Tracing My Bongo Burgers: A Day on the Farm, Part 3
This series of posts describes my recent trip to Bobolink Dairy Farm. I decided to break it into chunks because I apparently have a lot to say about it. Today’s entry chronicles the early part of the day.
This is the part where I go backwards a little bit before going forward, because I like to ramble, and because there was some stuff I forgot to say. First, I want to answer the question: Why Bobolink?
When Lady Aravan and I were on our journey to better health, we by chance started watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. It’s not a cooking show, but it is a show about food and travel, and we liked Tony’s acerbic sense of humor and presentation. One show he did was set in New Jersey, and in that show he traveled to a small cheese-and-bread-making farm called Bobolink. There he met a raw-milk enthusiast, baked bread, and had what sounded like the world’s best pizza.
We were intrigued by the notion, living close to New Jersey as we do, and started checking out the website for the farm. At this time, they were preparing to move to their new farm, so their availability wasn’t the best. Eventually, we ordered some of their free-range steroid-and-hormone-free beef, 3 roasts and a few pounds of ground beef, from them, along with a butt of whey-fed pork and a sampler of some of their cheeses. It was during our trip that we would learn about Bongo, the steer that made up our beefy bounty and gave this series its name.
OK, now back to the present, or more accurately, a more recent section of my past which is your present (that is now past) that are reading right now (or now just read) GAH THE METAPHYSICAL IMPLICATIONS OF ALL THIS ARE FREAKING ME OUT.
We got out of the car happily – especially that we were no longer in it – and looked around. Ahead of us was a small open barn-like structure, and that was our first glimpse of some of the farm’s cows. Some of them looked younger than the standard, the males and females alike sporting little horns. Lady Aravan was giddy about being close to them, as a small thin rope was all that separated us from them.
As we spoke to the cows and each other, we could hear the far-off sounds of people bringing the cattle in from the pasture where they roamed. We knew it would have been the first thing we did, had we been there on time, so we missed our chance to walk up the snow-covered hill and bring in the herd. It was disappointing, but we got to watch them make their way slowly towards the Parlor (where the milking happens) and lower area where the bulls and cows that weren’t being milked that day would hang out and get fed hay. Included in that bunch was a cow and her new adorable little calf. Later, we would meet them both as Petunia, the mama, made her way into the milking parlor for the first time.
For now, though, we just watched the herd coming in, and saw our first glimpse of the people we’d be interacting with. This is the point where I curse myself for being bad with names, since one of them was a young man, from the area, who’d been working for the Whites since June, and was an absolute pleasure to talk to. He works hard at all the things that make a farm run, from feeding cows and pigs and chickens to herding to shoveling manure and the other thousand things that goes into a typical day. An honest-to-god farmhand, and a real gentleman. I wish I remembered his name.
We also met Lulu, an intern who had just started there the week before. She was an incredibly nice young lady who assisted with whatever needed assistance, from scrubbing cheesemaking equipment to milking to, well, you name it. She stayed with us during the cheesemaking class, unless she needed to work, since Jonathan wanted her to see the whole process as well.
There we also met Jonathan and the other pair of folks who’d be sharing our class, a young couple from New York City (or The City, as they of course put it). Our cheesemaking teacher had a bright smile splitting his wiry grey facial hair, a friendly handshake, and then it was down to business. We stood back as they filled the four milking stations with the lucky first few cows and turned on the creaking and clanking milking machine, which took its time warming up in the 30 degree weather. Each station had a cluster of 4 glass-looking tubes that connected through tubing to pipes that ran out through a wall. Using gentle vacuum pressure, they would be connected to the teats on a cow’s udder and extract the milk. Since the machine was taking so long to warm up, Jonathan took the class into the next room, where the milk was pumped and cheese was made.
All except Lady Aravan, Cow-Lover Extraordinaire.
She wanted pictures of the cows, and I’d figure I’d see her in a few minutes. 5 minutes later, I knew I wouldn’t see her until she was shooed along forcibly. It ended up being good for us, since we each got to see the operation from different ends: she helped milk the cows, and I learned about what happens on the other end of the milk pump as well as the last stage of the cheesemaking process. Funny thing about cheese: learning about the operation, starting from the end.
In Part 4, The Odyssey of Milk and Cheese.