Even when you live in the country, it’s not every day that a cow wees on you. On Saturday, I joined the local Slow Food gathering at Enaleni Farm outside Pietermaritzburg to learn about cheese making from scratch. We had to begin by milking the cow, obviously.
“Milking a cow slows you down, you can’t rush it and it grounds you” says Richard Haigh as he rests his head gently against Marigold’s side and expertly squirts warm milk into a bucket.
Despite bursting with infectious energy ‘slow farming’ is what Richard is all about. On a thin strip of thornveld with a view of Table Mountain, he is practicing the very best animal and earth husbandry. Making cheese from the extra milk which Marigold and Delilah (his two beautiful Jersey girls) provide is just one part of his operation. “Milk is a miracle,” he comments “it is so versatile. What you can do with the raw material in your home is amazing. All from an animal who eats grass and hay.” Delilah has just produced a pretty cross-Nguni calf named Blossom with whom Richard shares the 15 or so litres of milk she produces each day. The dozens of spotted piglets who race around the farmyard get some too.
Naturally what you put in is what you get out and Richard pays lots of attention to what he puts in. No chemicals or drugs, obviously, and plenty of love. “You need to keep your fingers on the udder,” he says, “then you can feel small changes and react quickly. I taste the milk for the slight saltiness of mastitis and if I detect any difference, I milk three times a day to flush the udder and avoid infection.” Delilah and Marigold can’t believe their luck at being relieved from an industrial milking operation to live at Enaleni with the sheep, turkeys, chickens, dogs and donkeys. “When they arrived they gobbled their food so fast because with the milking machine they have only 3 minutes to eat before they are moved off. They choked and coughed, it was awful.” Now the girls are perfectly calm and even demand a little extra when the first bucketful is finished!
At Enaleni, Richard grows most of his food. All the pulses, herbs, fruit and vegetables they need and much of the maize. The maize variety is heirloom, of course. It is called ugati gati – traditional Zulu red maize. It is beautiful.
Richard stores the cobs on the rafters, he hooked some down then we stripped the corn from the cobs on a wonderful contraption built in the late 1800s. After winnowing in the breeze, we ground the corn into meal – also by hand.
The resulting polenta was cooked and a purplish colour when served for lunch. It was truly delicious with a tomato relish, salad and a selection of local cheese.
All the while, Richard was demonstrating how to make haloumi cheese – a remarkably simple process – and faster than you would think too. “Cheese has an energy all of its own, its alive” Richard tell us, “best to start making it while the milk is still warm from the cow.”
It is astonishing how much Richard can do, simply because he tries. If he doesn’t know how to do something, he finds out (the internet is particularly useful). “”Those of us who didn’t grow up on farms, don’t have the basic knowledge of animal husbandry,” he says. “but because of that we have a different reasoning for our food choices, we question more.” He recommends John Seymour’s great book ‘The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency: The classic guide for realists and dreamers’ as a valuable resource.
So Richard will not be burning off the horns of the new calf Blossom, for instance – a common practice in the dairy industry. One of the other guests tells us that he has read that the horns are ‘sense organs’ and that cows without horns, battle in the herd, not able to tell exactly where they are. Like dog tails and cat’s whiskers I guess. These are all the things no one ever hears about, let alone that in commercial operations, calves are removed from their mothers within a day and cows are kept pregnant endlessly, constantly losing mineral their base to keep producing calves. Milk is billed as “good for you” – certainly not good for cows. If you actually read the carton your regular milk comes in, you might not think it is very good for you either.
So Enaleni farm is small (23 acres) but BIG in terms of animal care and compassion. All the rare and primitive breeds of animals, birds and vegetables mean they are making a big contribution to food diversity too. Richard takes great joy in celebrating the uniqueness of our food heritage – particularly Zulu culture – and farming with hardy ‘indigenous’ breeds which have adapted to tough African conditions.
Good, fair food takes centre stage. For Richard nothing is more comforting than real polenta or a bowl of dahl. He mentions that one of his favourite things is a bowl of fresh warm milk with some wild honey. “It’s too special.” The self-reliance, relaxed attitude to the fact that things come and go, bursts of creativity that sometimes go awry and generosity of spirit which oozes from Enaleni is very, very appealing. I am thinking seriously about joining one of Richard fabulous, famous Bread, Cheese and Pasta Workshops soon. Indulging in a bit of slow food heaven for a few days. Perhaps you’d like to come too? If you are very, very lucky a cow might wee on you too. www.enalenifarm.co.za
read about a previous visit here: https://plantabundance.wordpress.com/2011/09/04/enaleni/