Curds & Whey
The kitchen held its rewards as well. Bringing the milk in myself twice a day gave me more interest in its consumption. A lot of milk was wasted, because few people actually enjoyed its strong taste. It was used primarily for cooking, and for the dogs.

I decided to try making cheese, because that required huge amounts of milk. Of course with cheese-making, you end up with quantities of whey, which I also hated to throw away, so I started making bread at the same time to use up the whey. This was deeply satisfying to my sense of economy. Daddy had taught me to make bread years ago, and although I had seldom attempted it on my own, I had a pretty good idea how to do it.

I found a recipe that made sense to me, and laid it on the counter with the one for cheese I had dug out of one of Erica's goat journals. For days in advance, I froze half the take from each milking until I had over ten gallons. Heating it slowly in the huge aluminum pot, I tested the temperature on my wrist as I had learned to do for the baby goats when they needed bottles. When it was body-warm, I stirred rennet capsules into the milk. This caused me some discomfort. Rennet, I knew, was a product that came from the lining of a sheep's stomach, and I was still a strict vegetarian, not only refusing to eat meat, but rejecting any foods with other animal products like gelatin or anything made of leather. I had tried substituting for the rennet with Agar Agar --- a product produced from seaweed, which also has gelatinous properties. It had been an unmitigated failure. So I decided that I needed to make an exception here --- there just didn't seem to be any way to make cheese without bending my principles.

After several hours, the milk turned to beautiful smooth curds. With a huge knife, I cut through the whole mass, slicing in both directions to create a tidy crosshatch of trembling cubes in the softly gelatinous matter. Then, to break up the cubes further, I used my arms, up over the elbow, running hands, wrists and forearms deep through the silkiness. I closed my eyes and tried to think of all the different things that might feel like this. Brushing against satin sheets, bathing in a tub of custard, or being surrounded by a dense school of minnows. I imagined the slithery smoothness passing all along my naked skin --- between my fingers, brushing my shoulders, my face.

The first pressing was easy. After I poured the whey and curds through the huge colander, I placed two wrapped bricks on top, sufficient weight to send the whey gushing out. This was warm and cloudy, redolent of goat and morning. When I added sugar and yeast to it to start the bread, it nearly exploded with growth, soon foaming enthusiastically. Leaving the curds pressing in the pantry, where they would go through a graduated series of ever-heavier weights over the next few days, I added flour to the whey, scoop by scoop, first stirring it in with my big wooden spoon, then scooping it out on to the countertop in a great gooey sticky mass.

Those great glops always seemed unmanageable at first. But gradually, kneading hard while standing on a chair to give me better leverage, I kept adding flour until it began to take shape. Eventually, I had two large mounds, smooth as baby cheeks, dark grains showing in the lighter dough like fine granite, slightly sweet to the taste, and pleasing to the face. I stuck my nose deep into the mass of it, and it gave like flesh.

Once, when no one else was in the house, I closed the kitchen door, and surreptitiously took off my shoes. After washing each toe carefully, I climbed up onto the counter, and danced in the bread, kneading it with my toes, rolling it between my soles. Arms spread wide, stomping in a rhythmic circle, some remnant of chant rose, close to a memory not mine.

Later, in the dining room, as the twelve crusty brown loaves were devoured with their usual shocking rapidity, I couldn't help smirking at what no one knew but my toes and me.

--- From Notes from Nethers
Growing Up in a Sixties Commune
Sandra Eugster
(Academy Chicago)
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