Last Wednesday Fañch and I brought out the cream separator and transformed several buckets of milk into one bucket of cream. Each time we do this I am surprised by how much milk is needed to produce even one small bucket of cream. By Friday afternoon the cream was ready to undergo the next step in the process and we poured it into the churn.
This machine spins the cream until little pieces of butter begin to form. At this point we empty the liquid byproduct (more on this later) and add ice cold water back into the churn. This process is repeated several times to wash the butter. Once the liquid remains clear and is longer cloudy after being mixed with the butter, we were able to continue to the next part of the butter-making process.
At that point we had to knead the butter to release as much as the remaining water as possible. I find that this part, as well as the washing step, are the most important but also the most complicated. It seems like no matter what we do there are still drops of water always being pressed out when we work the butter. Eventually we decided that it had been kneaded enough and we mixed in a little salt before patting them into little slabs and packaging them up.
Unfortunately I did not take any pictures this time around but will do so in a few weeks when we attempt it again!
Now, back to my favorite part about making butter, that byproduct I mentioned earlier also known as buttermilk! I decided to use it to try making buttermilk biscuits and I have definitely found a new favorite thing to bake! They smelled absolutely delicious and topped with a bit of honey from our neighbor and some ginger syrup the first batch was eaten within a day.
And a bonus picture from today’s morning commute:
Not all the work at the farm is as bucolic and picturesque as doing a head count of newborn calves or spending an afternoon harvesting vegetables for the weekly market. Sometimes farm work consists simply of four pails, a large field, and rocks to clear. This last week we went out and did just that on several different occasions.
At first I was hesitant to jump into this task as it invoked much less enthusiasm than certain other jobs I have had the chance to do. However, on the first day the sun was out in full force and I figured it would be a good time to get outside and enjoy the increasingly nice weather. So with a pail in each hand I set out along the edges of the field where Fañch suggested I start.
It was not long before the tediousness and repetitive motions grew tiresome. I decided to turn some music on using the selection on hand with my phone and that helped to liven the mood.
Emptying a field of cumbersome rocks does not demand much focus or concentration. It is a task that allows the mind to wander much further than the confines of the field.As bucket after bucket was filled and emptied of stones of all sizes I thought a lot about the work I do today compared to what I used to do or what I might have imagined for myself at different points in my life.
At one point Fañch and I took a break to compare the “treasures” we had found half buried in the soil or camouflaged with the rocks. His plastic toy car was much more interesting than my shard of an old plate. Having pocketed our treasure again Fañch asked if would have ever imagined being in the middle of a field in France piling up stones along the perimeter of a soon-to-be pasture.
While this scenario had never factored into my list of potential life plans I could not ask for a better final outcome. As I continued to work my way across the field with the sun working to maintain a perfect spring temperature, I kept thinking how grateful I was to be in that spot at that moment. One of the first great spring days and I could have spent it cooped up in an over air-conditioned office somewhere. I could have in some stuffy library study room with a stack of books piled high stressing over an exam. Now, not that those places don’t have plenty of positive aspects to them, but I just couldn’t imagine myself being anywhere else than here.
Yesterday afternoon Fañch and I headed to the farm to get some more work done on wedding preparations. Along the way we stopped to check on one of the cows who had recently calved because her little one had wondered off and the mama’s anxious moos had gone on all morning. We searched all over that section of the farm and finally found the little guy hidden behind a wood pile all tangled up in the brambles.
Fañch climbed behind with him and managed to help the calf wiggle his way out. Having regained his freedom he ran back to the barn where his mom was, got one look at her angry mooing, then turn and ran in the other direction down the old country lane that is now mostly covered in overgrown trees and fallen leaves.
Fañch climbing back to where the calf is hiding
He made it out!
We tried to get him to join his mama again in the barn but each time that he would come back up the road he would get a glimpse at his mom and take off running back in the other direction. Later that afternoon we saw him asleep in the shade along the forgotten road. Though now he is finally back alongside his mom. Sometimes a calf will drink a bunch of milk and then trot off to find a warm hidden spot to lay down and sleep all day while he digests.
For the last several weeks I have been steadily increasing the time I spend working on the farm. Now that we live on site it is much easier for me to be involved in the daily goings-on.
Three days a week I milk the cows with Jean-Yves and every other weekend it is Fañch, Julien, and I that do the milking while Annie and Jean-Yves have the weekend off. It has become one of my favorite parts of the week. I find that waking up right away in the morning and getting to work boosts my motivation. We are typically done milking by 9:30am so I still have the entire day ahead of me to work on any number of projects. Sure, there is the slight downside of occasionally being splatted with cow poo, but I enjoy the rest of the work so much that it more than makes up for the messy side of the job.
milking the cows selfie
walking to work
All this has been made all the more enjoyable due to the fact that the rain has stopped. This weekend we had plenty of sun and it is projected to stay that way for another week or two. Roads that have been covered in mud since November have finally begun to dry out and foot-deep tractor ruts that were filled with rainwater all winter have transformed into cracked earth. For the first time in months Fañch returned home last night covered in dust instead of soaked through from rain.
The calving season has also started which is one of my favorite times of year at the farm. Because our mobile home is situated two fields away we have to walk through these to get to the farm everyday. The second of these two fields is where the cows who will be calving our currently staying so my commute to work now consists of checking to see if there are any new fur babies stumbling around on unsteady legs or hiding in a patch of particularly tall grass.
During the recent sunny days Fañch has been hurrying to get all the new pastures seeded. This entails mixing eight different kinds of grass and alfalfa seeds in a cement mixer. I have really enjoyed helping with this part, it is a little bit like baking though instead of a cake as the end product it is an entire field of robust green cow chow.
Besides the usual farm work typical for this season there is the additional work which comes with preparing for a wedding. Our wedding will be at the farm so for the next four months we all have various projects to work on in order to get the place ready. I am very excited to have friends and family visiting and to finally share my life here with my loved ones on the other side of the Atlantic!