The quest to make cheese

Yesterday was a fairly typical Saturday here on Whidbey Island: breakfast at Muk Cafe, browse the Bayview farmers market, and a stop at the farm supply store for whatever. Except this:

“Let’s make mozzarella!”

Our friend Marnie was visiting from Austin, and we talked most the morning about enjoying the fresh produce and meat available locally, as well as the availability to purchase raw milk.

A while back, Marnie had successfully made her own cheese with raw milk from the farm where she participates in a work share program. I was excited to learn how we could do this on our own and we needed three key ingredients: 1/2 gallon of raw milk, rennet and citric acid. The citric acid we finally found, but after searching far and wide on the island, no luck on the rennet so we had to lower our expectations from mozzarella to ricotta.


It took some time to carefully heat, monitor the temperature and stir the raw milk mixture before we saw cheese curds, but it finally happened. And after straining the whey from the mixture, we ended up with more ricotta than we expected.

Delicious, fresh, creamy ricotta.

After mixing the ricotta into a pasta sauce, we discussed other cheeses that were fairly easy to make such as mozzarella and chevre. Savoring the ricotta cheese over dinner, I realized that it may be hard to purchase ricotta cheese at the grocery store. I’m sure one day practicality will make me do it, but this is definitely something I’m going to try again.

Before going to bed, I searched where to find rennet. Why Amazon, of course!

My rennet will be here in a week and if all goes as planned, not long after, so will our homemade mozzarella.

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Apples: the new Labrador treat

Our apple harvest should be happening soon, that is if Daisy Bean doesn’t eat them all….

We’ve been trying to monitor the Lady Labs’ apple retrieval activity, but that’s easier said than done. Every time I turn around one of them has an apple….usually Daisy. It was cute at first, but things are getting out of hand. Two days ago my husband and I figured out Daisy had consumed three apples in an afternoon. While I’ve been trying to discourage their apple picking tendencies, it doesn’t seem to have any effect. 

This morning, as I let the girls out, I walked around the tree finding no apples on the ground. When I let them back inside for breakfast, I noted two apples near the porch. As they ate breakfast, I grabbed the notably mouthed apples and placed them into compost. My hope is that reinforcing apple nabbing as inappropriate behavior will eventually curtail such activity, but in a way, who can blame them? In Dallas there were only squirrels and birds to chase. Here they have deer, bunnies, birds to chase, and now, apples to retrieve in October.

In August, our new veterinarian noted the Lady Labs had gained half their weight in a year. This called for a reduction in calories for these maidens of mischief. Daisy, who is always hungry, is obviously protesting by nabbing the low hanging fruit on, what seems to be, a regular basis. We aren’t ruling out Little Bee as an accomplice, as she has been seen with a less than ripe apple in her jaws, but our repeat offender is definitely Daisy.

Before our fence was complete, the resident deer loved sneaking into our yard, reaching for our fruit by standing on their hind legs. 

While I haven’t witnessed this, according to my husband, Daisy took notes and has deployed the same tactic. She has great odds as the deer are now fenced out, thus less competition. So we do our best to make the rounds and pick up fallen apples. Out of sight out of mind right?

An hour into my workday this morning, I ended a call with a client and looked down at Daisy sleeping comfortably under my desk with her brow curled as if she’d had a tough morning.

And next to her was a green apple. I guess she’s saving it for later.

Getting ready for the worms

Yesterday we contemplated our farming dreams for next year, and today we started putting things in motion.

As we pick up our red worms in two weeks, today we installed our in-ground worm bin we bought from Bugabay. While Whidbey Island is known for being an agricultural gem, Greenbank’s soil, where we reside, is not the fertile easy digging variety like the land residing in Ebey’s Landing. Our soil is full of rock, or glacial till, as my husband informed me. 

The words “glacial till” sound way more graceful than what it actually is. Pardon my French, but glacial till is a stubborn bitch to dig and we had to dig 12 inches to get the appropriate depth. Between the two of us we were able to get it accomplished in a couple of hours, but it made me (and Josh) really grateful we only had to dig one hole.

After a run to grab some peat moss and manure from the farm supply store and filling in the sides of the bin, we were ready to place our first layer of food waste. It must’ve rung a dinner bell because one volunteer worm was already hanging outside the bin. He looked as though he may have had a fight with one of our shovels, so I tossed him inside in pity. I’m imagining worms aren’t territorial so hopefully he’ll get along fine with the others when they arrive in a couple of weeks.

It was a good afternoon worth of work, but as I looked around the reality of the work ahead is getting real. There is sod cutting the garden space, constructing the beds, prepping the chicken run and possibly adding to that run to host turkeys.

It all needs to be ready by January/February, but tonight we’ll continue our hobby farm debates as well as continue dreaming about what this place could be. 

It’s nice to start seeing that these dreams are on their way to becoming reality, one rocky shovel of soil at a time.

Farm dreaming on a fall day

Our friends left for the Coupeville ferry and we headed simg_4120outh of the island to the Bayview Farmer’s Market. Throughout the summer, I’ve been eyeing the BugaBay in-ground cedar worm bin and today I would bring one home!

I enjoy going to the farmers market not just to get additional veggies but to also talk to the farmers. Glendale Shepherd Farms was celebrating as their Tallulah won 1st PlaceĀ  at the Washington Artisan Cheese Festival this week. You may recall I professed my love for Tallulah and sheep’s milk cheese after a tour of Glendale Shepherd Farms back in August. While I would’ve loved to have picked up some more Tallulah, I resisted and stuck with the worm bin and some veggies.

img_4123Teresa at BugaBay talked to us about the worm bin basics, provided us with a video and instructed us to get the worm bin in the ground and call her in two weeks to get our worms! We also chatted about the two sheep she and her husband are raising, my desire to own chickens, and discussed that dilemma around loving animals but also raising them for meat. Teresa gave us the number of her neighbor who raises chickens who she felt would be a good person to talk to about raising chickens.

After our farmer’s market stop, we headed to the co-op to refill our propane tanks and get some organic fertilizer. I was tempted as they had 1-week old baby chicks for sale! They were so cute and while we are nowhere near ready to have chickens, I wanted to bring them all home! It’s only October and I’m already looking forward to March/April when spring chicks will be available and we can begin raising chicks and planting our garden!

img_4122After seeing the turkeys at Prairie Bottom Farm, Josh has been talking about his desire to raise turkeys to sell for Thanksgiving next year. We dreamed a little today about how far we could take a hobby farm from veggies, to chickens and turkeys. Sheep? Could we pull off a couple of sheep too?

For now, we’ll just focus on getting our worm bin buried in the ground. After all, you can’t have any kind of farm if you don’t have good soil.

Hiking above the clouds

So here we are, October, which for Pac Northwesterners it means truly the first day of fall. And yesterday was a beautiful, sunny day for our final day of our PNW summer.

A couple of friends from Dallas were visiting, and with the sun shining I was hoping we’d get good views of the Olympic Mountains from the Bluff Trail at Ft. Ebey State Park. Upon arrival at the trail head, it was obvious no views were to be had as a crazy thick fog seemed to be covering most of the Sound.

img_4097As we climbed along the bluff and up to Ft. Ebey, the sun was beaming brightly and it appeared we were just above the clouds at one point. The last time I had seen something like this was when Josh and I drove into the Andes to the Chilean border.

Yes, it was a perfect final PNW summer day.