Little Victories

August 12, 2012 § 1 Comment

Once milk has been properly pasteurized, it is either kept whole or is separated into two parts: cream and skim milk. Cream means butter (or smoer in these parts) and ice cream, to name a few. Skim milk typically goes to the pigs.

The process begins when one of my hosts cranks the separator’s large handle. I pour pitcher upon pitcher of whole milk down the contraption’s giant funnel. The pale yellow cream travels down a tube into a small bowl to the left. The foamy white skim milk travels down another tube into a large metal tub to the right.

When my host cranks the handle for the last time, everyone in the room claps and cheers. It’s a family tradition.

What you’re looking at here is a picture of my very first batch of butter, made from milk I helped collect from my host family’s cow.

Butter, like all dairy products, entails an intensive production. One misstep–say, contamination from the wrong bacteria– and the entire batch is ruined. Opportunities for errors abound. It’s also a tad messy, more so during the warm summer months. The butter has a consistency akin to fresh mud in my hands. I form large balls of golden-hued butter, attempting to squeeze the buttermilk and residual water out of each one.

Once the butter is rid of its excess liquid and hardens, it’s time to salt the finished product and to form packets. One of my hosts took this picture of me after we made those packets. She likes to take pictures of volunteers holding their first batches of butter to commemorate the occasion.

When you work on a farm, these are the sorts of things you celebrate. To put in hours of demanding physical labor and reap major rewards in the end is an absolute joy.

And when that doesn’t happen, when your work amounts to nothing, you remember these kinds of moments. They keep you going.

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