Monday, May 19, 2008
a day at the farm: saxon creamery
photo taken by J.K. and ever so graciously shared with me
"Eating is an agricultural act," writes agrarian philosopher and author Wendell Berry. I've been thinking about the ethics and practice of eating lately, partly because I'm coordinating our campus' Common Theme for next year. We've selected the tagline "It's Easy Being Green" to energize folks on campus to think and act more sustainably. The theme will be carried out through intellectual inquiry, classroom tie-ins, practical changes, and nifty programming. I can't wait! Truth be told, I'm more than a little nervous to be coordinating this initiative, but I have so much help that I know it will be a collective effort and it will be wonderful.
My personal focus for the project (because I can't possible DO everything, just coordinate everything) is two-fold: green food issues and eco-literature. One of the primary goals of the green food issue is to explore local food connections. So, when I recently received an email from the Southeast Wisconsin Slow Food Convivium inviting me to tour a local dairy farm, I quickly signed up and invited my friends.
And so, on a windswept Saturday in mid-may, A, J, and I drove to Saxon Creamery in Cleveland, Wisconsin for a morning of tasting and touring. Our tour began with a brief history of the farm; you can check out their excellent website for more information on their history and excellent cheeses. We then toured the production facility, a spotless and cool converted beer warehouse (only in Wisconsin, right?). We peered through a series of windows to see the gleaming stainless equipment, white cheese-shaping molds, and marveled at 16 pound wheels of cheese floating in salt-water brine baths. Racks of cheeses lined the last room, the aging room, where the temperature and humidity is carefully monitored to simulate a cave.
While we were touring the facility, Elise had shaved off generous slices of the three cheeses: Big Ed, Saxony, and Grassfields. When Jerry brought us back into the front room, we enjoyed endless slices of cheese, trying to detect the subtle differences in the cheeses, from the sweet&salty Big Ed, to the nutty Saxony, to the creamy&buttery&tangy Grassfields. I love each of the cheeses and have a hard time settling on a favorite, though later that day I bought a wedge of the Saxony (for comparison, think of a mountain cheese, like and aged Fontina). Jerry surprised us all with bottles of maple syrup from the farm as take-aways.
We then drove through downtown Cleveland, bustling with Saturday morning rummage sales and the quintessential Wisconsin celebration, the Brat Fry. After driving over the interstate, we pulled over on the side of the road, and saw the farm spread before us under billowing clouds. To our right was a ten acre woodlot (home of the maple syrup) and surrounding us were fields of grass and specks of cows far in the distance.
Our tour concluded at the farmstead, where Jerry explained the seasonal process of breeding, and how calves are taught/encouraged to pasture. We gazed at a small field filled with adorable calves gently mooing and staring at us (likely wondering what the dumb humans were up to now). One paricular caramel colored calf stared straight at us, looking happy and sweet.
We then traipsed over to the farmstead where Jerry explained what each of the red wood buildings was used for, and then took us into the milk parlor. This milking facility is modeled after New Zealand farms, where the comfort of the cows is paramount and human comfort is secondary.
Jerry's passion for pastured, grass-fed dairy is palpable, and his dedication to this particular farm and its bounty is deep. His message to us was to supprt farms such as his and to support our local communities. Education and knowledge about our food has the power to change all of our lives--producers and consumers.
I don't feel virtuous or self-righteous as much as I feel committed to truly knowing this place where I now live. And I feel a deep gratitude to the farmers whose labor is invisible in the foods that grace my plate so many times each day. I want to really think about the lives that have contributed to my food--human and non-human alike--and to truly appreciate and support them through the power of my fork.