capable of hashing out the details, but that they should keep in mind that if they want to impose maximum hen numbers, chickens are flock animals so they should really keep the number at 4 or more.  Also, since the county is strained for staffing, requiring permits seems like a waste of time, when you can just have reasonable regulations that can be enforced as needed.  After the standing ovation (I can’t rule out that that was only in Cheenius’ head), she sat down and realized that if there isn’t a clear zoning mandate now, then possibly she’s currently in violation on all three counts of gardening, beekeeping and chicken-keeping.  She considered running for the door, but decided that would draw even more attention to her lawlessness.  Instead, she’s confident the commissioners will ultimately do the right thing when it comes to letting county residents grow their own food.   Initial language they’re looking at adding to the County’s Comprehensive Plan:

“Urban Agriculture Objective:  Support local food production and consumption through the use of urban agricultural practices as a means for increasing access to healthy, local, and affordable foods and encouraging the productive use of vacant land.”
Cheenius gives it two eggs up!