I love hearing the sound of the westerly Autumn winds rushing through the eucalypts that surround our property. There’s a familiar warmth to the air at this time of year sending a signal that Spring is on it’s way. Its a time for renewal when our minds and bodies feel lifted and invigorated in preparation for the coming summer months.
We start to notice encouraging signs in our gardens too. More sun, new growth, budding plants, buzzy bees, cheery chooks and even the odd fly. There’s a different ambience at this time of year noticeable through the excited bird calls in anticipation of new life and the happy chatter of walkers on the track below our house. It really is a wonderful time of the year and a perfect time to be getting into the garden and growing and making lots of healthy organic food!
Speaking of which, about a month back I went to a cheese making course at our Permaculture retreat in the beautiful Upper Macdonald Valley. I spent two days with some amazing people including our teachers Pete the Permie and his wife Silvia.
With his dominant beard and crop of dark ginger hair Pete is an earthy man who with his wife live the dream on their Telopea Mountain Permaculture Farm at the base of the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria. Pete was the co-founder of the Heritage Fruits Society, he grows, makes and teaches everything there is to know about cider brewing and runs cheese making workshops and Permaculture Design Certificate courses (PDCs). Silvia is an animal husbandry expert and quietly goes about her business, keeping things moving and organised behind the scenes and together they are a Permaculture powerhouse. They travel to teach and learn and when at home produce both certified organic and biodynamic produce. Having a list of credentials like this made the decision to attend a cheese making course with them a no brainer.
Over the last year I’ve opened my mind to learning new skills and in some cases, merely rekindled those I’ve lost touch with. What I love about Permaculture is the generosity of it’s people, people who through their actions live to the natural rhythms of the earth utilising the principles of Permaculture ethics. In more traditional business circles knowledge equates to power but in the true sense of Permaculture there is a generosity of spirit and enthusiasm of sharing knowledge. I feel privileged to have found this connection with so many and as time permits I will pass on the knowledge that others have so generously shared with me.
I learnt a lot that weekend and came home with a set of new skills. Pete showed me how to make feta, camembert, ricotta and mascapone, yoghurt, quark and sour cream. We also learnt a lot about the importance of hygiene and so much I never knew about milk. I am now convinced that apart from sour cream, the average consumer is paying way too much for cheese products. Like most other home made produce, cheese making is actually quite easy and if you’re prepared to put in a little bit of time you too could make your own delicious cheeses at home.
Cheese is also a perfect Permaculture product because you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment and some of it you will already own. There’s not a lot of waste as whey, the bi-product of cheese making also has quite a number of uses in the Permaculture system.
Fresh whey is used to make ricotta cheese and it can be used as an ingredient in bread making. It will stay fresh in the fridge for up to a week and can be consumed as a high protein drink to bulk up the body. It also freezes well for later use and can be mixed with pollard and other grains for the chooks and ours love it. When mixed with garden lime it also makes a great fungal spray for grape vines, fruit trees and roses and it can be added direct to the soil to increase microbe activity.
Depending on your perspective, cheese can be considered either one of the staples of life, one of life’s little pleasures or one of life’s more pleasurable indulgences. Either way, to be able to make a batch yourself, proudly place it on the table and share it with others is something else and yesterday as I sat on the deck in the warm afternoon sun enjoying the delightful young company of Luke, Roz and their lovely friend Ria from Orange, that little pleasure was realised.
Soon it will be twelve months since we picked our very first snow peas from the Permaculture garden and I’m looking forward to sharing our first year’s food tally with you including details of my first solo cheese batch. Until then I hope you’ll join me next time for… a walk in the garden.