On tasting the subtle differences
Taste, but don't choke
Fake it til you make it . . . or don't
I've always admired those people with well-developed palates for wine. Despite my best efforts, much of it tastes mostly the same to me.
Don't get me wrong; I love a good wine tasting. It's fun feeling fancy while I try to discern the subtle differences between the lined-up glasses filled with crimson liquid. I always reveal myself immediately as an unserious wine aficionado by swallowing and pretending there is no spit bucket.
Spit buckets seem like the most pointless of accessories.
Real wine tasters will take a sip and then suck air into their mouths to roll it around their tongue for the whole experience. Attempting this has resulted in me almost choking to death in spectacular sitcom fashion only a few times. I always feel bad for those people best known for the way they died, "drowned on a tasting pour of wine while feigning sophistication," would surely do it for me.
I do love good wine, though. My friend Allison sent some stunning bottles that kept me afloat during the Homegrown Year Challenge. Another friend, Candace, sent me two bottles for Christmas that absolutely changed my life. It’s not that I don’t appreciate wine, it’s that I am not at that higher-wine-plane like those who live and breathe their selections.
At tastings, I'm highly susceptible to suggestions from the sommelier. "Can you taste the subtle currant?" I don't. Yet, I'll nod along knowingly as if I could tell you the difference between a currant and a raisin without a search engine. I can't.
Wine tastings are a great place to feel intense imposter syndrome. My smile and sip will mask that feeling everyone around me already knows I'm basically a female version of Chevy Chase's Clark Griswald character. Then I'll probably choke, literally and figuratively, to reveal the truth.
I take solace in the fact that most other people are faking it, too. However, at least a few have real palates, people who don't need a sommelier-shepherd to lead them around and tell them what to parrot back. I'm a little jealous of them, but everyone has their strengths.
Mine is cheese.
Thank you dairy much
Having a pasture full of goats and gallons of milk a day means that I get to experience subtle changes firsthand. I can tell the difference between early and late season milk. I can tell between milk when the girls have gotten more grain, sunflower seeds, or alfalfa. I even knew the day they broke open their treat jar and ate no fewer than a thousand animal crackers.
My friend had his herd of goats once break out of their pasture and into his massive cabbage patch. He had to throw their milk out for three days because it smelled of sauerkraut and bad decisions. He had hundreds of goats and an actual dairy, so it was a devastating jailbreak.
Milk is reactive like that. It changes with the weather, food, season, and stress. Good milk is a function of the health of the animals that give it and all the inputs those animals have.
Late-season milk is my favorite. Though lower in volume, late milk is higher in fat (as outlined in "Less can still be more") and takes on a creamier and weightier texture in your mouth. It's also ideal for cheesemaking with the softer goat cheeses.
Although I love experimenting with different cheeses in the semi-hard and hard categories, with varying degrees of success, soft goat cheese is a core staple.
My specialty and favorite is Fromage Blanc. Most people assume the best goat cheese is a chevre, as it's the most common. I prefer the way the slight puckering culture of the Fromage Blanc offsets the sweeter low notes of an almost goat cream. It's heavenly.
Fromage Blanc is also the easiest cheese to make, and with two human children under five - lazy and delicious is the best combo for me.
I make Fromage Blanc in literally two steps. First, heat the milk to 86 degrees and pour on culture. Stir after two minutes of allowing the culture to rehydrate. Set for 12 hours at 72 degrees (the temperature at which my kitchen already stays.) Second, pour the whole thing into a cheesecloth-lined colander for four to five hours to drain. Salt.
That's it. That's the whole thing. The vast balance of making a good Fromage Blanc consists of just leaving it alone at room temperature. Even I can manage that.
I usually start the cheese before bed to work its magic overnight and then let it drain during the day. So, if you have access to goat milk that you like, or if you have just a gallon of any milk you enjoy, try making it. Making your own cheese is hugely gratifying.
Cheese is only as good as its main ingredient, so the best milk makes the ideal cheese. Like the difference between even the yummiest store-bought tomato and those homegrowns plucked straight from the garden, there's no way to replicate late-season goat milk cheese.
Just keep your goats away from the cabbage patch.
The pursuit of happiness never ends
I'm still always careful to use qualifying words like "aspiring" when talking about being a farmer and a writer. It's unclear exactly what I need to do to wear those mantles for real, but I shoulder them with apologetic discomfort for now.
This Substack has helped me to move forward in accepting both titles in ways I never expected. I'm using the Substack platform to try to overcome those personality traits I struggle with internally.
A fabulous neighbor of mine told me this week that she enjoyed my "columns." Columns are what real writers write. Little did she know that she got me one step closer to owning the "writer" title with that simple word. Welcome to my column.
I recently talked with a close mentor about what the next steps should look like for me professionally, and she said something striking: "This whole 'pursuit of happiness' thing doesn't just end. It's constant work. That's the 'pursuit' part."
It's not surprising I'm a sucker for those points that quote our founding documents. I have cited "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" throughout the years, and it rolls off the tongue in a rote way as if from a school child.
When discussing the pursuit of happiness, an odd conversation topic, I know, I point out we are not guaranteed happiness, just the right to chase it. Although that's true, there's also a relentlessness baked into the word "pursuit" I never fully considered.
"Happiness" always seemed like a destination to me. If I'm a farmer, then I'll be happy. If I'm a writer, then I'll be happy. But maybe I can find happiness in the relentless, if imperfect, pursuit of those things, too.
I used to think, "when I'm a wife, then I'll be happy." Or "when I'm a mom, then I'll be happy." Yes, more than you can imagine, those things bring me happiness. I'm a wife and mom, but I also pursue both of those titles every single day. Neither the act of marriage nor giving birth gave me the totality of those states of being.
Even on those days I'd like to leave my husband and children on the side of the road with a "take my family, please" sign, I still pursue happiness with them. And even on the days when the farm melts down, and the words won't come, I will still push forward.
The pursuit of happiness. It's in the quest. The process. The tasting of the wine even when you feel like Clark Griswald. The fall cheese, making itself in the kitchen. It’s the journey.
In my last premium post, which happens on Sundays - and you know you want to sign up (only $5 a month to read about goats, WHAT?!?!?) - I asked for feedback. Our fabulous friends Kerry and Maggriffinmd suggested an AMA. So, I'm doing it. Open to everyone. Ask below.
Ask. Me. Anything.
Goats, chickens, ducks, tomatoes, cabbage-smelling-milk, chicken-eating-pigs. Kids, both human and caprine. Why politics is both the best and the worst of professions. How I plan to write a book someday, hopefully. How I lived on a farm for a whole year. Hit me. Kerry gets the first shot at questions, obviously as it was her idea, but post yours in the comments.
I'll do a special free-to-all AMA post on Friday the 1st to kick off the new month. If we like it, we can do it every month. Or sometimes. Let's see how it goes.
Lastly, please like and share this post. If every person helped me sign up two friends, I could someday write weird stuff here all the time and constantly pursue happiness, out loud, with you.
For the newly initiated:
Welcome to my Substack newsletter! If you were already here on Substack, feel free to skip this part.
A ton of new people have signed up, which is quite humbling considering I mostly like to write about chickens, goats, veggies, and not starving to death for an entire year of living off the farm. I also just uploaded my newsletter list from the RealBestLife website here in order to combine all my newsletter lists into one.
I had trouble staying consistent with my last newsletter, partly because I always wanted it to look pretty. I have a “perfect is the enemy of the good” complex that sometimes makes it so nothing happens. But this one is different.
If you’re new, check out some of the free posts I’ve made in the last few weeks that convinced me I can finally be a person who is regular about a newsletter. Why I started the most cliché substack ever or embracing the fall.
Welcome! Look around. If you dig it and want to go premium, you’ll get an extra post on Sundays, too!