Thursday, June 25, 2009

Moutain Goats Make Good Cheese

Imagine a long dusty road winding up and up a French-country mountainside scattered with cows and alternating steep and rolling pastures. The red-tiled roofs of the quaint country houses dot the valley below; resembling the roses and geraniums grown so profusely throughout the area. The farmhouse is nestled on a ledge overlooking the green undulating hills and valleys below. There is a warm, soft breeze that occasionally belies the presence of farm animals but in a pleasant, unobtrusive way. Above the farm the hills rise on three sides decorated with tall grass, wildflowers and large tumbled rocks. This is goat heaven here and we can't help but think of Heidi and her friends. We are fortunate enough to have stumbled upon a biodynamic farm up here in the French Vosges Mountains. They have about 100 goats, a dozen or so pigs, about 10 beehives, a crowd of chickens, a duck, a few roosters and a pony. There are lots of rocky paths leading up the surrounding hills, that provide even more spectacular views of the valleys below. These are the regular stomping grounds of the lovely brown and black goats.

The farmers settled this corner of the mountain about 30 years ago and have been tending their goats and creating their delicious chevre ever since. They have lodging quarters in the old barn, which is attached to the farmhouse. Dinner was simple. Alsatian Tarte Flambe topped with bacon and cheese with a fresh salad, roasted potatoes and, of course, 5 local raw cheeses. Our host, the daughter--in-law of the family is from the French side of the Swiss Alps but her mother is Irish so she speaks perfect English with a slight French accent. She cooked and served us dinner with her baby on her hip (I tried to hold the baby but she was a little shy). It was delicious! There were two of their goat cheeses, one fresh and one aged, one aged blue cheese and two other local cows-milk cheeses.

Our children loved this place. They ran from the rocky hills to the smelly pig barn to see the goats and to pet the donkey, and back again. Before we left we watched a little chevre-making and bought as much as we could fit into our cooler. The fresh Chevre is so sweet and soft and fluffy we can't help but stick our fingers in it and eat a small block on the ride down the mountain.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

When in Germany, eat.

It has been awhile. I have been spending most of my free time working on my website. But now that I am on vacation in Germany I have taken a bit of a temporary break from that work. What I have seen yesterday and today in Germany has inspired me to write a bit here. The green and golden rolling hills bathed by the warm sunshine against the backdrop of a sparkling blue lake and snow-capped jagged mountains is enough to set one aday-dreaming.

I am staying on a farm. The building we are in was once a chicken coop but it was converted to a rental house. There are two farmhouses, one other building that was a mill (also converted to a rental house) and a horse stable on the property. The owners come from a long line of land-owners and their property goes on for acres, earning the master the title of "The Baron" in these parts. Don`t let the image of a "chicken coop converted to a rental house" fool you. It is a charming building with all the modern conveniences of a typical German home, large windows, solid doors, spacious bathrooms, high-speed internet, and the best light-blocking blinds I have ever seen. Coming from the city it is so calming to sit on the balcony and watch the endless gentle commotion of the lush countryside. Twice a day we see a stampede of horses running across the plateau on the hill we look out over and on clear moments we can see the Alps sparkling in the distance. In the nearby town colorful houses serve as the palette for the annual neighborly fight over who can produce the most prolific and healthy roses. Our landlords here may just win. They are both in their eighties and they are outdoors working on their land from early morning to late evening. They grow or raise almost all of the food they eat. Needless to say, they are extemely healthy.

I am not sure if it is the scenery or if it really is so, but the food here is just spectacular. Today we shopped at the local biodynamic store. No, that was not a typo, there is actually a store that sells only biodynamic food here. Until I really started focusing on eating local foods I was eating lots of swiss cheese, in particular I am a huge fan of emmenthaler. I bought some today, since it certainly can be considered local here (we are about 30 minutes from the Swiss border). And now I can say with confidence that there is something to be said for buying food near its source. I have never had Emmenthaler this good, despite my buying the fancy stuff at Whole Foods. The salami, the olives, the cheese, the raw milk and yogurt have been beyond words. And the cloudberries, currants, strawberries and cherries we have picked in the back yard have all been delightfully luscious and tasty.

For dinner last night we ate roasted peppers and sausage, potato salad, a lettuce that we cannot figure out the name of with ripe red tomatoes, sourdough bread with gobs of raw butter, raw sauerkraut, feta cheese with basil and olive oil and lots of cold raw milk. All of this stuff comes from our neighbors (except the olive oil but even that is not that far away) and all of it was delicious. Who needs desert when dinner knocks you off your feet (not to say I turned down the rich dark Swiss chocolate).

Another strange and wonderful thing we saw today was a German biodynamic dairy. It is part of the Waldorf school here in the nearby town. Of course we went there to get our supply of raw milk but our children were mesmerized by the brown cows munching on huge piles of fresh grass. I had never seen anything like it. The cows were fed fresh grass in the barn (I would have put an exclamation point at the end of this sentence but I can´t find it on this German keyboard). As far as I know cows are fed hay in the barn, not fresh grass. It made the barn so beautiful to see the floor covered in mounds of freshly cut green grass. The milk has a complex sweet and rich taste. It is out of this world and we are drinking a bit more than a gallon a day between the four of us.

OK, I suppose I have induced a little mouthwatering. I will stop here and maybe write more another day.

Monday, June 1, 2009

On To Other Things

Lately I haven't been writing in my blog because I've chosen to dedicate as much of my time as possible to creating a website. The website is called "The Village Life". My vision is to create an online community for families to connect with other families and generate opportunities to create a modern urban "village" life.
Right now I am focusing on the "Feed The Farm" section, which has a local-eating guide, a farm visit guide, and has specific information about local organic, sustainable and biodynamic farmers. In the course of researching all of this I have been surprised to find some very interesting locally grown foods and I have spoken to many articulate and intelligent farmers dedicated to nourishing their land and their neighbors.
I am also planning on including a clothing/gear exchange, community networking forums, and school and care-provider review forums, among other things.
Needless to say, this is taking all of my time so I'm not sure if I'll be writing much here in this blog. I am thoroughly enjoying this work for the website. I don't know where it will lead but I have such a passion for what I'm doing that I'm not too worried about that right now.