Posts Tagged With: goat cheese

Down on the farm sure looks like Up to me.

Doreen Jankowski didn’t start out to be a local food impresario. 18 years ago, she and her husband Pete moved from Massachusetts to Florida, then back up to her granddaddy’s land in Appalachia (making them “halfbacks” in the local parlance) where she started a big garden on her two acres. Pete was always complaining that he couldn’t find any hot sauce he liked, so Doreen started fooling around with applewood-smoked recipes packed with serranos and habanero peppers. She produced such good hot sauce, her friends started asking her for bottles of it, then their friends started asking for it, then Early Girl restaurant in Asheville fell in love with it, and Doreen figured she might have a business on her hands.

Now Fire from the Mountain is selling from between 500 to 2,000 bottles of hot sauce and salsa a month, and Doreen is up to her elbows in habaneros and cash.

Goat milk mama, Carol Coulter.

Carol & Lon Coulter got lured into local food production a bit differently. 18 years ago they fell in love with a big piece of land in Watauga County that was covered in prickly multiflora roses. Naturally, they bought 3 goats that love to eat those pesky bushes (accidentally, one turned out to be male), and before you could say reproduction, Lon & Carol had baby goats on their hands. So they started making goat ice cream, then goat yogurt, then goat cheese–and that turned out to be so damn good, they created a whole line of Heritage Homestead products. Today, they’re selling 150 pounds of gorgeous chevre, camenbert, blue and gouda cheeses a week –not to mention some phenomenally delicious dark chocolate goat cheese fudge.

Heritage Homestead’s beautiful blue.

Charles Church, one of the most influential farmers in the five-county area, began organic farming after the tobacco farm subsidies flamed out in 2004. He saw the potential for organic produce: “…where for the first time I could grow whatever I wanted, name my price, and get it.” He began to grow all kinds of vegetables on his farm and started a cooperative called East Coast Organics, and last  year, that group made $2.75 million in gorgeous organic sales. Despite the difficulties of farming – and as Charles can tell you, farming is a 100-hour a week, physically tough, demanding job that will teach you something new every day – Church and his wife Betty are skilled and successful; and as a true Farmer of Farmers, he spends hours reaching out to all the farmers around him to help them succeed, too.

Charles’s organic greenhouse where he raises seedlings to share with other farmers.

It’s these kind of folks that Heifer is investing in – and hoping to replicate – in its Seeds of Change initiative, concentrating on the agricultural part of producing local food as well as the enterprise side, helping local entrepreneurs with business plans and loans, production, marketing and distribution.

It starts with people like Doreen, Charles and Carol and continues with young kids in the Future Farmers of America at Johnson County High School who are raising 25,000 tilapia in their school science lab — and envisioning a future when they can make a living on their land. The local food movement in Appalachia is a beauty to behold (and eat!) but to Jeffrey Scott of Heifer, it also has the potential to save the health and jump-start the economy of this traditional farming area.

One sign of the times…

As Jeffrey would say, “Good food is good work.”

Categories: Agriculture, Appalachia, Farming, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Travel, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

What I ate in Romania.

What didn’t I eat in Romania is more to the point.

Boletus mushrooms, fresh from the forest.

Romanians love nothing more than to feed you. And because they are really, truly hurt if you refuse to partake (and will serve you a robust helping anyhow)…

Homemade polenta… really low-cal!

I stepped up to the plate and ended up eating my weight in potatoes, sheep cheese, goat cheese, salt cheese…

Sheep cheese — very salty & yummy!

onions, cucumbers…

tomatoes, salad…

Greek(ish) salad, served at every meal.

bread, toast, bruschetta…

Almost every restaurant has homemade delicious bread.

…cake, dumplings, strudel…

Chifle – a beautiful little walnut pastry I got to know well.

croissants, donuts…

honey, more cheese, more potatoes, sour cherry jam… ..and lots of plum brandy in various strengths and portions.

Weak or wake-up-the-dead strong, homemade plum brandy (Palinca) was ubiquitously delish!

Oink!

Sarmale (cabbage rolls) with pork…. (mine were with fresh mushrooms)

The only thing I didn’t eat much of was meat because I’m a pretend vegetarian…

Beef (I think) and homemade sausages

..but that was kind of stupid because Romanian meat is exceptionally fresh and free-range as all get out.

Cliftele (meat balls of beef, pork, onion, garlic and rice)

I’m also lactose intolerant (for real) so you would think that would have put a slight damper in my epic caloric intake.

Au contraire –the only thing that meant was no ice cream (to which Romanians are addicted) and no gigantic wollops (the dollop’s overweight cousin) of sour cream, to which Romanians are also exceptionally partial.

Somlói galuska – yes, it’s Hungarian but the Romanians love it anyhow.

With all this glorious food, you would think that Romanians would be huge but they’re not (although milk-fed babies in the rural villages were kind of scary large). The women have the classic Slavic beauty, the men do a lot of physical exercise, and the people love to be outside—walking, picnicking, farming, gardening, and strolling around village squares.

Weekend evening in beautiful Brasov square.

It was a delicious experience eating Romanian and being treated to mad generous hospitality in every household…

My pal and fellow traveler Laura Voisinet & Maria who made us a beautiful lunch in Aschileu.

(and the Ursus beer wasn’t too shabby, either!)

Noroc!! (And I am so hungry now, I can’t even tell you… this post should have come with a warning!)

Categories: Food, Heifer International, Photography, Romania, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 67 Comments

Feeling sheepish in Lepsa.

The day we went to see the sheepfolds of Lepsa, Romania was my favorite day ever (til tomorrow). The impossible-to-spell-or-pronounce region of Vrancioaia is located between the Black Sea and Transylvania, on the junction of two tectonic plates and is prone to earth-quakes, has salty soil from when it used to be under the ocean, and is retouched-calendar-photo perfect.

It’s not bread, it’s cottage cheese.

For centuries, this has been sheep-breeding & cheese-making country but with anemic production of the local sheep breed and new cheese standards imposed by the EU (Romania became a member in 2007 and had five years to get up to speed) that traditional way of life is fading fast. People can’t make a living on the farm, and young people are fleeing to Europe and the cities to find jobs.

So Heifer and the 2700-member Mountain Farmers Federation have joined forces to help these sheep-breeders transition to a free market economy. The plan is to revitalize the Red-face Tigaia breed with Black-face meat rams and fresh Red-faced ewes … and train farmers to meet new hygienic standards of cheese production.

It sounds good on paper, but you really don’t get it ‘til you see the sheepfold in action — and then it’s like something right out of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, complete with hay harvested with scythes and fashioned into fat haystacks that will last through the long, hard winter.

From April til October each year, Ion (John) and Dorica Cobzaru live up in the sheepfold with a few other shepherds and seven big dogs, taking care of their own sheep and 100 of their neighbors’ goats and sheep. They rise at 4:30 am, milk the flock at 6 am, take the herd out to pasture and then make the sheep cheese (there is no electricity to refrigerate the milk so it has to be immediately boiled and made into cheese). The flock will produce 8 kilos of cheese each milking: (at noon and 8 pm), and in between there is hay to be harvested, sheep to be shorn, and animals to be herded and fed. During the night, the shepherds make big fires to keep away wolves, bears and wild boars, the seven dogs sleep around the perimeter of the herd, and John sleeps outside to keep guard against the wily wolves.

For their hours of labor, the shepherds will keep 3 kilos out of every 10 kilos of sheep cheese they make, and middlemen regularly come to the sheepfold on horseback to pick up the freshly made, immensely popular cheese to sell in the local markets.

Chubby little lamb.

With Heifer’s gift of 10 new sheep and 1 new ram to each of 50 families in the valley (plus the support of the local veterinarian and town mayor), the project is producing bigger, fatter lambs that are far more profitable for the farmer. Ewes can get pregnant sometime before their second year and will have 2-3 babies a year for about 8 years. Male lambs are sold at 2-3 months and the fatter and sweeter they are (black-faced lambs are reputedly delicious), the more income they’ll bring to the farmer.

And with that income, the farmers can work together (never use the word “collectively” in post-communist Romania) to improve hygiene standards in making sheep cheese, establish better routes to market for wool, leather, milk and lamb, and make Lepsa a place where a farmer can make a living.

Like a leading man out of a Bernardo Bertolucci movie, John loves the rural life.

John went to Italy three times to work before he decided, “If I’m going to be poor, I might as well be poor in my own country.” His son Adrien, 21, just returned from picking strawberries in Italy and is happy to be back in the fold.

Adrien Cobzaru

With the new sheep from Heifer and a new sense of hope in the valley, maybe all the farmer boys of Lepsa can grow up to be prosperous in their own country.

Categories: Animals, Farming, Heifer International, Photography, Romania, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

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