K is taller than me and as I’ve made very clear before (including inadvertently, I’d imagine) generally plays the part of the responsible adult at Casa Alotofwind, but today resembles nothing more than a toddler as she clambers into the little pen to get a closer look at the kids. More accurately: part toddler part predator, as she homes in on one in particular, big stupid grin on her face, and goes after it.
The clueless little thing soon finds itself held aloft in her arms and the recipient of a torrent of unsolicited affection, in the face of which it screams until she puts it down.
Grin intact, she goes after another.
It’s surprisingly cold in the barn, despite our being surrounded by a herd of payoya, a breed of goat native to Andalusia and known for the cheese they produce. Queso Payoyo is revered around here, in the way only the Spanish can worship an artesanal food product (the best is from Cádiz, you know…you should only ever eat it in the summer, at a wedding…it isn’t proper payoyo unless the cheese has been rolled down a hill, in rainy weather…my grandmother made the best payoyo in Andalusia…and so on) and we’ve come to a queseria near Casares in Málaga province to have a look at how they make it.
Juan the cheese man is dressed from head to toe (no great distance) in white, including snow white trainers and a little white hat. Quite a sight, he’s a cheese man alright, bursting with pride as he corralled us in the production facility and explained the process in machine-gun andaluz, and not taking any shit from the human kids who occasionally, but with a noticeably decreasing frequency, interrupted him.
Now we’re in the barn with the babies and the billy goats. Did I mention the cold? Nearby Casares is a mountain town, a pueblo blanco, so we’re at altitude here and shivering. The winter sun is low in the sky but rising slowly and throwing patches of sunlight here and there. We dart from one to the other, eschewing the bitter shade.
No such luck in the barn though – the north wind whistles through it and us as we’re shown the milking room. They seem like good people, very keen that we keep our voices down, very concerned that nobody stresses the animals out. The quality of the milk is at stake, they tell us in hushed, respectful tones. The goats get to wander the almost sheer rocky slopes that hang over the farm. The breed in fact has faced extinction and is currently recovering, tended, bred and documented with the same care that goes into the iberico pig.
God knows I’ve enjoyed enough cheese in my time – seeing how it’s done is probably long overdue. It’s been a pattern recently, actually, a pleasure I’ve had on more than one occasion and in more than one setting; taking a look behind the scenes at the inner workings of a thing, the entrails if you will, the guts.
A few weeks ago I was taken around a sherry bodega in Jerez and had the fairly complex solera system of ageing sherry wines explained to me. The barrels stacked in pyramidal formation, the siphoning off of younger wines to be added to the older, then from the even younger to replace it, and so on. The origins of the barrels themselves, and what was important in them, the differing characteristics of different wines, the history. History is a comprised of stories, of course, and yes, a glass of good amontillado does taste better when you know a little more about what went into it.
All of the work that goes into things. K and I caught a little dose of spring cleaning fever yesterday and put in a frantic couple of hours of cleaning. Not the mopping or wiping kind, but getting into the neglected drawers and corners and putting order back into the unseen. Very important, the unseen – it felt even more satisfying to know that a hidden, chaotic drawer had finally been tidied than it does to look at a shiny floor.
K, as usual, was doing more than me and I was guilt-tripped into some gardening. I tidied up out back and then cleared the front of weeds and leaves. As I went out for the last time to fill one more bag, there was a commotion on the corner of our street. It had slipped my mind that another Easter was approaching but here they were again, the costaleras and their capataz – young men who carry the processional platforms and their leader.
I’d seen this before but not just outside the house – practicing with a plain platform, the capataz guiding the young men underneath by voice and with the llamador, a clapper attached to the wooden structure. It’s quite something to see in a quiet residential street. I think I get more of a kick out of it than I do from the procession proper, and I certainly get more out of the procession having seen them prepare like this. I suppose it could be argued that you’re not meant to see it. That it detracts from the magic of the end product, but I don’t think so.
Our morning at the queseria finishes up with a little cheese-making workshop. Rennet has been added to a container of goat’s milk and we get to dredge our hands through and collect the resulting solids. We gently squeeze the moisture out and pack them into a coil of woven straw, pulling it tight and packing the whole thing down on a cheese board, ridged to allow the compressed cheeses to drain.
Out pop these perfect little cheeses that Juan the cheese man salts and packs for us, and we get to take a few of them home. Because we made them ourselves, and because we’ve met the family who run the place, and their goats, and because K has held one of their babies in her arms, we treat our little quesos frescos like treasure, slicing them and eating them with some good tomatoes, dressed in salt and oregano and a good olive oil.
Nothing ever tasted better.
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