Without further adieu, let me share the day with you! We started out with a big and delicious breakfast at Blackbird before heading out of town on a day trip. It was a good thing our day trip involved a cooler so I could tuck my leftovers from breakfast into it.
For almost the entire drive Paul had no idea where we were going or what we were doing. But, when we neared our destination, he noticed a sign that tipped him off: "Eat Local Farm Tour". Yep! After having this event on my radar for a few years, the timing finally worked out. The tour is structured like an open studio tour but for farms in the Twin Cities area. Each farm contributed some information and an overview of the day's events that were printed in a booklet. I poured over it and chose our itinerary so that it would appeal to Paul. In other words, I went with the cheese.
Our first destination was Shepherd's Way Farms. They make artisan sheep cheese from their own sheeps' milk, which means it all happens right there on the small family farm. We got there in time to watch this little lamb's bottle feeding session.
Paul is something of a cat whisperer. He made many a barn cats' day during our trip.
This young man is the son of the farmers and was doing us the kindness of drawing the sheep closer. They seemed to like him or maybe it was what was in his bucket that won them over.
We got an informative tour of the cheese making process from Jodi, the cheesemaker.
For sanitation reasons, we viewed the process from outside the rooms in a cleverly arranged viewing hallway. I am so happy that there are local dairy farms that are able to see the process all the way through from raising the animals to packaging and selling the cheese. It definitely makes the price you pay for local cheese seem like a great value. There is so much effort, skill and care put into each step in the process.
You can be sure we tasted all of their cheeses and had a hard time narrowing down which ones we wanted to take home with us. Luckily for us, some of their cheeses are sold at our coop and at the Mill City Farmers' Market.
Paul's offerings of affection don't work the same magic on sheep as they do on cats, but he did manage to entice one sheep to break from the flock and almost eat from his hand.
And....back to the kitties.
After we wrapped up at Shepherd's Way Farms, we went to nearby Big Woods State Park for a hike and a picnic. Our birthday celebrations often involve a lot of eating so it is nice to work in a little exercise, too.
Our picnic was quite a spread! It included 2 of the cheeses we had just purchased from Shepherd's Way. Yummy!
From there, we headed to another dairy/cheese farm, this time GOATS at Singing Hills Goat Dairy.
It seems that pigs are a good companion animal when you are dairy farmer as both farms we visited had them. Although, by companion animals, I don't mean a pet. I mean that they eat the whey leftover from cheese production and they themselves become a product. For now, they are living the life with mud puddles, fallen apples from the farm's giant apple tree and plenty of whey to fill them up.
As we got a tour of the pasture, we came across the "little meat boys". Paul and another farm tourist both noted what a great band name that would be. I recognize that on farms there is a pretty quick life cycle and that livestock are not pets, but my hopeful, animal loving soul has a hard time with that concept so the "little meat boys" comment made me alternately chuckle and groan.
Lynne, co-owner of the farm and cheesemaker gave us a tour of the land and the milking area. We learned a good amount about the breeds of goats they milk, the qualities of the milk and the feed and health practices they use on the farm. Once again, the expertise and effort put into the process is remarkable.
Of course we needed to take home some of their cheese, too!
There were so many other great options for the farm tour that I hope to partake again next time and visit some of the urban farms within the city limits. I am very grateful for the thriving food community we have here in Minnesota. It is a great place to be!
After driving back to the city, we made a stop back home for a gift opening session. Paul got an assortment of food related gifts including a pasta roller, a dry grain container for the vitamix and some heritage wheat berries to grind into flour. I think there will be some homemade pasta in our future!
To wrap up the day, we ate at Hola Arepa. This restaurant was newly opened after their food truck was so successful. I have to say, I far prefer their food truck offerings. The noise level in the restaurant is out of hand and the increase in price is not offset by a bigger or better plate of food. I am glad we gave it a try but I will definitely stick with their food truck offerings in the future.
And, guess what! That wasn't even his actual birthday! His actual birthday was a work day so we started the festivities the weekend before and revisited birthday land with a dinner at Naviya's Thai Brasserie on his actual birthday. All I took that evening was a cell phone picture of his steaming hot plate. It was served fajita style with a loud sizzling and smoky presentation. Dramatic!
And, since I managed to get this far without showing up in any of the pictures, here is one more to prove I was there, too :)
Happy, happy birthday, Paul!