We thoroughly enjoyed last month's Slow Food celebration in San Francisco. Our village school has just added locally-grown vegetables to their canteen meals, and tossed out the frozen chicken nuggets. This can only be better for the kids - slow food's all about the entire community.
Vegetable garden in front of City Hall, San Francisco
We were honored to be one of 60 local producers chosen for the Slow Food farmer's market. We had the perfect spot on a corner, with a view of the vegetable garden at City Hall. It was blissfully sunny (we kept the cheese on ice, brought it fresh from the farm each morning, and moved it along the stall to keep it in shadow) and the shoppers all wanted to talk and taste. We had an amazing group of staff and friends to help, but I have three special thank-yous. My sister-in-law Kathy was a rock of support, organization and good ideas, like the hotel massage when I literally couldn't speak from giddy appreciation and exhaustion. My neighbors Joe and Lesa brought the cheese to the city one day, began slicing bread, and never left. Lesa is a can-do mother of five who understands my teenage staff, and has luckily agreed to manage our shop at the weekends. Third, there was Barbara. Barbara appeared on the Friday to see if we needed anything, reappeared with fresh baguettes, and stayed to slice bread. She was bubbly and gorgeous and of course we chatted. As soon as we heard she was a flight attendant, I asked if she'd ever met one of my oldest friends in town, Sarah Boling, who had wild days flying the world on the same airline before becoming one of the pillars of Pescadero community. Sarah's in Pismo Beach now, but she was one of Harley Farm's earliest supporters and had our first batch of retired goats. Well, it could have been just as random as people asking me if I've ever met their friend in Yorkshire, but no, Barbara and Sarah are best friends... Barbara stayed with us on Friday, flew to Seattle on Saturday, and came back to us on Sunday, apron on, ready to work! It's the beginning of a beautiful thing!! We were extremely happy to be in the market, available to all, rather than in the admission-fee-only section of the festival. We have to run the farm as a business, and cheese isn't cheap, but we don't lose sight of a slow food mission: getting good-quality food into schools and to hungry people. Our next food festival is at the farm. It's our most ambitious, most sumptuous local-food dinner yet. Pescadero Maid Feast on October 25th - details soon!!
Twelve years ago I won Goldie at a Halloween carnival. It was a rather demanding goldfish, and ate all its subsequent friends, if the blue heron didn't get to them first. Until July, we kept Goldie, and mosquito fish, in the water tanks in the pasture, but we've just moved the goldfish to a delightful sunken bath in the garden. We will be collecting rain water in giant tanks, and treating it with chlorine tablets, before distributing it, fish-free, to the goats.
Future home for future Goldies
This, and other changes on the farm, follows a visit by Dr. Andrea Mongini, our veterinarian and expert on goat breeding practices. Our farm management evolves constantly, but these particular changes take us full circle, back to the early days of the farm.
We used to rear the babies in small groups, split between separate pens - the shop used to be a birthing pen... - and we'll return to these very small groups of five to eight babies each. Andrea made it clear that what may seem like a serene field of goats is more like a school playground of teenage girls: queen bees, acolytes, loners and victims. The boss goat may actually prevent weaker goats from feeding, so there'll be more corrals and feeding troughs. We'll raise the babies off the pasture, on grain and hay, away from the domination of older goats. This should provide a strong start for our breeding goats, and it will help us spot viruses - and hermaphroditism - in
the new stock.
We're also changing ventilation in the "loafing barn" - their covered hanging-out space. You might notice vents in the ceiling and windows on the side, which will improve air flow over the hay.
Hope future Goldies won't be lonely, once they've eaten all their friends. No more goat company for them.
When Dee asked if I would accept any awards Harley Farms might win at the American Cheese Society awards ceremony I was honored. I mean sure, geographically I was probably the person at the conference closest to Pescadero, but Harley Farms cheeses are some of my favorite local varieties and Dee Harley is one of my favorite cheese people anywhere.
But it was even a bigger deal than I thought. The ACS awards are moving up in the world. This year, they were in the 'historic' Merle Reskin Theater in downtown Chicago. Stage lighting, big video screen, hundreds of cheese fans, can the Food Network televising this event be far behind?
I had barely gotten into my seat when the Harley Farms name was first called and I got to step onto the stage from which stars such as Peter Falk, Henry Fonda, Uta Hagen, Katharine Hepburn, Dustin Hoffman, Lena Horne, James Earl Jones, Vivien Leigh, Myrna Loy, Joe Mantegna, Geraldine Page, Tyrone Power, Basil Rathbone, Jessica Tandy and Studs Terkel performed.
Third place for Fresh, Unripened Goat Cheese for the Harley Ricotta. Bright lights. Applause. Cheers from cheesemakers, other cheesemongers and cheese fans. I was proud to take the stage for Dee but sad she couldn't be there. Then before I could get settled in another award was announced: Third Place for Goat Feta.
That's when I started feeling sheepish. I don't work for Harley; I sell cheese in San Francisco, but everyone was slapping my back and giving me congratulations. I felt like a fraud! Dee, the other Harley folks, and the goats did all the work! I didn't want to get up to accept the next award but my travel companion smacked my head and ordered me to go up.
Third Place in the Marinated Farmstead Goat Cheese category for the Chevre in Oil. I thought to myself, 'My work here must be close to done. How many awards can Dee win?'
The biggest came next. In the Open Farmstead Category, against cheese of any milk, the Monet won first place against all other flavor-added cheeses. That's right, not only is it one of the prettiest cheeses on the market, it was judged as the best for any cheesemaker who uses only milk from their own animals. This is incredibly prestigious in our cheese world. I tried to call Dee from the theater so she could hear the applause but I couldn't get any reception. Sorry, Dee.
I started to get into it with the next award. First Place for Harley Fromage Blanc in the Cultured Goat Cheese category! I got to stand up on stage with two of the best goat cheese people in the country: Jennifer Bice of Redwood Hill and Mary Keehn of Cypress Grove. I pumped my fist and yelled 'Whoo-hoo! California sweep! That wouldn't have sounded the same with Dee's cute little English accent.
What a night for Harley Farms. With over 1100 cheeses entered from all over the US and Canada, little Harley Farms won: First Place: Monet First Place: Fromage Blanc Third Place: Goat Feta Third Place: Chevre in Oil Third Place:Ricotta That's like a ribbon for every 25 goats!
Teeth that could star in Pirates of the Caribbean, a stare to match your mother's, and a malevolent spit?
Llamas are thoughtful and easy to maintain, and are popular pets. They get rather large, though, so we've inherited several from people moving house. Bart came first, from a woman touring the farm eight years ago. We put him directly with the babies, and they loved him as if he were the Pied Piper. Bart would lie down in the pastures, and have the babies jump all over him, but wouldn't let the adult goats near.
The next couple of llamas came five years ago. They were show animals, so rather better looking than Bart, in llama circles. All three are working animals, not toys. A dog escaped onto the pasture last February, but the llamas immediately herded the goats behind them, and stood three in a line between the dog and the goats. They spit and kick viciously in defense of their herd and territory.
We have five llamas now, two with the non-milking herd over the road. Their stand-offish, efficient personalities, and the way they move, are perfect. No more llamas, though, thank you.