Chickens at Runnymede Farm take care of curdled dairy. - Sanne Specht

Absent-minded cheesemaker conjures chicken feed

It all began when my eyes got bigger than my follow-through.

All too soon the contents in the big, glass Mason jar began freaking me out. This continued for months.

It was mid-November when I headed over to nearby Runnymede Farm to pick up some eggs for holiday baking — and discovered two "extra" gallons of fresh, raw cow milk.

"CHEESE!!! I can make CHEESE!!!" said my inner fromage-lover.

"Yeah, because that worked so well in the past. Even when you had supervision," said my inner reality-check chick.

"Psshht! Pipe down, you," I told Debbie Downer Chick, plunking down my moolah, the eggs — and both jars filled with creamy moo-juice.

I refused to be deterred by the noxious result — and mild concussion — I allegedly suffered during previous cheese-making efforts. For I am a notoriously slow learner. And also because a warning voice of reason actually computes as a double-dog dare in my world. But I distinctly remember hearing someone snortle when I discovered there was no room in the indoor fridge for both jars.

Not a problem. I'll just put one in the outside fridge.

"Not a problem in the world, sieve-brain," sniggered the Chick.

OK. Fine. I did forget all about the second container of leche.

Actually, I periodically rediscovered it over the course of the winter. I'd peer anxiously at the jug. But I wasn't about to open the lid of this accidental science experiment. In true Henny Penny fashion, I'd tell folks about the refrigerated disaster. But do nothing useful to resolve it.

Something to deal with on another day. Or century.

Fast forward to last week's opening of the Medford Growers Market, and a shamefaced admission made to Runnymede's maven. Wracked with guilt, I bewailed how while cow in question hadn't exactly given her all, she certainly had rendered up a portion of her being. Which I had let go to waste.

"Bring it by," Teri said with a forgiving smile. "The chickens will love it."

Really? I mean, it's pretty old ...

Chickens will eat just about anything, she said with a confident nod.

On Sunday afternoon, I pulled the jug from the fridge and headed to the farm. At every stop, I peered anxiously at my shotgun passenger like it was a gallon of nitro being jolted down a rutted wagon trail on a hot afternoon.

"Don't blow. Please, don't blow."

A gusty sigh slipped through my lips when we arrived. I reached for the jug, and a rivulet of milk escaped the lid and spilled down my fingers. That sigh was sucked back into my lungs as I waited for the stench to assault my nostrils.

Nooooo!!! I'm an easy puker. I can't even watch commercials where someone chugs a nasty swig of sour milk without gagging.

But there was no putrid smell. How can this be? Teri laughed at my amazement and extolled the properties of raw milk, as she trotted out to the chicken field.

With a glug and a swoosh, she poured the chunky solids and watery whey into a big rubber bucket. Chickens swarmed the contents like frenzied teens at a Justin Bieber concert.

Feathers became dotted with fine droplets of milk as the hens buried their beaks in the milk, only to be muscled out of the way by another fast-clucking hen with a penchant for dairy. One big, white rooster strutted around the flock, trying to keep order. Occasionally pecking me on the leg.

"Easy there, Foghorn."

It's nice to know that nothing goes to waste down on the farm. But mostly I was just thrilled to witness this amazing hen party. There's just something about a happy chicken that makes me giddy. And I have long wanted my own little flock.

I feel one step closer.

I come by my love of chickens naturally, according to family lore. My sainted mother's first pet was a little hen that she'd dress up in doll clothes and take for trundles in the baby carriage. Always wished there were more than mental images of that sweet picture — Addie and her Banty.

But I like to think she was watching. And smiling. This cluck's for you, Mama.

Reach Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or

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