Cheesemakers and pigs have a long history together. Not only are pigs useful on the farm for overturning fallow land, but they also are ardent consumers of whey, the by-product of cheesemaking. Look to prosciutto de Parma, which can only get that designation when it is made from pigs raised on whey from Parmigiano Reggiano.
When you make cheese, you convert milk into curds and whey. When using cow milk, about 20% turns into curd and the remaining 80% is whey—from 100 gallons of milk, you need to dispose of 80 gallons of whey. So when I relocated Lakin's Gorges Basket, the cheese making business that I founded in 2011, to the farm I bought with my husband in 2016, we knew pigs would play an integral role.
While I began my cheese journey back in 2002 on a diversified farm and worked around the livestock, I was not responsible for making any decisions that impacted their care. Neal has been farming over 20 years, and studied charcuterie making in France. As we pictured our farm as a holistic venture, we knew that pigs would not just be consuming whey, but also consumed as meat products.
Here is a snapshot of life with pigs, here at East Forty Farm in Waldoboro, Maine. Things have improved since then.
Jan 31, 2018: Farming training continues.
Neal is off the farm today, so I am doing morning chores alone—milking cows, feeding horses, poultry and pigs.
Our pigs live in the forest, in a pasture bounded by two strands of battery-powered electric wire. The battery lasts about one month before it drains, so we keep a spare battery on hand, to swap out and recharge. The spare does not keep a strong charge, however, which is an important plot point.
This weekend, we had some above-freezing days and got seduced into thinking that maybe there would be a break in the awful weather. But no. It returned last night, snowing with a bitter cold wind all through the day. Not a lot of accumulation, but fine, icy flakes that got into every crack and crevice around the farm. Overnight, the weather reported about –10 with wind chill.
When the pigs get fed morning and night, the fence energizer gets checked to verify that the light is green. If it’s red, the battery needs charging. While I have run all the electric fence lines, and set up the solar fence charger, I have not previously set up the battery connection.
We have recently started picking up the bread and produce waste from the local supermarket to supplement the pig feed. Watching a pig carry around a baguette is very entertaining... Except when you hand a baguette to your 600-pound boar, who you then realize is leaning against the electric fence and not moving away from it.
I finished distributing the feed and whey and then went to check the fence light. Red. Drat. Call Neal, which I feel guilty about because he is working with power tools and ladders etc... but I was going to be gone all day and I did not want a repeat of the day of the cheese festival.
The cheese festival swine fiasco happened the weekend we moved onto the farm. After spending the entire weekend off the farm selling cheese at the festival, we returned home after dark and discovered all the grain in the barn—about 300 pounds worth—had been eaten. Closer observation led to the discovery that pigs had been in the gardens, down to the road, all over the lower fields... and were still loose. Three 400ish-pound pigs and 14 two-month-old piglets. It was not a fun evening,
Back to today. I get off the phone, having received instructions from Neal, and load the battery into the plastic sled we use to transport feed and whey down the steep hill to the pigs.
Up to the tractor, where the battery charger is sitting. Hook up the battery to charge. (My first time, so a little nervous. I have an unreasonable fear of batteries.)
Over to the barn to load the backup battery into the sled and then carefully slide the battery down the hill. There is smooth ice under the light coat of snow, so it keeps trying to run me over in the steepest section.
Down to the pig pasture. Struggle to figure out which terminal is positive and which negative because they are black on black and why make it convenient for a user to read them easily? Hook up also the solar charger battery trickle, because the energizer is flashing red, indicating there is very little charge, and that the zap will be but a tickle.
Thinking since it did snow, and there was wind, and protocol is that the fence perimeter gets walked after weather because the fence can be grounded out by being covered in snow or an obstacle like a fallen tree, I walked the line, but there were no impediments.
When I got back to the front of the pasture, Arlo, who looks like a Shetland pony in scale these days, was leaning his body against the electric fence, causing it to flex. This did not bode well. There needed to be a fully charged battery in place
I called the auto supply store, and they had a 12-volt deep cycle battery for $120. I called the marine supply store and only asked, “Do you have any 12-volt batteries in stock?” and he replied, “How big?” and I said, “I am using it to power an electric fence” and he replied, “Then you need a deep cycle and they are $95.” (I love when I don’t have to explain things.)
I call Neal and explain what my plan is. He, recognizing that I am supposed to be in the creamery weighing cheese and then getting on the road to deliver it, says, “No, take the battery out of the tractor, but be careful and don’t lose any of the screws or trip on the tools.”
Trudging up the hill with the sled, it occurs to me that since the pigs are noticing they are not getting zapped, they should have a distraction. So up into the hayloft I went, throwing down two bales of hay, which I then loaded into the sled to slide down the hill and distribute to the pigs. They promptly started eating it and burrowing in it and carrying it over to their pig hut nesting area and, indeed, were distracted.
Back up the hill I went. Again.
The tractor has been out of commission for a month now, needing to have the starter solenoid replaced, and then the starter rebuilt. There are tools and screws under the coating of snow. When I say tractor, do not picture a shiny, new John Deere. This is an ’80s vintage Case IH that is a bare bones workhorse nicknamed Big Red.
I stepped on the metal stirrup-shaped step, after first fishing tools and bolts out from under the snow and putting them on the seat so they would not be lost. The battery is in a well that is about a foot deep, in front of the steering wheel. One connection was still attached, so I got lucky and put my hand on the right socket wrench, and had to whack the connector a few times since it was frozen. Then it was a simple—HA!—matter of lifting this, I think, 70-pound battery out of the well while I am wedged in against the arms of the bucket and the steering wheel. Then lifting it down in stages as I slowly climb down and around various obstacles and ice and try not to drop the battery. That accomplished, I loaded it into the sled, trucked down the hill again, unplugged battery number two, plugged in battery number three and waited to see what color would appear on the energizer. Praise be. Green.
Loaded the bad battery back into the sled to scale the hill yet again, back to the barn, so that I could then do my cheese work for the day.
This all happened because at 7:45 this morning, when I was feeding the pigs after having fed the cow, horse, poultry and the piglets Bubble and Squeak who are in the nursery, and I innocently proclaimed, “Wow! This is the first time I finished chores in 45 minutes in ages.”
I entered the creamery at 10:45.
That’s the last time I will express gratitude for a speedy job done, until the last joule is checked.
. . .
Pot Pie Crust
This is an easy potpie that can be filled with leftover meat and vegetables. The secret is the pie crust. Substitute Cascadilla Bleu for some of the butter to add a je ne sais quoi.
Everything is better with Lakin’s Gorges Cascadilla Bleu Cheese.
Makes 1 (9-inch) pie crust
4 tablespoons butter (To make crust without cheese, use 6 tablespoons butter.)
2 tablespoons finely chopped Cascadilla Bleu Cheese
1½ cups flour
About 4 tablespoons cold water
Cut together butter, cheese and flour until it forms a uniform mixture resembling cornmeal.
Add the water, incorporating with your fingers until the dough holds together. You may need all of the water, or more, depending on absorption.
Having prepared your filling and placed it in a 9-inch pie pan or casserole dish, roll out the crust and cover filling, sealing the edges against the side of the pan. Poke several steam vent holes.
Bake at 375°F until lightly browned and flaky.