In the Land of Milk and Honey

“And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Deuteronomy 26:9

This is Anna, Pete's wife. Pete was kind enough to let me step in with a “guest post” about my time in Camphill, and particularly my work in the Dairy workshop and with the beehives. Throughout the Bible, imagery of milk and honey is used to describe both richness and beauty of land, people, and relationships. These past weeks have been a chance to learn more about a whole category of foods I love, but never knew much about- milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, and honey- and to learn about the ancient and rich art of their production.

Like Pete, several mornings a week begin with milking the cows whose milk I'll later work with throughout the day. Although it's early, there's something really special about standing in the milking parlor, the cows calm and a little sleepy-eyed, as the dawn comes and a new day begins.

Pete bringing the cows out to pasture

From there, the milk goes several directions. Some is stored in churns, some in a large chiller tank. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays we separate and distribute milk, still warm from the cows, to all of the residential houses and workshops. On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays we make cheese, gouda and feta. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we make yogurt (we don't make cheese and yogurt on the same day, as we don't want to the two cultures to cross-contaminate). And every day we spin, press, mold, cut, weigh, and wrap butter. On Thursdays we process the orders for local shops and co-ops, and on Fridays we prepare for Camphill's Saturday farmstand at the local market. It's a full week, but I get to work with some wonderful women– together we're from South Africa, Germany, Zambia, and the USA. And it's special to think that we work with something that women, both human and animal alike, have nourished life with for generations upon generations.

In the world of dairy, it is all about a balance between preservation and spoilage. By allowing the milk to “spoil” in a particular way, either by souring the buttermilk, or adding a bacteria culture to the yogurt or cheese, it is preserved for much longer. How ironic that by allowing this very thing we would want to prevent– the milk to “go bad”– we are actually helping the milk to last much longer, and creating the cheese, yogurt, and butter we love. But we have to put a lot of trust on many other hands, that those who were milking checked diligently for mastitis… that every bucket, pipe, churn, and tank used at every step of the process was kept absolutely sterile… that no one jostled the milk too much (or the protein will begin to break down)… and so on. It takes many hands all along the way, doing their job carefully, to allow the dairy products to reach their final goal.

Morning milking in the dawn's first light

Cutting the curds. Some say this is the make it or break it moment of the whole process, so the pressure is on!

Stirring or milling the curds. The amount of time milled influences the final texture. The milk churns and yogurt pots stand in the background.

Pressing the curds into molds

Molding the butter. Cheese making is not simple, you can see our equations up on the white board.

Pete came to help on a particularly busy day. Here's us with our newly molded butter, amongst the wheels of cheese.

At the farmers's market, Milena proudly displaying our cheeses and yogurt

And what about the bees? Camphill's honey production is just at it's beginning. Shortly before we came, they had harvested their first batch of honey from about a half-dozen hives. In our time here, Duncan generously shared his knowledge with me as he prepped the hives for their rebuilding for a new harvest. I look forward to learning more about these tiny creatures in all their intricacy, complex social organization, and resiliency. Not to mention, delicious honey!

Duncan and I at the hives, smoker in hand.


3 responses to “In the Land of Milk and Honey”

  1. Shirley Place says :

    very interesting!

  2. Rae says :

    So are there any concerns about bee die offs at Camphill? I just recently heard an NPR story about how here in the US some bee die offs had been linked to corn planting time…two types of pesticide dust was documented to come off the treated corn seeds, knocked loose by the planter and the planting process. (Bees were found to have like 700 times the lethal amount in thier systems.) Previously the bee colony die offs seemed to be a mystery. Just curious if there are similar happenings in other places.
    (PS Really enjoy your posts and sharing your year of travels!)

  3. Anna Rudberg Speiser says :

    I actually asked Duncan about bee die offs in the area, but he wasn’t familiar with any. It’s sad to hear about them, and interesting to hear of a story on NPR. Thanks, Rae!

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