Friday, March 20, 2015

The Goat (A Kecske)

In these last few days here in Gyúró I've gone up to the barn several times, just to watch the goats. Sometimes I've taken them bits of lettuce trimmings, or the rest of a bag of oatmeal I didn't get around to eating. When I take my camera out, they come up and nose at it, attracted by the sound of the lens, perhaps? Or the focus-light (or whatever the technical term is) when and if it flashes? Or perhaps simply an inborn sense that they were born to be in the spotlight, descendants and devotees of the great god Pan, featured in art and mythology and literature. Although Noémi buys cow's milk to make most of her cheese, especially in the winter months when the goats are dry, it's the goat's-milk cheeses that have been the most popular, the most requested. As a country, Hungary is just starting out - or re-starting, perhaps, as the United States did back in the 1980s - on the road to bring back traditional cheeses, and making space for traditional cheesemakers in the market. The people around the country who make cheese are also working on expanding the list of Hungarian cheeses by incorporating techniques from other countries, mostly France and Italy, though as I have found, not all of the recipes work here. The concept of terroir holds true in this territory, and Noémi and I have been adjusting recipes as we go along, and adapting French techniques to local milk and local conditions.

The ancestors of modern goats likely came from the Carpathian mountains, arcing from the center of what is now Slovakia east and south to modern-day Romania, but the former Austro-Hungarian Empire encompassed most of that region, and the ancestors of today's Hungarian peoples were at least in part goat-herders as well as horse-herders. However, the goat was associated with peasants and poverty back at the beginning of the 19th century, and over the course of the next 100 years, goat-tending fell out of favor; with fewer goats, there was less goat cheese, and since even in France most of the now-famous goat cheeses were often only regionally available, there would not have been many examples headed east in the shipments of Brie and other cow's cheese from Paris to Vienna. Goats have been relegated to a lesser role for too long, but they are throwing off their historical burdens here as elsewhere, and a growing number of people are (re)discovering the delights of goats themselves, as well as the milk, cheese, meat, and other products that come from them.

And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord's lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and to let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.
(Leviticus 16:7-10)
The Hungarian Sheep and Goat Dairying Public Utility Association took part in last year's European Regional Council on Goats, and there may be more government support for small breeders and locally-based dairies, or at least I hope so. As in France, and the United States, there are piles and piles of paperwork to fill out, collect, save, and produce at the request of whatever official happens to want them at any given moment, so it's not always easy to get started in the dairying or cheesemaking business here, even if there is a market.

The Völgy Vidék Közösség (Valley Rural Community) sponsors a Hungarian version of the "Route des Fromages" you find all over France, and Noémi is on it. She's also on a Budapest-to-Balaton bike trail that's widely publicized, and hopes that there will be many people stopping by the farm this summer, now that the work on the new pedagogical farm is well underway.
Nem sétál vele, hanem viszi. A bot máris elvált tőle, külön állott. Ez fájhatott az ifjúnak, sőt egészen fölizgathatta, olyannyira, hogy egyes kósza gondolatát hangosan fejezte ki. Például:
       - Adieu, kecske!
       - Isten veled, szép ezüst kecske!
       - Nem tudom, nem tudom!
I will be sad to leave the goats behind, just as the young man in Bródy Sándor's book Az ezüst kecske (literally "The silver goat" but translated as "The Medic" when made into the 1916 film of the same name for which I can find almost no information, other than that it exists, or existed) was sad to give up his silver-headed walking stick, pawning it for ready cash. Google has a hard time translating Hungarian in to English, so I've no idea what the plot is, though it appears to involve revolution and food and family relationships and love and alcohol, so it seems fairly typically Hungarian. And at the beginning of the last chapter, Google translates the first sentence as "A lot of time wandering," which also speaks to the history of Hungary, and to my own history as well - and my future, at least for the next few months. I don't know (nem tudom) what road I'll be following after the first of August, but I'm sure it will lead somewhere interesting. The road always has, before, and I've followed it willingly, though I too have had to give things up.

One thing that must be given up in a farm-centered life, at least if you're practical (and carnivorous), is any squeamishness about raising, and killing, animals for meat. After six weeks of watching goat kids be born, and take their first tottery steps towards the udder, helped along with nudges of a maternal nose; after seeing them get stronger and bolder, running out away from the shelter of their mother's side and back again; after spending long stretches of time just watching them leap and butt heads and kick friskily from one side of the corral to the other, it was a little odd to eat one the other night. The only kid I really could identify out of the crowd was the young buck kid we'd bottle-fed after his mother took a dislike to him shortly after birth. He had weak back legs, made weaker by the fact that she'd kicked him away at one point, and when he was first brought into the house we laughed every time he'd slip on the tiled floor, each leg pointing in a different compass direction. Gradually he got stronger, and now he's out in the pen, sharp little horns adding to his cheeky nature, eating hay like the big goats, but still running up at the sound of a human voice, which in his limited experience and until recently has almost always meant a blue bottle full of warm milk. When Noémi told me that she'd asked Géza to cull one of the kids for roasting on Wednesday, I said, "It's not the cheeky kid, is it? Because I would still eat him, but I'd feel bad about it." She assured me that no, it would be one of the other kids, because Panna and Dia were also attached to that kid, and they'd never forgive her. Of course, they'll have to forgive her at some point, because at some point, cheeky kid will become a plate of roasted kid cheeks. But not this week.

A Wolf saw a Goat feeding at the summit of a steep precipice, where he had no chance of reaching her. He called to her and earnestly begged her to come lower down, lest she fall by some mishap; and he added that the meadows lay where he was standing, and that the herbage was most tender. She replied, "No, my friend, it is not for the pasture that you invite me, but for yourself, who are in want of food."
- Aesop
At no point in my stay in Hungary with the Baranyis have I been in want of food. Noémi is an excellent cook, and she has been very generous with her extremely limited free time in cooking things she thinks I'd like, or traditional specialties she'd like me to try. She roasted half of the kid (the forelegs and neck) with garlic and mushrooms and spices and a drizzle of ketchup until it was sliding off the bones. "Can you eat a whole leg?" she asked me, serving spoon poised. Oh, yes. No doubt about that. I'd made a cucumber salad in the Hungarian style, or at least the style of my Hungarian grandmother, though the slices weren't as paper-thin as she would have liked. Tossed with salt and left to drain for a bit, the cucumber gets tender-crunchy; mixed with slivers of red onion and a bit of local bell pepper, with a dash of vinegar, it was a good contrast to the butter-soft milk-fed kid.

Besides doing much of the cooking, Noémi has also brought me home-canned peaches and eggplant spread from the market, introduced me to pálinka and seasoned cured lard, and picked up gluten-free bread and coconut-rice milk for me at the grocery store each week. I've been spoiled, frankly, and bare-bones living in the youth hostel, cooking for myself, will be a rude awakening after living as a lotus-eater since the beginning of February.

But leave I must, moving on to the next adventure. I hope that my medical adventures are over for the time being, though I am thinking of checking out dental prices in Serbia, and getting my teeth cleaned. Might as well have another set of people with sharp objects coming at me speaking words I don't understand, as long as it's cheap ...

I'll miss the goats, and I'll miss making cheese. This time with Noémi has helped confirm my belief that I am happiest when I am making cheese with people, and I will do my best to make sure that cheesemaking is part of my future, somehow, somewhere. But first, it's Serbia and what will probably be nearly constant work on a large freelance project, which will fill my travel fund coffers as it drains away my energy and free time; I've calculated it to be, at a minimum, a 240-hour project, and that's all six weeks at 40 hours a week. "What did you see in Serbia?" they'll ask me. "My computer screen," I'll answer. Well, maybe this will just teach me how to research and write articles really, really efficiently. I'll need plenty of goat meat to keep me going, though.

This answered my end, and in about a year and a half I had a flock of about twelve goats, kids and all; and in two years more I had three-and-forty, besides several that I took and killed for my food ... But this was not all; for now I not only had goat's flesh to feed on when I pleased, but milk too - a thing which, indeed, in the beginning, I did not so much as think of, and which, when it came into my thoughts, was really an agreeable surprise, for now I set up my dairy, and had sometimes a gallon or two of milk in a day ... What a table was here spread for me in the wilderness, where I saw nothing at first but to perish for hunger!
- from "Robinson Crusoe" by Daniel Defoe (1660–1731)

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