Thursday, 20 December 2012

Liberty Hill Hirose Ranch Dairy Milking Experience and Uemon's Heart Ice Cream

In December, the sun over Hokkaido sets pretty early on, dipping under the horizon a little after 4 pm. It was almost pitch black by the time the coach pulled up at Liberty Hill Farm, and it was a pity we couldn't get a good view of Tokachi from the hill in the dark. Still, there was a good smattering of lights round the compound, so the effect was warm and welcoming. The ranch is located right next to the city of Obihiro, part of the Tokachi subprefecture. Tokachi's known as the centre of food production in Japan, playing a major role in national food security. Most of Hokkaido's milk comes from this region in particular, so it was quite exciting to be able to go straight to the heart (Or well, the udder) of the island's dairy production.  

We were first taken for the Dairy Milking Experience, and before we could step into the milking shed, everyone had to thoroughly sanitize their hands with rubbing alcohol and swish our shoes around a rug saturated with an anti-bacterial solution so we didn't accidentally infect the cows with anything untoward. The farmer gave us a brief low-down on how they care for their cows before teaching us the appropriate hand motions and other techniques for milking and letting us get to it. The cow we tried milking was a perfectly placid beast, barely shuffling even under our inexpert pulling and prodding. 

There was a certain poetry in going from feeling the warmth of the cow, its udders and the milk it produced, to the protected shed where we were permitted to pat the calves. As much as I love supermarkets, it's very easy to feel completely detached with shelves upon shelves of milk under bright displays, and not remember that it's absolutely necessary for the sustaining of life. 

A few people went a little mad during "calf time", cooing and fairly melting into puddles of feelings, especially over the smaller calves. The calves' building was nice and warm, but some of them still had blankets draped over so to ward against the chill. They were rather curious creatures, nosing our hands and snuffling around, but they accepted our affectionate touches readily. 

The farm was established in 1948, and has remained a family enterprise. The cowherd wakes up at 4 am each morning to tend to the over 180 cows they have, and as part of his work monitors soil conditions and feed to produce high quality raw milk. Part of the daily milk output goes into making fresh ice cream for the Uemon's Heart Gelateria, which was named after a feudal era warlord who hoped his government would remain for the next 350 years. In the same vein, the people behind Uemon's Heart saw in Uemon's statement an embodiment of their desire to produce great gelato that will remain popular for a very long time. 

Here's a little peek at the gristly bits that have to get churned up before Blog Sausage is made! It took a while for me to get the back-story behind the name of the gelateria because Google Translate is notoriously bad with Japanese. (It's made for absolutely side-splitting situations before, but that's a story we like to save for dinner parties) So, the next best thing was to pester Q to translate it for me with what was left of her A Level Japanese. This resulted:

Of over 100 different gelato recipes that they have, 14 different flavours are churned every morning using the day's fresh raw milk and other organic ingredients like fruits and herbs that they have on hand. We got to taste as many flavours as we wanted before picking one, but at the same time there were lots of people getting their cones as well, so I settled for just trying their pale blue Sea-Salt flavour (Good balance of sweet-salty) and Pumpkin (Very rich and nutty). Ultimately though, I fell back on the old favourite, Rare Cheesecake Ice Cream, because there is literally nothing not to love about it when it's freshly made. It was cold cheesy-milky-creamy goodness, and I was so busy devouring everything I almost forgot to share it with M. 

The first time I had ice cream in winter, we were in Australia in June and I was young enough that my cousins successfully convinced me that having a soft serve from McDonald's when you had to wear three whole layers to go outside was the height of decadence and deviancy. Every ice cream in winter since then has always made me feel rather wicked and pleased, like I'm somehow getting away with something. It's funny what stays with you from childhood. 

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