Leaving our eighteen-year-old son at home on the farm, we are away for three weeks in Wales, Yorkshire and Puglia. It will be a rejuvenating break from work, a catch-up with family, and a chance to sit in the sun with the celebrated peasant cooking of southern Italy. I will be looking at farms, too, with an eye for the innovative and the traditional. We want to find a higher-quality packaging for our cheeses, moving away from plastic to a breathable, attractive and practical alternative, and I'll look at presentation in English and Italian cheeses.
Portmeirion in north Wales
We have family in Wales, and we'll visit the surprising Italianate town of Portmeirion, designed or rebuilt by an architect who loved Mediterranean Italy. If the Welsh skies are not dark with rain, the views over the estuary and gardens are grand. Portmeirion is a stand-in for glamorous Europe on British television, and famously the secret location of a cult sixties show called The Prisoner. You've probably seen Portmeirion china, too: the green and floral botanical prints on white pottery, and other designs, were made by the village architect's daughter.
Barnsley in Yorkshire
My parents still live in Old Royston, outside Barnsley in Yorkshire. It's industrial countryside, with canals and the railway - but there's no mining or linen weaving now, and very little glass-making. The villages and towns have plenty of small businesses, though, and I enjoy the food shopping at small butchers and greengrocers, the leisurely tea-rooms and heavingly popular plant nurseries.
Puglia in southern Italy
Puglia is my husband's choice. It is the heartland of Italian olive oil, with simple, delicious cooking and many small farms to visit. We'll wander rugged olive groves and look out for fresh cheeses. I'll also be looking for inspiration for our farm shop. I love the tactile pleasures of practical, hand-made things. Not the must-have accessories of those who judge themselves and others by their possessions - merely a very few, useful things made with skill and centuries of experience. I will bring a little of that European heritage back with me.
This week we've been mixing whitewash for the new old barn. Whitewashing would have been routine in rural dairies fifty years ago. It's an economical paint of lime and chalk (builders' lime, and the whiting you use to mark out a baseball field). When you wash it onto your walls, the mixture reacts with carbon dioxide in the air to make calcium carbonate, hardening over a few days. Truly a negative carbon footprint! - whitewash is both cheap and a great green option. It will flake off, and wash off in the rain, if you don't add to the recipe to improve the whitewash's adhesion. We also used salt and milk, and tried out a first coat on this chicken coop.
Whitewash will kill or deter microbes, so dairy farmers would have whitewashed the inside of their dairies too. We'll start on the outside of the barn and see how the recipe holds up.
Oscar the black farm cat is an evacuee from indoor life in Berkeley. At first we hardly saw him outside the barn. We had to reassure his ex-owner that Oscar loved his new country lifestyle, without being able to produce him. But in weeks Oscar began to keep the rodent population down very efficiently. He has keen eyesight, probably because he never strained it indoors in Berkeley. He prowls the top of the fences and leaps from the sky like a raptor.
Oscar excelled himself one summer farm dinner. As we served goat cheese ravioli to twenty-two lovely guests seated upstairs in our hayloft, the black cat served up a not quite dead mouse for all to admire. The mouse ran under the table. The cat ran under the table. The mouse wasn't fast enough and became an entree in the corner of the loft. We had to beg forgiveness for this extra slice of farm life. Horrifyingly, Oscar returned at dessert with another mouse, but we don't think anybody noticed? I promise you that all staff are on full cat alert at dinner time now.
It's not new. It's an old barn, twenty years or more older than ours, in the fields south of the farm. Last Friday evening we walked into our pastures to say goodbye to Cadbury, the oldest goat on the farm and son of Sugar Magnolia, one of my original six pet goats. Cadbury died quietly and is buried in our fields close to his mother. He was born the year before my son, and so I shared photographs of them walking up the street, and climbing down to the beach, together. I didn't know I would cry, but it was a momentous goodbye, because Cadbury died on the evening we exchanged contracts for the neighboring fields and barn. The end of our beginning, the beginning of our future.
We walk to Cadbury's grave to remember our beginning
Burning sage in honor of Cadbury
Then we walked across the fields to toast the beginning of our future
The farm has fizzing energy and camaraderie this August! We have several new employees, and this next weekend will toast our purchase of the neighboring acres and barn with all the staff. Our new generation is the younger staff. Like all the Pescadero businesses, we have work for young people in the community, and I am especially happy to train teenagers who return each summer or work part-time during the school year. They become an asset to the farm, and they develop ties to our community that give them extra self-confidence, skills and a salary, irrespective of their family background or school performance.
Yesterday, Ben and David stepped up to the mic to present the Pescadero Art and Fun Festival SCCS Fashion Show. They were even better than the previous presenters. Out with the old and in with the new!
The new generation. Our elegant staff present the South Coast Children's Services Fashion Show at the weekend
Of course you would buy cheese from such a lovely young woman
The SCCS Fashion Show, organized by local young people, funds activities and projects for all local youth
The Pescadero Art and Fun Fair is an annual fundraiser for art in our local schools. If you've ever sat and listened to the amazing variety of talented musicians who play here every year - the mariachi band are now the children of the original musicians! - you cannot help but be impressed by the breadth of talent and kindness in our community. It's a good place to grow up and I look forward to all our new generations of staff and neighbors