Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Discovering the Wild West in Hutsulshchyna

We arrived at our first destination, a dairy farm with over 50 head of cattle, no electricity or running water, only that from a spring. This smallholding was something from the Wild West; managed by an old man and lads from the village they milk the cows by hand and made cheese during the day. A tough life.

Not all the cattle were theirs, villages from the valley below would provide their dairy cows in exchange for some of the cheese made. The dairymen therefore were paid by the owners of the cows with a proportion of the milk which they turned into cheese and sold on the open market.

The old man of the farm had built an extension to cater for hunters who came from the city to hunt wild bore and other game. They were used to visitors but never English and we soon realised we were possibly the first English to visit this region since before the war.

Life on this remote farmstead is exceptionally hard work for the lads on the farm. Our horsemen Vasyl and Andriy told us that one only took a job on such farms if you had no choice or you were trying to get away from something. I kept wondering what had made these lads take the decision.

The dairymen were used to visitors but never English and we soon realised we were possibly the first Brits to visit this region since before the war.

These lads most likely came from a difficult situation back home. The dairy farm was possibly the option of last resort, these chaps were obviously on hard times.

The following pictures illustrate the process of making cheese on the farm. We were lucky enough to spend a couple of days here and therefore able to observe the whole process in action.

The irony of this trip was we had planned to stay with shepherds, which has always been a long held ambition of mine. The idea of staying with shepherds was also appealing to my wife Melissa due to her allergy for dairy milk. Sheep and goats cheese is the only cheese she can eat, hence our bewilderment when we arrived at the farm without a single sheep in sight. Well you can imagine our surprise at so many cattle.

Trips of this kind often throw up all kinds of confusion but this was a classic. We tried to explain to Andriy our interpreter that the word Shepherd i.e. 'Sheep herder' does conjure up a sheep and help to set expectations. It turned out the horsemen didn’t see the difference but again I guess Andriy our lad from the city was hardly going to understand the difference either.

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