Tracing My Bongo Burgers: A Day on the Farm, Part 6
This series of posts describes my recent trip to Bobolink Dairy Farm. I decided to break it into chunks because I apparently have a lot to say about it. Today’s entry finishes up the visit.
With our cheese in its molds, it was time to turn our minds to lunch. We were having pizza, cooked in Bobolink’s brick-oven (which you can monitor the temperature of and watch a webcam of from their website – which is pretty cool, and reminds me of a friend that used to have one installed in his Coke machine). In the episode of No Reservations that visited the farm, Jonathan and Nina made an amazing-looking pizza with veal and other toppings. He tells that ever since, people have come in asking for pizza. They don’t make them to sell; the cost would have to be too high, he tells us. The only way to get one is to bring a camera crew, he jokes – but luckily for us, if you take the cheese-making class, you get one as well.
The dough comes from the bread-baking operation, of course, and is topped with local produce from the farms around, whatever is in season. For us, that means red onion, some gorgeous mushrooms, and broccoli rabe. I’d never even heard of broccoli rabe until the last two years, but it seems to be somewhat popular in this area. I have no idea, since I don’t care for it. But I’m eager for the pizza anyway, which is topped with a mix of Frolic, Cheddar, and Drumm cheeses from the farm. No sauce.
While they go in the oven, we visit the cave. It’s a walk-in cooler, and we’ve been warned by a kind Lulu to not breathe too deeply in there, and to brace ourselves. She wasn’t kidding. The smell is like snorting Windex. It’s brutal, eye-watering, and painful. I take shallow breaths and get a little used to it, enough to take a look at all the tagged and molding cheeses.
The cheese ages for at least 60 days, the minimum amount of time that raw milk cheeses must be legally aged. We are going to be allowed to keep the cheese that we make, so in less than 2 months we’ll be getting a nice hefty portion of some excellent cheese. Jonathan tells us that if he thinks the cheese should continue aging for a bit more that he’ll email us to let us know.
We have lunch at the farmhouse with Jonathan and Nina, who has to eat and run to her bread-making class. It’s a great meal of pizza and cheeses and smoked duck breast (from another local farm), one worth the trip in and of itself. It is here that we learn the story of the meat we bought a few months ago, and an encapsulation of how the farm determines when and why it’ll have meat.
First we learn about Hamlet, a bull who was in the habit of moaning and groaning loudly at all hours for no apparent reason, which earned him his name and caused disturbances among the rest of the herd. Then we learn about Bongo, the provider of the roasts and ground beef I have in my freezer. Bongo apparently loved to pick fights, fights he couldn’t win. He’d butt the other bulls, cows, and trees, only to be put in his place by the older, larger males. One day, he provoked two bulls so much that they slammed into him from either side and tossed him – all half-ton of him – into the air. That was the day that decided it – he was now meat.
That encapsulated the philosophy of the Whites and their approach – the herd is a family, and anything that disturbs the herd is a threat to the family. Aggressive male calves become veal, not out of sadism, but because they disturb the herd. Males are more likely to end up as meat – cows can produce milk and cheese. There are cows on the Bobolink farm upwards of 13 and 14 years old, a rarity on a farm as their milk production runs lower as they age.
The Bobolink way, though, isn’t about production and efficiency: it’s their belief that happy cows make good milk, and therefore good cheese. Other dairy farms tell Jonathan that he’s letting the calves steal his milk, since he allows them to nurse normally – the concept boggles Jonathan’s mind: who is stealing who’s milk, again? he asks with a grin. While we’re there, he brings Petunia and her new calf into the milking parlor. It’s her first time, since she’s a new mom, and she’s nervous. He doesn’t want to milk her, since she’s stressed – he just wants her to realize that when she comes into the parlor, she gets to leave again, and it isn’t a place to be worried about. It isn’t that way at most farms, which is why there is such a device as a cattle prod to begin with (they use long thin sticks at Bobolink, to hit the ground or touch a flank – beating a cow isn’t in the interests of anyone). Despite his refusal to cut costs and make production more efficient, the farm is profitable, and sustains their family, and keeps them busy but happy. I’m envious of them, to be truthful.
We head home, after 7 or so hours on the farm. It was an amazing day, one that has me thinking every day that I climb into my car and scurry with the other rats to our bolt-holes and offices, doing something for the sake of the money that will keep us in a house and provide food and warmth and luxuries. I went to learn how to make cheese, and I did, but I expanded my horizons much more than I’d anticipated. Meeting someone who once worked on Wall Street and left that life for a farm and became successful has me doing an awful lot of thinking. I’ve got one shot at life. It just doesn’t make sense to spend it doing things that I hate.
Thanks for reading this long, rambling, and occasionally dull series. As Jonathan said, words are actually a pretty terrible way to express thoughts, feelings, emotions, and senses, but it’s all we’ve got.