on writing a business plan

So I’ve started assisting the Etsy team, ECOETSY in writing for their team blog. For my first post a couple weeks ago I wrote about the process of writing a business plan, since that’s what’s been occupying a chunk of my time lately. Here’s the post, but you can check out a lot of other really great posts over at the team blog ecoetsy.com:

A Business Plan – you’ve heard over and over that it’s something everyone who is serious about their business should write. I’ve written two for previous endeavors, and they were fairly easy, so I figured this time I’d just sit right down and knock this one out of the ballpark in a couple of hours.
(It’s ok, you can laugh)

Well, that was about 4 years ago, and I’m just now finishing up that sucker. As it turns out, it was a little more difficult for me this time around. Just like Jennifer mentioned in the conversation about pricing that got posted a couple weeks ago, it’s all too easy to fall in the trap of creating and simply hoping the details will fall into place – somehow. However, as was also noted in that post, if you ever want to quit your day job, support your family, or even fill a small goal like saving enough money to take yourself to Paris, it’s important to stop thinking like a hobbyist and start thinking like a businessperson.
So, let’s get back to that plan, shall we?
Now, there are a million templates all over the web, and most of them look something like this:

1. Executive Summary/ Overview
2. Business Description
3. Your Market
4. What you sell
5. How your business is organized
6. Your Marketing Plan
7. The Financials

It’s pretty straightforward, right? So why did I get so stuck?

Well, as Becky from Glue and Glitter pointed out, these templates aren’t really designed for crafters. She also looked online for starting points, but wound up ignoring most of what she found. The templates just didn’t seem to fit her needs, so she actually made her own.

In much the same way, I found it really difficult to translate traditional business terms into something that I could wrap my craft around. For instance, I got pretty stuck right off the bat because what products I make often depends on what materials I find to rework, so I had trouble finding a common thread to describe what I did.
Further, in a plan which focuses on traditional marketing, financial statements, and corporate definitions of profit, where do you put your business’ ecological footprint? What’s the monetary value of not making waste with packaging? How do you explain the choice to use unwound sweater yarn at a labor cost of 30 bucks, when you could go buy a skein of something similar for under 10$?

In short, I kept putting off finishing the plan because it made my head hurt trying to figure out where things should go, and how to account for those discrepancies. Last fall, however, I decided that it was time to get serious and stop procrastinating. I made a few changes in how I did shows so that I could more accurately figure out what was working and what wasn’t. I paid attention to what products people gravitated to, and what they saying about the designs. I really listened to what people said to each other about my work, and paid attention to what got repeated.

I highly recommend doing this if you have a chance. If you only sell online, figure out those google analytics, send your customers a mini-survey (maybe give a coupon for future purchases as a reward?), talk to people in the forums, or get a stranger to look at your shop. Google your product and see what else comes up. Who’s talking about products similar to yours?
Hearing what other people are saying about your work can really help you articulate your vision, and that makes putting it onto paper a lot easier.

So with that in mind, let’s re-look at that template.

1. Executive Summary/ Overview
Ok. This where you explain your business in fairly general terms. The biggest goal here is to make whoever is reading the overview want to know more. Some places suggest you write this last, although I found writing a rough draft of it first helped me get going with everything else.

2. Business Description
I know this sounds like a repeat of #1, but it isn’t exactly. Your summary is usually a few paragraphs and covers all the topics in brief, more like what you’d say to someone you were trying to hire, or to the press. Your business description is actually pretty short. It starts with your Mission Statement (what you intend to DO) and follows with your Company Vision ( where you intend to go, what you intend to BE) Finally, your description should include a history of the business and who exactly is involved.

3. Your Market
Who’s going to buy your products? This is where all that people-watching pays off. Develop a customer profile, but remember that where a traditional customer profile might center around an age group or a socio-economic class, crafters – especially eco-friendly ones – often find their customers are connected by some other thread.
You also need to figure out the market trends where products like yours are concerned. This can be a little more difficult, because you might not know where to get this information. Ask around at galleries and indie boutiques. Ask them what they’ve sold more of lately, and what no longer seems to move. Ask in the Etsy forums, or walk around trade and craft shows and see what other people are buying. Talk to the people who sell supplies.
Finally, you need to know why would someone buy your product over another similar item. Again, ASK. As it turns out, your no-waste packaging policy might just be the tipping point that encourages buyers to purchase from you and not your next competitor…

4. What you sell– this is pretty self explanatory, but don’t forget to include the pricing structure and how your products are competitive. This is where photos and patterns are great! This is also where you can use your eco-friendly ethics to your advantage. If you use all recycled materials or only organic cotton, play it up! This sets you apart, and helps explain your pricing.

5. How your business is organized
There are several options for business organization. Sole proprietorship, Partnership, LLC, etc. Talk about which you are, then include bios of the people who hold key positions in the company. It also helps to explain how your business actually gets run, and you should include whether or not you are required to have a license to do what you do.
This section might sound kind of silly when it’s just you and your sewing machine in a corner of your spare bedroom, but it’s a necessary step to being able to see yourself as someone who actually runs a real business that will grow.

6. Your Marketing Plan
This is a whole can of worms that really deserves it’s own post, but the short version is: figure out how you are going to get your products out there. Figure out how you are going to make sales. You really need concrete steps here, like “Get my wares into 6 stores by the end of the year” or “advertise on these 6 blogs who reach my target market” or “do one in-person show every month”.
More on this bulletpoint in the future, I promise.

7. The Financials
The tricky stuff for most crafters, and also really deserves it’s own post. This is where you really have to take a hard look at your pricing, your overhead, and how much you can sell.
There was a great post on the ecoetsy blog just the other day on pricing your goods, and the comments continued to be quite enlightening. I recommend starting there, and then spending some time really examining what it takes for you to create what you do. Then you’ll need to spend some more time figuring out exactly what you need to make in order to make a living.

Becky also added another category: “Design and Development” where she talks about new products and revenue streams she has in the works.

lunch tote from the Glue & Glitter shop

So, in summary, the hardest part for me about doing this, was just getting going, and forcing myself to answer the really hard questions, no matter how long it took. I was totally guilty of the “but I just want to create things” whine, and this was a really great exercise to get me out of that mindset. While I still have no desire to become a corporate overlord, examining my business from this angle really helped me see how to make it not only more profitable, but more enjoyable as well.

Tutorial – Stashbuster Potholders

Y’all may recall the big Michigan House-clean-out project from last spring after my Uncle passed away? Well, one of the things I was most excited to find was my great-grandmother’s sewing machine and several big boxes of fabric scraps, trims, notions and a humongous pile of cotton quilt squares. Every single one of these squares is a remnant of a sewing project, or a piece of clothing she could no longer wear sliced up. This woman was a genius at re-use and I am learning as much as I can from what she left behind.
Anyway, I’ve been sitting on these quilt blocks for a while, knowing I would never turn them into an actual quilt but still wanting to do something cool with them. Finally I decided they would make really cute kitchen accessories. I’m starting with the hotpads, because I remembered my mom having some like these when I was a kid. It took making a couple before I figured out the easiest way, and since I know I’m not the only one with a million tiny fabric scraps, I thought I’d make a tutorial.

First, gather your supplies. You’ll need whatever you’re going to use for the top. Any natural fabric will do, it can be sewn into a mini-quilt, or just left in one big sheet. These are about 8″ square. You’ll also need a backing fabric, and this should be a little heavier-duty. I’m using the legs of some jeans that are no longer wearable.
Next, you’ll want something to pad it with. You could use quilt batting, but since I’m in recycle mode, I chose a couple layers of scrap felt.
Finally, you’ll want some trim. I chose ric-rac because that’s what was on my mom’s. You could use ribbon, cotton lace, piping, or you could just leave it off.

Ready to sew? Ok! Iron your top square and then use it as a template to cut out your backing square.

Then, with right sides together, pin the squares together. If you are using trim, sandwich it inbetween the squares, with about half of it inside where your stitch line is going to be.
Sew three sides together. (my trim here is orange ric-rac, you can barely see it poking out between the squares)

On the open end, stitch just the trim to the top square, following your previous line. This will make it easier when you go to close it up. Next, turn the piece right-side out and give it a good iron. On the open side, iron to the inside about 1/4 of an inch on the bottom, and right along your stitch line on the top.
Now, take whatever you’re using to stuff the pad, and insert it.

Pin closed along your fold line and topstitch closed. Continue your topstitch around the entire square. (note: I broke my topstitch needle. I’m using a regular one and if you don’t have one, it will look like these do, which is fine. A topstitch needle will simply give the stitch more definition)

And there ya go! You just made a hotpad!

Stay tuned for some coordinating tea towels, cast iron pan sleeves, and hostess aprons. Maybe even a few coasters if I can find my glass cutter…

The lowly Mulberry

A few days ago, my husband and I picked some 6 pounds of mulberries from one of three trees in our yard. As I was picking, a group of children walked by, one commenting he thought those berries were poisonous. Wayne handed him one and told him to try it, and the kid said with some surprise that it was quite sweet. Well, yes. Yes it was.

It seems the Mulberry tree has gotten such a bad reputation that people in these parts routinely let the berries go to the birds. Weird, huh? Mulberry trees grow wild in so many parts of the country, and it’s pretty much free food. I like free food =)


Anyway, whether you’re getting immediate gratification from making a pie, making jam, starting the fermenting process on some wine, or even using the berries as a natural dye, the mulberry is an amazing fruit. This week, we’re talking pie, but as I get larger harvests, I’ll be covering making jam, wine, and even dyes.

I’d give you a straight recipe here, except that when using mulberries, there kind of isn’t one. The first step in making a good pie is eating a few of the berries. (oh darn! Except side-note here: Make sure your berries are ripe. Ripe means purple, like a blackberry. If you eat unripe berries, you’re going to wind up tripping, which might be why they have that reputation as being poisonous.)
Ok, once you’ve tasted your berry, think about how sweet it is, and how juicy. Pie is basically a small handful of ingredients: Fruit, sugar, spices if you want em, (cinnamon is always a good standard, but really this is personal preference. You could even try a savory herb like basil) water, lemon juice and cornstarch. There’s no hard recipe here. If your berries are tart, add about a cup of sugar. If they’re really sweet, you probably only need 1/4 of a cup. Don’t leave it out though, it helps make the syrupy parts. Same with the water, if they’re super-juicy, don’t add much water. The amount of cornstarch corresponds with the amount of added water. If you don’t add any, or only a little bit, add maybe a tablespoon of cornstarch. If you add a lot of water (up to a cup if you listen to some recipes) you should up the cornstarch to 3-4 tablespoons. Spice is up to your personal preference, but a starting point is about a tablespoon. Lemon juice is about the only constant. Use about a tablespoon.

Once you’ve thought about all that, get yourself a pie crust. Mine come from the grocery store because I am not gifted with the pie crust making gene. As you might have noticed, I’m not the sort of cook who uses hard measurements, and pie crust is one of those things that requires precision and attention to detail. Kudos to you if you have the attention span to make your own.

Anyway. Put your pie crust in the bottom of a greased pie pan. add your berries. sprinkle your other ingredients over the top and then mix it all around with your hands. (um. yes, your palms might turn purple. get your kid to do this part or use a wooden spoon if you have the sort of job where people look at you funny for having purple hands)
If you decide to add a little water, do it now. Just drizzle over the top.
Next, take some super thin pats of butter (maybe a tablespoon?) and spread them out over the top of the pie mixture. Then put your second crust over the top and seal up the edges. Slice a few slits in the top crust.

Now, bake at 375 for somewhere around 40 minutes. Your berry juices should be bubbling up through the slits. if your crust edges start to get too brown, just cut some tinfoil into strips and cover the edges with it.

Let your pie cool. This isn’t one you want to eat piping hot. Add ice cream if you’re so inclined. =)

Craft Night Project: Gorgeous felt Dahlias!

One of my favorite craft bloggers (Not Martha) put up a tutorial for a mother’s day corsage made from felt. I know it’s a little bit late to be posting something for Mother’s Day, but I also thought these would be spectacular for prom season.

Credit: Megan Reardon

Now, the tutorial is awesome, but what I really found really noteworthy is the section she added on working with various weights and types of felt.

I love that she did this, because different felts are just so… different, and really do have different uses. I’ve learned that the hard way on a couple of projects, and so seeing these flowers in comparison with each other is super helpful!
Sad as it makes me, I’ve had to give up working with the Ecospun felt for apparel projects because frankly, it just doesn’t hold up to washing, it starts looking a bit tatty. What Ecospun IS great for, however, is small craft projects like badges, where you want to be able to layer a lot, without it getting bulky, or projects you don’t think you’ll really ever be washing. Or maybe these flowers…

Anyway! if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go cut out a million tiny petals now. I have an event to go to in a couple weeks, and I really think one of these flowers would be perfect to wear with the vintage bathing suit a friend gave me… Sort of like this headband adaptation from Kristen (isn’t this the cutest?!?)

credit: Kristen of Briney Deep Designs

Liz’s tips for vending at craft fairs

This weekend marked another year at the Inman Park Festival, and despite a soggy Saturday and mostly rained-out parade, we still had a great time. One thing about festivals is that we always get questions from people who make things themselves and are considering taking the plunge into selling. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, but I would never discourage anyone from giving it a go, as it can also be quite satisfying. That said, there have been quite a few things we’ve learned over the years and Liz did an absolutely fabulous write-up of some of the more important of those over on her blog. I don’t think I could say it any better than she did, so I’m just going to link to her list.


(flickr photo of our booth from last year by dotD)

So you want to sell your handmade goods at a festival? Here are a few things you won’t find listed on the application.

Simple, homemade deodorant that actually works

After yet another unfortunate mishap with a scented deodorant that makes me want to gag, and yet another hippie deodorant that doesn’t actually, uh, deodorize, I was linked to this recipe with some pretty good recommendations. Blogger How About Orange has this to say about her recipe:
(My Mom) came across someone selling homemade deodorant nearly a year ago, tried it out, and found that it actually kept stinkiness away better than store brands. Plus most popular brands of deodorant contain aluminum, so if you can avoid stuffing metal into your pores, that seems like a good idea. After using a few types of natural deodorants and figuring out which ingredients she prefers, Mum decided to make her own.

Her recipe was this:
Ingredients:
1/4 cup baking soda ($1.19 for a box)
1/4 cup arrowroot powder ($5.99 for 20 oz.)
4 tablespoons coconut oil ($6.00 for 15 oz.)
10 drops/shakes grapefruit essential oil ($9.99 for 0.5 oz.)
A tin or jar with lid
In a bowl, stir together dry ingredients, then add oils gradually until you like the consistency, mixing with a fork. Store in a closed container at room temp. (If the mixture seems too soft, try refrigerating it for a bit to firm it up.)
To apply, scoop up a bit with your finger, hold it against your skin for a couple seconds so it melts a little, then rub around.

Well that sounded simple enough and I already use both cornstarch and coconut oil in my hair, so I decided to give it a go:
homemade deodorant

I didn’t have arrowroot powder on hand, but I did have cornstarch, which is a good substitute. I also used orange oil and sage instead of grapefruit for a slightly less girly scent. (in case the husband wants to give it a go)
So far, it’s working like a charm, I’ll update in a couple weeks when it’s getting really hot!

homemade deodorant

Reflecting on the NoImpact Movie, part 1: handwashing your clothing

So last night was our screening of the No Impact Man Documentary. (huge thanks to Becky, Jeanee, and the ladies of ICE, and to Mike for letting me borrow his projector) According to Becky, I think we were able to raise 130$ for the NoImpact Project! Yay!

The movie itself was pretty entertaining, and despite the fact that I’ve been reading his blog regularly, there were quite a few things that made me go “hrm….”.
The first one of those is the laundry scene – the one where they’re stomping their unmentionables in a tub full of borax and castille. First, allow me to interject here, and direct anyone interested in natural laundry detergents back to this post where a few of us made our own. I have to say it worked great. It was also super cheap to make, and when “eco-friendly” laundry detergents run 10-15$ a bottle, you can save some real money by doing this yourself.

That said, let me get back to today’s point: During this scene, I heard a lady in the audience mention Michelle’s designer wardrobe and make a comment about the dry cleaning. That prompted a flashback to a couple of weeks ago when Wayne brought me one of his shirts and asked why on earth a cotton shirt was labeled “dry clean only”. Hmmm…

Well, why IS a cotton shirt labeled “dry clean only”?

Good question. And here’s your answer:
Laziness, cheapness, and liability.
Sound harsh? Well, it is, but it’s also mostly true. One of the biggest reasons that normally washable fabrics are labeled dry clean only is because the manufacturer is cutting costs. Fabrics can and often do shrink the first time you wash them, which is why most sewing instructions begin with the line “pre-wash your fabrics”.
In an effort to reduce production time and cut costs, many manufacturers skip this step and simply slap on an unrealistic cleaning label to shift the burden of the fabric’s care to you.

This is a huge pet peeve of mine. (second only to constructing garments so cheaply they can’t be altered, but I’ll get to that another day) Not only is dry-cleaning costly, but it’s sort of an environmental nightmare.

So what’s a person to do? Well, while this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive guide, I hope the following information will help you figure out what you might be able to go ahead and wash at home. If it’s something really special though, check your area and see if there are any reputable “Wet Cleaners”. Wet cleaning is a process that uses natural soaps and is a much less toxic alternative to perchloroethylene.

Ok, back to that cotton shirt. Cotton is a natural fabric and there’s really no reason in the world why a properly constructed cotton garment cannot touch water. That said, the key is properly constructed. Fabrics have a direction, even if they don’t have a pattern. Think of it like the grain in wood, or the weaving of a rug – the fibers have a direction and garments should be sewn following this direction. In a cotton shirt, unless the fabric is cut consistently, you will wind up with a misshapen garment after washing, as different parts of the fabric will move in different directions when wet. If you’ve ever washed a tee shirt and noticed the side seams were no longer at your sides, that’s what happened.
Unfortunately, if you’ve bought something poorly constructed, there’s not much you can do. American Apparel tee shirts have done this so often on me that I no longer buy anything printed on their blanks.

The other problem with washing cotton is temperature. If your cotton garment says dry clean only, the only way to wash it is in COLD water. The reason cotton shrinks is because the bonds in the fabric get broken by stress, and usually this stress is heat or extreme agitation. If you wash your shirt in cold water on either gentle cycle or by hand, then dry it on a line it should be just fine after a quick iron.
(speaking of ironing – this is another reason why your cotton shirt may say dry clean only… If the shirt has complicated details, the dry clean label is probably there due to the difficulty in reclaiming those details during the ironing process. In this case, the label is merely telling you a professional probably needs to handle your shirt. Unless you are really patient, it’s probably a good idea to go ahead and listen)

Ok, the next item on my list is wool. I think we’ve all made the mistake of washing a sweater and pulling it out of the dryer to find it now fits the cat. While there are some home remedies for this situation, they don’t always work and it’s better to just not have it happen in the first place.
With wool, it isn’t only the temperature that can cause problems. You also have to be careful what type of soap you use, as sometimes the shrinkage is caused by the PH factor of the soap. In most cases, a good natural shampoo is the best thing to use on your favorite sweaters (wool is just sheep “hair” after all…). Simply let them soak in the cold soapy water before gently swishing the suds through. To rinse, it’s best to drain and refill the sink with clean water, repeating the soak and swish process until there are no more suds. To improve color-fastness, you can add a tiny bit of vinegar to the first rinse water. After you’re suds-free, remove the excess water by rolling your sweater in a clean towel and squeezing, then lay it out to dry flat away from direct heat or sunlight. If your sweater gets a little out of shape, you can re-“block” it with a warm steam iron. There are good instructions for that here:

Moving on, silk is another natural fabric with a reputation for difficulty it doesn’t deserve. Like cottons, a garment constructed with pre-washed silk fabric has no need to be dry cleaned. Even though it isn’t hair, it’s still a natural substance produced by animals and derived from proteins, and like woolens, the ph of the detergent is your biggest enemy. You will also want to steer clear of any detergents with a petroleum base as those may leave an oily residue that is noticeable on silks. A good natural shampoo in a sink of cold water is again the best way to wash these garments. The biggest problem you may encounter is the garment stretching if it’s hung to dry, or twisted while it’s wet, so be careful here. As with cotton, if the design or cut is complicated, it may be best to let a professional handle the cleaning, as silk can be finicky to iron.

I’m not going to go into caring for rayon and other synthetics because honestly the variables are too many for the scope of a blog post. I will note that many of these fabrics are not ever intended to be washed, which is sort of horrifying to me. One trick I’ve seen floating around the internet, but have yet to try, is freezing your clothes to rid them of germs. This obviously won’t help with stains, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

Non-toxic ant killer

Summer sort of hit here with just a wave hello to Spring last week, and with it, the parade of ants through the kitchen and garden has started. I made these baits last year and they worked pretty well, so I thought Id re-post this here for anyone who might be experiencing the same difficulties as I am persuading the critters to go elsewhere…

_______________

One of the not-so-awesome things about summer in the south is the never-ending parade of ants around the yard (and often the kitchen). I’m always really hesitant to use commercial pesticides, and have found quite a few ways to help keep the ants in check without them. For starters, Instant Grits. Sprinkle them around the mound (but not directly on it!) and the ants will eat the grits, be unable to digest them, and basically explode. Sorry ants, but this is MY house.
Also, any strongly smelling granulated substance, like cinnamon or fine coffee grounds will perform as a barrier and can be used around the corners of cabinets, etc. where pets won’t disturb it. If you can see where they’re coming in, caulk it, or if you can’t, try putting something like vaseline to interrupt their track. Of course try to keep your kitchen clean and counters wiped, a vinegar spray can erase the scent of their trails, making them less likely to return. Also, as pet food is a favorite attraction, try putting your pets food bowls inside a larger, shallow bowl of soapy water. That tip works great for outdoor feed bowls as well.

Despite all of that, last year the ants seemed to be gearing up for world domination. I’d manage to get rid of one pile, only to see another pop up a few feet away. I swear I could hear them snickering when I walked by.
So I did a little research and decided to try making my own ant baits out of ingredients I felt safe using in my yard. It took a little trial and error to get the proportions, and I made the first batch WAY too wet. The last batch was more like toothpaste, and that’s pretty much just right. Here’s how I did it, so you can make your own. It’s best to start early to avoid problems altogether.

First, you’ll need to assemble your supplies. You’ll need Borax, granulated sugar, water, some small containers with a removable lid (baby food jars are ideal for this. if you know a new mom, hit her up for a batch before she recycles them), a hammer and nail, and a spoon for measuring.

antbait1

For starters, fill each jar about 1/3 of the way full with the borax. Then add the granulated sugar to fill it up to just over half. You might need to adjust this mix depending on how much of a sweet tooth your ants have. You want enough sugar to mask the taste of the borax, but not so much that there isn’t enough borax to do the job.

antbaits2

Once you have your dry ingredients mixed together, it’s time to add enough water to make a paste. This photo was taken during my first attempt at these, and I made them too wet. You’re looking for something just slightly runnier than toothpaste.

antbaits3

Once you’re satisfied with the consistency of your mixture, it’s time to use that hammer and nail to make holes in the lids of the jars, then close them up and place them strategically around your yard (or home). If you have larger ants, be sure to make the holes big enough for them to get into.

antbaits4

The idea is that the ants will find the baits and carry the tasty, but poisonous mixture back to the nest and feed it to the Queen. Once the Queen dies, so does the colony. These have actually worked better for me than anything else I’ve tried. As far as I can tell, they don’t go bad, so you can leave them out for a couple of months. Put them near enough to existing ant trails or hills that the ants find them, but not directly in their path. You can also put them inside cupboards if you have trouble inside. Just make sure your pets or kids don’t think they are toys. Borax is fairly safe, but it wasn’t meant to be ingested.

For more tips on how to use Borax i n the home, check out this post on home-made cleaning supplies:
https://lorigami.wordpress.com/2008/07/30/missionpossible-2/

oddities in my fridge

So if you opened my refrigerator, you’d probably think I was nuts. There’s film, packs of vitamins, lots of jars of various preserves (because I have no pantry) and the best of all? My crisper drawer is full of these:

“what on earth ARE those” you ask? Well. I’ll tell you!

As you have probably gathered from any time reading this journal, we bought what most people would have considered a tear-down house, and have been pouring sweat and curse words into it for 4 years now, turning it into something I’m getting to be proud to call home. This has involved copious amounts of painting (and re-painting, every time we complete another project!)
With painting comes a real conundrum; what do you do with your tools when you’re done? Washing your rollers takes a rather staggering amount of water, but throwing them away (even the recycled content ones) is just so wasteful. Instead of doing either, I slip my rollers off of the handle into plastic baggies, which I then label with which room (or kind of paint) they are. Once labeled and rolled up smooshing out all the excess air, they go into my vegetable crisper where they stay useable for YEARS. Any time I need to do a touch-up, I just unroll the baggie, let it warm up a little, and pop it back onto a roller handle.

Combined with all the options for enviro-friendly paints that are coming out, painting is getting a little more guilt-free every day!

About that goat in yesterday’s post…

Thursday morning I got up at an unreasonable hour and waited impatiently for a very important call. Shortly afterwards, I had taken a hat shower, grabbed my camera, donned my rubber boots, and was out the door on an adventure with my friend Rebecca and newly-met Shari. A short drive to a secret location barely outside the city limits, and I was soon grateful for those boots as we slogged through the remnants of Tuesday’s rain towards a small green building full of white gold.
Welcoming committee
First we were greeted by an assortment of ladies who were very curious about what treats we might be bringing them.
#8 liked Shari's scarf
Then our human hosts made themselves known and invited us inside their sanctuary. The owners of this little farm treated us to their knowledge of the craft we were about to attempt, as well as delicious little slices of ambrosia in the form of a handcrafted aged white cheddar. Such wonderful and hospitable women they are!
Billy waves
After taking a mini-tour of the rest of the farm and making a couple new friends, we headed back home with our treasure: 2 gallons of incredibly fresh raw goat’s milk. (I’ll be talking about the distinctions between types of milk in another post)
oh Hai!

Later that evening, the three of us reconvened in Rebecca’s gorgeous kitchen to start our project.

Rebecca is an experienced cheese maker, and was kind enough to get Shari and I started learning the intricacies of this craft. We started with one of the simplest cheeses, Chevre.

From this site on French Cheeses:
About Chèvre: “Pur chèvre” on the label ensures that the cheese is made entirely from goat’s milk. Chèvre in French simply means goat. Chèvre cheeses come in a variety of sizes and shapes including cones, cylinders, discs, drums, and pyramids. The cheeses are often covered with ash or leaves, herbs or pepper.

Chèvre making: In the 8th century, the Saracens came to the west of France and left behind the goats and the recipe to make the goat cheese.

Tasting Chèvre: When young, Chèvre is mild and creamy. When older, the cheese is dry and firm with a slightly sharp and lightly acidic flavor.

Tasting advices: Store in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks. Is a fine combination with French bread, avocado, olives or figs. Chèvre is used in salads, omelets, pizza toppings and souffles.

For Chevre, all we needed to do was heat the fresh goat’s milk over the stove to the required temperature, stir in the powdered “starter”, and then wait. And wait. And wait.

The chevre sat in Rebecca’s kitchen overnight, at which point she divided it up into cheesecloth bundles and let it begin the draining process.

Basically, the chevre is made from the “curds” of the milk, and the “whey” must be drained off. Since making chevre produces a large ratio of curds to whey, the draining is most simply done by letting the cheesecloth bundles hang over a bowl for a few more hours.

Once it’s drained sufficiently, you can add herbs or spices to your heart’s content. I’m adding rosemary to this batch since it’s what I’ve still got growing like mad in the yard. I also think sage would be excellent.

While we were waiting for the chevre to cooperate, Rebecca suggested we use the second gallon of milk to try a slightly more complicated cheese: mozzarella.
Mozzco.com has this to say about the history of Mozzarella cheese:
Legend has it that mozzarella was first made when cheese curds accidently fell into a pail of hot water in a cheese factory near Naples…and soon thereafter the first pizza was made!
Mozzarella was first made in Italy near Naples from the rich milk of water buffalos. Because it was not made from pasteurized milk and because there was little or no refrigeration the cheese had a very short shelf-life and seldom left the southern region of Italy near Naples where it was made. As cheese technology, refrigeration and transportation systems developed the cheese spread to other regions of Italy.

We started out the same, heating the milk to the required temperature over the stove. Once that temp was reached, we stirred in rennet and citric acid to make the milk curdle. We used vegetable rennet for this cheese.

Once the additives are fully blended, the milk needs to rest. After a few minutes of this, we were able to check it and see that it was indeed curdling up nicely!

Then, the curd is sliced up, and the whole pot heated up again.

After it’s reached the appropriate temperature, the draining process begins. Now, mozarella is not like Chevre, in fact, it’s almost the reverse. Where chevre is almost all curd, mozzarella seems to be almost all whey. In other words, there was a lot of draining…

Once it’s drained, it’s time to get your hands dirty and start stretching the curds (oh, and you can also add salt at this point. It will need it).


The more you work the curds, the harder your cheese will be, so be careful here.

Once you’ve got it where you want it (we might have gone a little too far on this batch) form it into little balls and wrap it in plastic wrap. You can eat it at this point, which I did, with a nice glass of red.

Delicious!

This was such a great experiment, I can’t tell you how awesome it was to learn this skill, and to get to meet the happy little goats who provided us with the milk. I felt so satisfied at the end of the day!
Next up, Paneer, another simple cheese. Stay tuned!!