Sunday, April 19, 2009
It is gray and drizzling outside; somehow that feels appropriate, like the tears streaming down my face. In the distant trees a cuckoo bird sings. The sheep I’m watching continue grazing, oblivious to my farewell emotions; Mina my collie companion sits on her hind legs looking up at me, waiting for the next cue. I reach inside my work-jacket pocket for a tissue and pull out a dingle-berry. (God has a great sense of humor.)
During this morning’s milking, I assisted Pasquale in snipping the dried turds off sheep. One must have inadvertently slipped down my coat when the ewes wiggled uncomfortably under the shears. Pasquale offered an explanation for their grooming complaints, “Ship say, ‘Leave my shit alone.’” (1. Feces jokes are international. 2. Pasquale has a great sense of humor.)
When I was a child, I asked my dad, “Who do you like better, me or my brother?” In Zen style, my father answered, “Who do you like better, me or mom?”
There is no single place, single experience, or single person to love. It is all part of the whole, the amazing, magnificent, incomprehensible One.
Yesterday I got my wish; I watched a birth. It wasn’t the ewe delivering her lamb as I envisioned; it was the farm cat delivering her litter. For three hours, I was memorized by the mother and her rat-looking kittens, all knowing exactly what to do during the momentous event. Mom made her nest on the bed-spread I began my Ca’Mazzetto journey with a month ago. How appropriate it should end there.
And so it does not really matter if it’s a sheep giving birth or a cat, if it’s brother or sister, if it’s Albareto, Coccorano, or Santa Barbara. The church bells will continue to echo within me long after I’ve departed and am in the company of loved ones at home. It is all One in this divine universe we are blessed to be a part of, the one we call life.
On this final journal entry, I wish to thank you for sharing in these adventures. But mostly, I wish to thank you for being one with me.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
This is like playing with Play-Dough, only better; Play-Dough tastes terrible.
After the morning’s milking, Pasquale and I carry the 25 liters of fresh sheep milk to the restaurant where Marjatta will make CHEESE!! (Let it be known that I *love* CHEESE. I love eating cheese but I even like saying cheeeeeeeeeeese. I’m convinced that’s why Americans in their brilliance chose the glorious substance to incite a photo happy face.)
The milk is warmed to 36-37 degrees Celsius (a number for the ignorant wwoofer; members of the Sardinian Cheese Making Clan have a temperature gauge built into their pinky finger and need not be concerned with the trivialities of reading a thermometer). At this point the magic potion is added: rennet.
Rennet is found in the stomach lining of a lamb where it coagulates the mother’s milk into a digestible solid; similarly, rennet will coagulate milk for man into a digestible cheese and likewise rennet will coagulate Brigit’s tea when she mistakenly pours rennet laced milk into her previously digestible beverage.
As the rennet reacts with the warm milk it transforms into a large curd of custard consistency. Marjatta uses a whisk to break apart the curd and allows the milk to separate; the curds sink to the bottom of the pot and the whey floats to the top.
I dive my hands into the whey; it is still warm. The curds below feel like Play-Dough. I’m instructed to slowly collect the curds and create a log on the bottom of the pot. It’s rather a fun task. Once formed, the curd-log (not to be misspelled nor mispronounced) is lifted out of the whey and placed into a perforated cheese mold.
Repeatedly, the curd is pressed within the cheese mold; the whey is drained and saved for making ricotta. Eventually, after the curd has been pressed and flipped, pressed and flipped, it is put aside to drain further for several hours before it is salted and stored in a cheese cellar.
I’m tempted to eat it immediately but must wait patiently (or not) for a minimum of one month while the young cheese dries. In the meantime I eye a previously made pecorino and say “Cheese please!”
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Food - the foremost concern in farm animals. Food – the foremost concern in man retaining farm animals.
It is known that man - in his domestication of farm animals - is able to produce a higher yielding product than nature would on her own. Case in point: The chickens at Casa Lanzarotti do not sit on their eggs. Once delivered, they run off to feed themselves. Hence, there is little chance of a chick ever hatching; the chickens are bred to solely produce eggs, not to mother.
Similarly, the sheep at Ca’Mazzetto are bred to produce milk. Naturally, to produce milk they must produce a lamb but many of the ewes do not care for their lambs; they prefer milking by the machine. Why? I’m guessing because A) the milking suctions have no teeth and B) because the milk parlor is where they get fed their favorite food.
Twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, the ewes eagerly await at a ramp that leads up to the milking stations. The collies are also at the gate, cleaning the queued sheep by gently eating bugs off their wool; the sheep do not seem to mind the nuzzling.
Twenty-four ewes at a time enter the gate, each in its own unit. The sheep place their heads in the feeder which is full of delicious (and nutritious) grains including oats, barley, and fava beans. A bar secures each sheep’s head in the feeder and the entire unit moves placing the sheep’s udder at the ideal working level for the milk-man (i.e., Pasquale).
The milk-man reaches around the tail and the dingle-berries to check for milk; if present, he attaches a pulsating suction to each of the two nipples. To test, I stick my finger in the suction and indeed - no teeth! The milk is collected via tubes and sent through a filter to a holding unit. To taste, I pour off some milk and indeed – delicious (and nutritious).
Frequently, a ewe will kick and fidget prior to being milked; chances are, a clever adolescent lamb has snuck into the milk parlor and is helping himself to a free meal since the ewes are secured and unable to escape.
Tonight we have an Australian family with two wafer-thin freckle-faced curious little girls. They cannot take their eyes of the sheep, especially the sneaky lambs.
“Come now.” The father prompts them along.
“Ah Dad! Do we have to?”
“It’s dinner time.”
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
“No, no!” I mutter while turning my head and closing my lips tighter to the kisses my Italian dinner date is imparting on me. Still with my seat belt on, I attempt in vain to move back a bit.
“How did I get in this predicament?” I ask myself. But I know very well; it started yesterday - with lack of communication.
Angelo is a friend of the family. He’s been here a number of times purchasing lambs. Yesterday he came unannounced for lunch with nine of his friends. They were trekking the countryside and wanted to fuel up for the walk home.
Pitying my overworked host, I offered cleaning assistance. In the kitchen, Angelo bantered with his owner friends. Occasionally Marjatta would translate: He could use wwoof help like this. Could he borrow my services. They are laughing, I’m laughing, and the next thing I know, I’ve got a dinner date, tomorrow night, at 7:00pm with Angelo.
“This is not a good idea.” I tell Marjatta. Neither of us speak more than a word of each other’s language.
I direct my efforts to Angelo “Io no parlo Italiano. E tu no parla Inglesi.”
“Si, ma manga no?” (Which I believe translates to “Yes, but you eat no?”)
“Perfetto. Domani sera.” Tomorrow evening it is.
My Italian tour guide is lovely. This is what I hoped for - a local to show me his native soil and then perhaps pizza.
Before dinner, we walk along a bike-path where families push strollers and joggers exercise. There are fields on either side and in the distance, Angelo points out five castles; we explore one. Our communication has not improved since yesterday but we are proficient at gesturing and flipping through my English-Italian dictionary.
At the small family owned pizzeria everyone is friendly and everyone knows Angelo. We order fungi pizza and an ensalata.
Before dropping me back home, we drive through the country side and stop to walk through a tiny village on a mountain top. Above me are stars and an old church bell that rings 10pm; below me are cobble stones and windy narrow streets; in front of me are old buildings perched at different levels. It is quintessential old town Italy.
Angelo parks the car on a hillside to take in the lights of Valfabbrica and then.. he advances. “How did I get in this predicament?” Yes yes, I know – lack of communication.
“No no” I say again. “Casa per favore?”
At the farmhouse door, we say good night. I feel bad for my friend: my evening’s hopes were met; I’m not certain his were. I wish we could communicate; perhaps he thought the international “language of love” would be sufficient.
“Domani sera?” he asks and gestures dancing.
“No. No grazie.”
“Va benne. Buona notte.”
At least, we communicate.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
It’s a beautiful day to be working outside; the sky is blue with just enough puffy clouds to provide passing shade and a constant supply of imaginary creatures when looking up from our “strawberry patch”. Fantasy animals above are easier to spot than strawberry plants below.
“What strawberries?” Jen and I asked each other inquisitively while standing over a “garden” full of one foot high grass. It’s apparent why we were asked to weed. To fruit, strawberries need light.
Above us Bob is in the middle of an overgrown olive tree. With pruning shears and a hand saw, he cuts away dead branches and bad growth from the center of the tree, creating a bowl shaped canopy of healthy leaves. To fruit, olives need light.
During my life, I have likewise pruned my own set of weeds - negative attitudes, undesired ways of behaving, and fear based mindsets - in an effort to bring in light and allow for new personal growth. I am often disheartened as it appears to be a never ending job; one weed is pulled and another one grows or worse yet, the same one comes back!
Ca’Mazzeto’s four hundred olive trees have been on this land for over a century; with care and pruning, they will continue to produce for a hundred years more. Similarly, strawberries are perennials; with care and weeding, they too will continue to produce for years to come.
We work diligently for days pruning the trees, as did the wwoofers before us, as did the farmers prior to them, as did the ancestors before that, every year for the life of the tree. If we can prune repeatedly for a plant, certainly I can prune repeatedly for me. How great is that!?
Monday, April 13, 2009
I compare three heads in a baking pan: a piglet’s, a lamb’s, and a chicken’s. The chicken’s head disappears; it is in the mouth of Bubul. The piglet’s and lamb’s heads are moved to a platter; it will disappear in the mouth of a guest.
While the lamb’s brain is the size of a baby’s fist, I do not believe they are estupido, as Pasquale claims. When I take the flock out to graze, I’m convinced that in their baa-baa-ing they are communicating: “Hoorah! It’s the inexperienced wwoofer. Quick, down the tractor path to the newly seeded barley patch.”
How do I know this? Because this is what they try each time I open the barn door. My flock runs for the forbidden zone. I hear their bells get fainter in the distance all the while I run behind them yelling “ALE!”
Pasquale’s herd never tries a stunt like this and he has 280 members in his group while I tend merely 70. Then, to bring his flock back from the fields, he simply barks a few commands and THEY come marching back to HIM. It’s amazing! Whereas to bring my clan back, I run, clap, wave, beg, plead and sometimes even carry the refusing animal; many look up, give me a sheepish grin, and return to eating.
Over dinner, a guest asks the significance of the bells. I listen from afar as I too am curious. Of the 350 sheep, my 70 sheep are predominantly the bell-wearers.
“Bells are on naughty sheep.”
“Really?” she exclaims. “We have 6 children and they all wear bells too.”
Sunday, April 12, 2009
I’m exhausted. We all are, including the four dogs that can’t even muster energy to continue eating. They’re simply laying next to their heap of Easter Sunday lunch discards. By the looks of it, the thirty one restaurant guests would likely lie down too, only Pasquale is keeping them somewhat erect with a final round of grappa.
The week of preparation is coming to a close. The eighteen dish, eight course meal has been cooked and eaten; the dishes have been collected, washed and put away. The linens will need to be laundered, the stainless steel counters cleansed, and the floor mopped; but that can wait for tomorrow.
Right now there’s only one thing I really want to do this Eater evening: take out the sheep.