When we bought our Merino lambs, they came with a free goat. The three amigos were penned together in a barn and were the orphans which were being bottle-fed. We were visiting the farm in North Moravia to check out conditions to see if we would be able to responsibly purchase a couple of sheep from them in the future, but the farmer said we might as well take the orphans as they were motherless anyway… and we could take the kid and put it on the barbecue when it was big enough to be worth eating. Even if that wasn’t going to be the case, I couldn’t very well leave the kid alone. Animals do not cope well with abandonment. You’ll even struggle to rear a chicken without brethren, or without becoming that brethren.
So, long ago we’d accepted Dijon goat would simply be our naughtiest surrogate child. She was the one most likely to break the tiles on the barn, encourage the sheep into places that sheep are not designed to go – like the barn roof, break into the garden and eat our sapling fruit trees, lead escapades onto the road outside the house, decimate our living willow fences, and on and on. The ringleader, the brains behind the operation. Because the sheep are nothing if not easily lead. She even figured out the use of rudimentary tools. As it was hard enough to live alongside one goat, we decided that we were not going to breed her – that would inevitably lead to two goats. Double the fun. And games. And eaten Chestnut tree saplings.
Goats take a long time to mature – a full three years to reach their adult height and a further two before they are considered all grown up. Dijon Goat was born in 2011, and was our dear pet until 2014 when I hit upon the idea of trying to milk her. I’d noticed that her udders seem to sometimes change a bit, and at the end of 2013 she started regularly coming into heat, and thus “escaping” because of her sudden fascination with our neighbour’s ram. Escaping – a loose term seeing as she is perfectly capable of climbing out of her enclosure any time she should so wish. Her presence here is a matter of personal choice. Anyway – should a goat and a sheep liaise, progeny is an unlikely result – so unlikely that it makes the news – one in Ireland a couple of years ago, the previous one in Kenya some years before. Whether or not she was actually pregnant at any point, but the spring she clearly wasn’t, but the next time her udders changed, I tried to milk her.
Milking was a mysterious process, and a learning curve for us both, and all we had to go on were some videos on youtube. The first time I tried, there was no more that a teaspoon of milk, but we persisted and within weeks she was producing a pint of milk morning and evening (a British pint is 568ml, whereas a US pint is only 473ml btw). The slow increase in production was important. It felt as weird as if our dog, Bunbury, had started to lactate and we’d decided to start consuming that. We were reluctant goat milk drinkers… however, hiding it in our morning coffee was the first step, and as production slowly increased over the course of the month, so did our taste for goat milk.
There is no getting around the fact that cow and goat milk are different. And different again from the processed milk you get in plastic containers at the supermarket. We were used to fresh milk from a nearby farm… which we would fetch on a weekly basis then pasteurise ourselves, freeze or make into yoghurt. Soon, cow milk started to taste kind-of cowy, in the same way that UHT milk tastes … not normal … we had acclimatised to goat milk.
The first year, all the milk was kept in the fridge, in labelled jars (the honey jars being exactly the rights size for one milking). This year, however, I don’t keep milk more than a day old. This goes into the freezer and as soon as I have a large enough batch, we can make a foray into the world of goat cheese. Some favourite recipes have been cheese stuffed vine leaves with dried cranberries and walnut, New York baked cheesecake and a bruschetta with cheese, beetroot and red onion. My next most-important product will be halloumi – as this is a type of cheese I really love and one of the things we still have to ask our British visitors to bring over for us.
As well as various cheeses, we’ve found that the whey – which makes up 90% of the volume of the milk – is the best product for making bread. If you use whey instead of water in bread, it will be soft and fluffy. It’s almost worth making cheese for this reason alone.
While the house is full with volunteers and visitors during the warmer months, there is rarely a large amount of milk left over from one Ambien CR day to the next. Dijon goat is playing her part in a productive little homestead, not only contributing to our food production, but also to the overall experience of visitors. We take in city dwellers and turn out competent milkers. Last year, towards the end of autumn Dijon’s milk production waned, and by December we had finished altogether, meaning that we all got a break over the colder winter months. Goat milk was much missed.
This year we will fare even worse over the winter months as the local cow herd has now been sold – this herd was a rarity in South Bohemia as the animals were allowed outside when the weather was warm enough. I am tempted to turn to vegan alternatives rather than use milk produced by cows which are kept all year inside barns – as is the way here – unchanged since the darkest days of the USSR style collective farms. Let alone the fact that in order to produce the milk, the cows have calves, which are in the main used for meat – an uncomfortable fact for most vegetarians. The milk we have from Dijon goat is entirely vegetarian. We are very lucky indeed.