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WWOOF and Cheesemaking Vacations

Have you ever wanted to go on an almost free vacation, learn something, and make a difference in the world? You should check out WWOOF.net or the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. The premise of WWOOF is actually very simple: a volunteer and a host come together to work on the land to promote organic and sustainable farming.

A volunteer gets the opportunity to live, learn, and work on a farm. Most hosts provide free housing and meals in exchange for a few hours of work on their farm, vineyard, or garden per day. In most countries the exchange is based on 4–6 hours of help for a full day’s food and accommodation. Tasks could include sowing seed, making compost, gardening, planting, cutting wood, weeding, harvesting, packing, milking, feeding, fencing, making mud-bricks, winemaking, cheesemaking and bread-making. Most visits are between one to two weeks, which allows you and the host to get acquainted and time to make an impact.

A host can be anyone with a farm, small holding, garden, allotment, vineyard, or woodland who follows organic or sustainability principles. Many hosts practice permaculture or bio-dynamic growing methods; some make a living off their land, others are homesteaders interested in self-sufficiency. There are even a few cooperatives, communities, and eco-villages.

This symbiotic relationship allows the volunteer to learn about organic growing techniques and an alternate way of life while the host gets an extra set of hands.

Here at culture, this sounds like the perfect way to learn, firsthand, about making cheese. Cheese is a food found all over the world, so all you have to do is chose a country to lend a hand to! Ever want to be a part of real Parmesan in Parma? Want to know how authentic cheddar made in England differs from your favorite creamery in Wisconsin? If you have ever had the hankering to milk a goat/cow/sheep and make fresh cheese, WWOOF provides a great opportunity.

If you are interested in trying a cheesemaking WWOOF site, choose a country and read the listings from the available hosts. These are just a few of the cheesemaking listings available to you in Italy:

Province: MODENA
Farm Description: I am a 60-year-old shepherd and live in a remarkable agritourism [site] on the crown of a hill. The house is large, there is a room for holding courses, 3 bedrooms, a restaurant and outside a vegetable garden and a large barn for my sheep. There are other people who work here such as the cook but generally I am here alone with my sheep. I need help with various tasks which vary according to the season: In autumn with the vegetable garden and wood cutting, in the winter with the wood and with jobs inside the house. From March to July with cheesemaking, and in the vegetable garden, from January to March with the lambing. We eat meals together, the area is very beautiful, and it would be a good experience for anyone who is interested in learning how to make cheese and the life of a shepherd. I only speak Italian but have friends and WWOOFers who speak English. I will do everything I can to make your stay comfortable, but I am a shepherd who has lived alone for many years with my sheep and am a man of few words! I can however teach you a great deal. Minimum stay 3 weeks

Province: PARMA
Farm Description: Our small farm (certified organic by ICEA) is located between the high hills of the Val Baganza about 700m above sea level, very close to the Baganza river from which the valley takes its name. We make our living breeding about 40 dairy goats, Camosciata delle Alpi, Saanen, Nubian, and some Vallesana. We process their milk in our small dairy and make yogurt, ricotta, and fresh cheese, all using vegetable rennet, which we sell in a small shop, farmers markets in Parma, the Slow Food Earth Market, GAS (buyers Co-ops), other groups, and small shops in the area. We have about 50 free range laying hens and about 4 to 6 Neri di Parma pigs each year which also free range in large enclosures. The eggs are for our own consumption and are also sold in the shop. The foraging goats, the horses, sheep and hens are protected by our Maremma – Abruzzese sheepdogs, who work all night while we sleep… At the beginning of the season we start milking manually, into a bucket, and then when the milk is abundant we use a milking machine, with the help of a practical milking bench. Making the cheese from the fresh milk takes the whole morning. Whoever is not making the cheese once the milking is finished takes the goats out to graze with the dogs, and then returns to start the routine work and care of the animals (such as foraging, brushing… ) and cleaning out their stalls (with forks, shovels, and a wheelbarrow!). There is also the care of the garden, the chicken coops, ducks and clean water for the pigs shower, cleaning and sales to customers in the shop, and, depending on the season making hay or working in the forest with the help of the draft horses. We speak a little English and French.

Province: FIRENZE
Farm Description: Our farm is situated in the hills in Greti, in Greve in Chianti. Here we have about 100 Camosciate goats, which produce excellent milk. The goats are always at pasture except in the coldest months. We make cheese from the milk in our dairy, fresh and mature caprino, ricotta, and other types of cheese. We sell the cheese directly from the farm, in local organic markets, and to restaurants. We also have chickens, a vegetable garden, dogs, and cats. We can accommodate two WWOOFers at a time for a period of 2 -3 weeks from April to October (the months when we are milking the goats) to help in the dairy, with the goats either at pasture or in the sheds. Accommodation in a caravan, especially during the summer months, with the bathroom in the dairy very close to it. Meals eaten together when possible and are mainly vegetarian with some meat and wine. English and Spanish spoken.

Photo Credit: Featured image courtesy of WWOOF.net

Virginia Hyde

Virginia Hyde is a southern girl at heart who just moved to Boston to submerge herself in food - mainly cheese, to be honest. Game for any food-related adventure, festival, or gathering, she is ready to share her passion for cheese with others. Virginia is currently working on a Masters in Gastronomy at Boston University.