Susitna Writer’s Voice–“Not Your Ordinary Milk Cow”, part 2, by Maureen Chambrone

Maureen and manicotti

 

 

Part one of this story left off in the middle of a long chase on a big ranch in Mexico, trying to catch up with Missy the Corrientes cow so Maureen could milk her, in a dedicated pursuit of homemade mozzarella cheese.

At this point Brandon came along on Rosie and we both rode down to the lower pasture to try and herd Missy back. She was hellbent to not get milked or, at least, hellbent to keep this exciting game going on. She broke into a gallop and Rosie and Spot followed suit, really getting into the chase. This was way more exciting than just standing around eating grass!   But Missy snubbed us all and jumped another fence into the horse pasture. We let her win that battle, but were determined that we would win the war. We fixed the hole in the fence and just before dark heard her bell way off in the distance. Up hills, down across canyons, finally, we got to her. Waiting. As soon as we caught up to her she took off galloping, continuing the game. But we were ready to be done with games. We found her again awaiting our next move. This time I got off Spot and walked up to her talking loudly but with humor in my voice, “Hey, Missy, did you miss me? I missed you. I just want to milk you, remember? Just like old times. And when I’m done you can butt me with your big hard head.” She just stood there. I slipped the lasso over her head. Game over. She was completely still while I milked her. She didn’t even butt me in the belly. For all that, I got one whole quart of milk.  Maureen milking Missy

After that adventure I started milking her out in the pasture, either walking out to her or riding Spot. It was easier than trying to herd her to the yard.

 

 

 

Freckles the cow One day another cow appeared and started hanging out with Missy. If she was human she would’ve been a redhead. Cindy named her, “Freckles”. Freckles was a reddish brown color with a homely face and a nice set of horns. She was a savvy fence jumper. She knew where the fences were in disrepair but even the fences that held back hundreds of other cows didn’t necessarily stop Freckles. From a human standpoint we considered this a bad habit even though it really did impress us. Inside that homely head was a sharp mind. Unfortunately, she taught this bad habit to Missy as I witnessed one day. I walked out into the pasture just in time to see Freckles boing over a fence with a sagging top wire. Missy boinged right behind her, albeit a little less gracefully.

Sometimes Freckles jumped a fence that Missy couldn’t. The incentive in jumping this particular fence was that it got Freckles into the pasture where there was often a molasses block for the bison, to encourage them to return home from their roaming.  Freckles would jump the fence to get a good lickin’ on the molasses block while poor Missy was left by herself in the usual pasture. She would stand at the spot where Freckles had jumped the fence and Moo forlornly. Mooooo!!! Mooooo!!! Freckles would hear her and respond, “Mooooo!!! Mooooo!!!” Like she was saying, “Come on, Missy, you can do it.” And Missy would forlornly answer: Mooooo!!! Mooooo!!!, “No Freckles, I really can’t.” So Freckles got in the habit of jumping the fence to get a lick of the molasses block and then jumping back over to be with Missy. They were best friends.

One problem with their relationship was that Freckles had horns and Missy didn’t. When they were just hanging out together Freckles sometimes swung her big horned head, like a brontosaurus, against Missy: gently, but forcefully. Missy would do a quick little sidestep, like a ballerina, away from Freckles. But Freckles would move over, wind up, and give Missy another shove. Missy would get wide eyed, sidestep again, and wind up to get Freckles back. But here she stopped and just stared. Remembering: she didn’t have horns.

This is where I came in. I didn’t have horns, was smaller than Missy and conveniently in her space when I was milking her. It was usually when I was all done milking and taking the rope off her that she would swing her big head into my belly. It would knock a breath out of me but didn’t hurt much. When I regained my breath I would burst out laughing and then Missy would butt me again. In the beginning I thought she did this just to get even with me for milking her, but after witnessing Freckles butting her I realized she just needed to pass on the love. I was one of her herd.

The great advantage of Freckles hanging out with Missy was that it’s way easier to herd 2 cows instead of one. Despite being the rebel that she was, Freckles was completely obedient to the concept of being herded back to the yard. And Missy would be obedient, too, as long as Freckles was there. Freckles would wait while I milked Missy and then they would trot back out to the pasture together.

One day in February, over 2 months into my stay at the ranch, everything came together. I got up early before Polly and Emily, two interns staying at the ranch. I had a few quarts of milk saved up and tried to make cheese, like I often did, once or twice a week, stubbornly trying to make mozzarella. Winging it, as usual, trying to guess the right temperature at which to add the rennet. Unexpectedly, a soft curd started to form. I set the spoon down and watched as the curd firmed up and a yellowish whey separated out. Could it be? Could this be mozzarella? I followed the rest of the instructions which were easy because no guesswork was needed. This was cheese that stretched and melted. I stretched it and kneaded it, dancing around, doing a jig, and laughing. Finally! Mozzarella! Then I heated up the whey, close to boiling, added some vinegar and POOF! Ricotta appeared! Just like that! I could hardly contain myself.

Emily, a fellow Italian, came into the kitchen. I burst out with my happy news. “And,” I added, “this is the perfect day for it to all come together!” “Why is that?” she asked. “Because it’s my birthday! Ever since I was a little kid I’ve always wanted to eat stuffed manicotti for my birthday dinner.” “Great!,” she exclaimed, “I love to make homemade pasta. We can have a feast tonight!” Soon Polly was up and the three of us excitedly planned the night’s meal.

Gus the horseHaving now become a great diversified cheese maker (I had successfully made 3 types of cheeses) I set out to get my milk cows with greater purpose than ever before. By this time I had graduated from Spot to Gus. Gus was a really good, fairly fast, well trained horse with a strong work ethic and “turn on a dime” response. I rode Gus out into the open pasture and listened for Missy’s cowbell. It was faint and came from the steep hillside at the far east end of the pasture. I rode up around rocky outcroppings, weaving between oak and juniper trees. I liked this area because it wasn’t grazed so much and felt closer to being wilderness. The cow bell got louder and I rode up above the sound, so they would be between me and the corral. No sooner had I spotted them than Missy and Freckles broke into a gallop, downhill, in the direction of the corral. Gus and I followed in hot pursuit not wanting them to pull any funny business. We plunged down the hillside, veering around trees and boulders and then broke out into the open flat pasture, accelerating to a full speed gallop. It’s amazing how fast a cow can run when she feels like it. As we came out into the open it just so happened that 2 Mexicans from the neighboring ranch were riding by. In their culture women generally don’t ride horses and certainly don’t gallop. But women do milk cows and the cows have to be rounded up one way or another. Today it happened to be at a full speed gallop. We blew past the hombres, leaving them in a cloud of dust. I’d never ridden so fast on a horse. I was living a childhood fantasy. Gus wasn’t a black stallion, and this wasn’t a horse race, but this was real life. We all came to a skidding stop in the yard. Grinning ear to ear, I shakily slipped off Gus and gave him a good pat. The cows stood wide eyed and panting, looking around, wondering why they had rushed to get here. I got a quart of milk.

Maureen and manicotti

 

That night we cooked up a big pan of stuffed manicotti. Proof of my shining achievement was in seeing the long string of cheese that stretched from the big spoonful I dished out of the pan. I wished Valerie had been there to see that I really could make cheese that melts.

After this climax to my milking adventure Missy and Freckles wandered off to join their fellow kind, jumping a couple of fences in the process. I soon found out why they had ditched me. One day while riding around I discovered Freckles hanging out with a Red Bull. And a little ways away there was Missy hanging close to a handsome black bull. She pretended to act like an ordinary cow, her head bent low, breaking off tufts of grass. But I caught her pause her chewing and roll her dark eyes suspiciously my way. “Ditched me for a bull, did ya’, Missy? Hmff”. I rode on and left her to her normal life as a Corrientes cow.

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