We finally arrived at our first farm. Located about 45 minutes by bus from Florence, it is in the heart of the Chianti area of Italy. We are dropped off not having a idea of wherebrhe farm is actually located. Not having an actual phone we were unable to call our host to pick us up. After a unfriendly old lady we managed to find a person that told us the farm was around the corner. Upon our arrival we are greeted by one of the workers, Michele, and shown around.
There is no work the first day so we had a relaxing evening with a pasta dinner. The first of many, many pasta dishes. Almost everything they use it grown on the farm or traded with other farms on the area. So at least once everyday we had some sort of pasta with seasonal vegetables like zucchini, onion, garlic, carrot, cucumber and occasionally eggplant and green beans. Almost no meat as they only have chickens for eggs. This for 20 days. While good it gets tiring. One night they had braised beef but that was one of the nights we were gone.
On our first day we were working with the goats. Along with Simone, the farmhand, we took them out to pasture for about 5 hours. Other than chasing them out of certain areas the day was spent chatting or napping. You do need to watch out for the male goat, Mario, as he will head butt you or try to eat your clothes.
The main job I did for 15 days was work in the dairy. They milk the goats twice a day, once at 5am then again at 5pm. The morning milk is heated then rennet and bacteria is added to cause the milk to coagulate. Then it is skimmed off the top of the liquid (whey) and placed into molds to cool. The whey is then heated again and the second skimming produces ricotta.
The milk from the previous night has rennet and bacteria or whey added. It then sits, at room tempeture, over night to solidify into curd. This is the French style of making cheese. The curd is then ladled into molds to help compress the remaining whey out.
The remaining bits of curd are placed in a cheese cloth. Dried herbs (such as fennel, chive, tarragon, etc) are added and then they are tied off and hung overnight to allow the whey to be removed. They are then placed in molds.
Both types of cheese are flipped over the next day although the French is salted on the edges. On the third day the Italian cheese is salted. They continue to age for up to a year. Personally I prefer the newer cheeses as the older cheese is really sharp and the aging process brings out the pungent goaty flavor more. The consistency is smooth and spreadable for the newest of the cheeses. The older ones become firmer, like chedder, but none get hard enough to grate like Parmesan.
On one of the days, I went to assist at a local farmers market. With it being in Florence they were expecting a high turn out but the dreary weather kept most away. I mostly assisted in pricing and telling customers, "non parlo italiano" or "I don't speak Italian". Some would then switch to english or say they also don't speak it. I ended up helping a Turkish women, a family from Texas and a couple from the east coast as they were all quite relieved to not have to speak Italian to buy some cheese.