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1 Burnside Cooking and Food- Food Writing

Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, a Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese

by

Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, a Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese Cover

ISBN13: 9781416560999
ISBN10: 1416560998
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Excerpt

Beginnings

Years ago I fell in love with a farmhouse in West Virginia. The house sat at the head of a hollow — wide-board floors, a rusted tin roof — the last outpost before impassable mountains. You drove up a dirt road beside a murmuring creek and came to a cattle gate. When you hooked the gate again it felt like you were leaving the world behind.

I lived in Manhattan back then but never felt right in the city. I longed for fewer people and more trees. The rented farmhouse was an anodyne. Between semesters and on long weekends my wife, Dona, and I escaped to West Virginia. I adored the long drives, the eight-hour commute, the layers of Manhattan peeling away with each Mid-Atlantic state — New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia. It felt like stripping out of formal attire; by the Alleghenies we were down to underwear.

We were about to shake hands on the West Virginia farmhouse when a phone call came one night. The seller had burned down the house. Turned out he never really owned the homeplace — his sister did. He burned the house for spite. A family feud. An Appalachian story. The night the call came I mourned, convinced we'd never find such a perfect place again.

My whole life it seemed I'd been searching for a retreat in the mountains, a patch of land where I could grow my own food. I was a writer, Dona a photographer. We made our living — our art — with paper but we longed to make it with earth as well. Ever since reading Walden as a teen I'd nursed Thoreau's old dream of self-reliance, his cabin along the lake, his meticulous lists of peas and beans. I admired how he wove literary culture and agriculture into one fabric — pen in one hand, hoe in the other — and how he understood that alongside civil disobedience, the most active thing one could do on earth was produce one's own food.

For five years we searched for a home. We scoured the whole Northeast, looked at a hundred plots of land. One week a realtor called from Vermont. He'd found an eighteenth-century farmhouse on a dead-end road in the western part of the state. The asking price was absurdly low; the farmhouse had sat empty for years and nothing inside was expected to work. We might have to tear the place down, he confessed, and start anew. Yet the land was apparently stunning, worth the asking price alone. There was an orchard, a pond, outbuildings, a brook. Seventy-five acres of sheepland grown back to forest.

We drove there late one October afternoon when the trees had shed their leaves. The valley looked promising; narrow and forested with folded hills. An opalescent river tumbled aside the road. The pavement turned to gravel, then we jostled up a rocky drive and the house swung into view: bone white clapboards, mountains all around. We both knew right away.

This was over a decade ago. Back then neither of us knew much about animal husbandry (we'd both grown up in the suburbs). But soon Dona began photographing neighboring dairy farms and helping with chores; and that led to a familiarity — a friendship — with animals, particularly with goats.

This is the story of our first years with dairy goats. A story about what it's like to live with animals who directly feed you. I tell of cheese and culture and agriculture, but also of the rediscovery of a pastoral life. Rediscovery because the longer I lived with goats the more connections I saw to a collective human past we've since forgotten, here in North America at least. I saw how so many aspects of our everyday culture — from our alphabet to our diet to elements of our economy and poetry — arose from a lifestyle of herding hoofed animals, and how unbeknownst to most of us, pastoralism still informs so much of the way we live today.

Goats had intrigued me for years — their intelligence, their seeming disdain of human dominion. I once trailed a herd of goats in India through the Thar Desert back to their homes at night. A herder led them into the walled city of Jaisalmer. The goats marched single file, hoofs clicking cobbles, while scooters and trucks squeezed past. At each narrow curve another doe broke from the parade and turned in to a home where a member of the household — a child or a woman — held open a wooden door and greeted the returning goat with a palmful of salt. The does had returned from the desert to be milked and bedded with their family at night. In the morning they'd gather again with the herder. I'd never seen such a wonderful arrangement before — goats and humans living side by side — but it was one of the most ancient continuous relationships between mammals.

In Vermont, Dona milked a neighbor's goats when the neighbor went away. She brought home the raw milk still warm in a glass bottle. I made a queso blanco, the simplest cheese in the world. (You heat the milk, add a spoonful of vinegar, and the curds separate from the whey like magic; drain the curds in a cheesecloth, let them drip for a few minutes and — voilà — you've made a cheese.) The queso blanco was tasty but a bit rubbery. When the neighbor went away again I tried my hand at making chèvre. I had a small bottle of rennet and the right starter culture. The curds set up overnight and the next day I drained them in a cheesecloth. When we tried the fresh chèvre the following afternoon, it tasted like nothing we'd ever eaten before — a custard, a creamy pudding, the cheese so young and floral it held within its curd the taste of grass and herbs the goat had eaten the day before. It seemed we were eating not a cheese, but a meadow.

The French used to call cheese "the drunkard's biscuit." That afternoon we were intoxicated without drinking a thing. We devoured the creamy chèvre smeared on slices of bread, ran fingers across the plate. We couldn't understand why it tasted so good. Was it the raw unpasteurized milk, or that we knew the goats — their labor and ours? "Who has not sometimes derived an inexpressible satisfaction from his food, in which appetite had no share?" wrote Thoreau. "I have been inspired through the palate."

That afternoon we decided: it was time to get our goats.

Copyright © 2009 by Brad Kessler

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Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

jessgates, March 2, 2010 (view all comments by jessgates)
Admittedly, I have a goat thing. I have always loved goats. I could spend hours at the country fair with the 4-H goats and don't even get me started on fainting goats. Brilliant. This book jumped off the shelf, speaking directly to me. It is a wonderful story about a return to pastoralism and communion with nature, food and animals. It does get a bit flowery at times, moving from a great story in to a dreamy poetic trance. It comes back though. A great read for anyone who wants to feel a connection with their food. And bonus, it is about goats!
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Sofie, January 2, 2010 (view all comments by Sofie)
Sooo beautiful, sooo good, and with goats.
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(1 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)
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Product Details

ISBN:
9781416560999
Author:
Kessler, Brad
Publisher:
Scribner Book Company
Subject:
Personal Memoirs
Subject:
General
Subject:
Goats
Subject:
Vermont
Subject:
Goats - Vermont
Subject:
Goatherds - Vermont
Subject:
Biography - General
Copyright:
Publication Date:
20090631
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
256
Dimensions:
8.44 x 5.5 in 12.845 oz

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Related Subjects

Biography » General
Cooking and Food » By Ingredient » Dairy and Eggs » General
Cooking and Food » Food Writing » Gastronomic Literature
Cooking and Food » Food Writing » General
Science and Mathematics » Agriculture » Animal Husbandry
Science and Mathematics » Agriculture » General
Science and Mathematics » Agriculture » Livestock General
Science and Mathematics » Agriculture » Profiles and Biographies
Science and Mathematics » Nature Studies » General

Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, a Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$7.50 In Stock
Product details 256 pages Scribner Book Company - English 9781416560999 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Novelist (Birds in Fall; Lick Creek) Kessler's account of tending a small herd of milking goats in Vermont captures both the lush, poetic paradise of rural life and the raw, unrelenting drama of dairying. Kessler, a Saab-driving ex-Manhattanite, purchases two Nubian goats, breeds them and helps his wife, Dona, a trained doula, attend to the birth of four goat kids the following spring. The amusing zoomorphic and anthropomorphic descriptions, where goats forage as if they were at a sample sale and milk-fed kids stagger 'like street junkies,' dissipate as Kessler endures a season of goat wrangling, haying and hunting coyotes. Kessler gives the legal aspects of unpasteurized cheese a cursory inspection; his devotion centers on a budding relationship with animals, the earth and goat cheese. He's a back-to-the-land naturalist, who supports his detailed personal observations with extensive research as he explores the cultural, historical and biological aspects of pastoralism. While the tome's lengthy poetic journal entries on animal husbandry and cheese making hardly qualify as a comprehensive manual, the observant, unsanctimonious read is bound to inspire hobby farmers and consummate cheese lovers. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "A wonderous little miracle of a book."
"Review" by , "Goat Song offers a meditation on the pastoral life...that will make an urbanite regret having missed the experience."
"Review" by , "The writing is so beautiful you want to reread sentences to savor it."
"Review" by , "Bounteous...transcendent."
"Synopsis" by , In his transformation from staunch urbanite to countrified goat farmer, Kessler explores the rustic roots of many aspects of Western culture, and how diet, alphabet, religions, and economy all grew out of a pastoral setting.
"Synopsis" by , A gorgeously observed chronicle about getting out of the city and living life on the land, in the tradition of Anne Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

When acclaimed novelist Brad Kessler started to feel unsatisfied by his Manhattan lifestyle, he opted to tackle his issues of over-consumption and live a more eco-friendly life. He and his wife moved to a seventy-five acre goat farm in a small southern Vermont town, where they planned to make a living raising goats and making cheese. They never looked back. Now Kessler adds to his numerous accomplishments (winner of the 2007 Dayton Literary Peace Prize, 2007 Whiting Award for Writers of Exceptional Promise, and a 2008 Rome Prize) an array of cheeses that have already been highly praised by Artisanal, the renowned cheese restaurant in New York City. 

In his transformation from staunch urbanite to countrified goat farmer, Kessler explores the rustic roots of so many aspects of Western culture, and how our diet, alphabet, reli- gions, poetry, and economy all grew out of a pastoral setting. With Goat Song, he demonstrates yet another dimension to his writing talent, showcasing his expertise as food writer, in a compelling, beautifully written account of living by nature’s rules.

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