Sunday, October 3, 2010

Kookoolan Farms in Oregon

Chrissie and Koorosh Zaerpoor are into everything!

Before we get into the list of their projects, let me just explain what a "Kookoolan" is- it was a nickname Koorosh's father gave him when he was a boy in Iran.  It doesn't mean anything- it's just a funny sound like "cutesy wootsy."  (Koorosh is ethnically Persian, born and raised in Iran, and a native speaker of Farsi.) 

Now that we've answered that question, here's a short list of projects Chrissie and Koorosh have going on at their 5 acre farm in Yamhill, Oregon:

They teach classes on cheesemaking and other farm skills on Saturdays almost all year round ($50/participant). At left, you see Rudy Marchesi who frequently teaches classes, and below, you see Mary Rosenblum, another frequent instructor.

In the next few months, there will be classes in Washed Curd Cheeses, Artisinal Mozzarella, Italian Hard Cheeses, Basic Soft Cheeses, Washed Rind Cheeses, and an All-Day Cheese Theory Class, among others.

Note:  A few months ago, Food and Wine Magazine featured these classes in their list of Top 100 New Food and Culture Experiences, a great honor, indeed!  (Page 80 in the May, 2010 issue)

They have a farm store open daily from 8am-6pm where they sell, among other things, a full line of cheesemaking supplies (mostly from us- New England Cheesemaking Supply Co, of course!).  They do ask that you call ahead of your first visit for a brief orientation.
 They are the biggest small chicken producer in Oregon and they hold one of only 4 licenses in the state to process poultry.
 They raise Heritage-breed turkeys.
 They sell chicken eggs, and sometimes goose eggs, turkey eggs, and duck eggs.
 They raise cows, goats, sheep and pigs. So, they sell beef, lamb and pork.  (Below is one of their Jerseys getting a manicure.  The next picture shows Chrissie's son, Liam sleeping with a baby goat in 2008.)
They are a CSA vegetable farm.   Below is a picture of one CSA harvest box (full size share).  They shoot for 20 pounds of fresh vegetables in each week's full-size box.
They conduct experiments with raising earthworms, and obtained a grant to investigate ways of integrating vermiculture (worm composting) with diverse farming.

They are growing fruit trees- pomegranates, mulberry, sour cherry and apple.
They have their winery license and this winter they will be releasing their first commercial batch of habenaro pepper mead- a kind of wine made with fermented honey.  They also brew their own REAL Kombucha tea.
Did I also mention that they have a pond where they are raising tilapia and crawfish?  Believe me, all this is just the short list. There are MANY other projects going on there, and, they just bought the farm in October, 2005!

In fact, until four years ago, both Chrissie and Koorosh worked full-time at Intel.  Koorosh still works there full-time, as an equipment development engineer.  Chrissie left in November, 2006.  

Getting Started Making Cheese

As busy as she is, Chrissie took the time to tell me how she and Koorosh got started making cheese:

In July 2006, our first Jersey cow, "Ariba," delivered her first calf, "Shasta." In Oregon, raw milk sales are legal provided, among other things, that the farm does not advertise or solicit raw milk sales. So we knew it would take a little while to build the business through word of mouth, and we were unconcerned when the customers were not lined up in the driveway the day the calf was delivered.

Well, it seemed like we had just figured out how to milk by hand when about ten days later we had some 35 gallons of gorgeous, 100% grassfed, Jersey milk in the refrigerator, with creamlines about 1/3rd of the way down the jar.

I had been a homebrewer and home winemaker for about ten years, so I thought "no problem, I'll make cheese." 

So I called my favorite homebrew store, where I had seen several cheesemaking books for sale, and was surprised to find out that they sold no cheesemaking supplies. Portland, Oregon, is a mecca of homebrew stores: I called more than twenty, and none carried even a single ingredient or supply, just books. I couldn't even find rennet! But they all referred me to The New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, which was how I first learned about you.

I decided to make a large cheddar. I browsed the online catalog and came up with an order of about $200, and then priced it for overnight delivery. The shipping charge alone was $85!

Gradually we started building a customer base for our raw milk, and every once in a while people would ask about making cheese. I started carrying just rennet, mesophilic and thermophilic starters, and butter muslin. Often people would be in our little farmstore and look at these few supplies and say longingly, "Oh, I'd love to learn how to make cheese, but I think I'd need to take a class."

Finally, in April 2008, we offered our first cheesemaking class; it filled almost the moment we announced it, as did the additional section we opened when the first one was full. We offered four classes in 2008, fourteen in 2009, and more than forty in 2010! 

We've had people travel to take our cheesemaking classes from Singapore, Norway, Arizona, North Carolina, and Vancouver Canada! It's really a wonderful thing to include in plans for a trip to Oregon's wine country. Our farm is located right in the middle of the Yamhill-Carlton American Viticulture Area!

(Note:  I had to look that one up and apparently, viticulture is the science, production and study of grapes.)

A Few Words About Chrissie and Koorosh

These amazing people go to great lengths to share their lives with others.  Their website has their personal histories, recipes, links to their blog and newsletters, as well as loads of information about their farming practices and theories.

They send out a newsletter regularly in which they write about news from their farm and about the politics of real food.

I have to share with you a few paragraphs from one of these recent newsletters, because the content says a great deal about who Chrissie and Koorosh are:


For the past four months, as some of you know, we have been foster parenting three young children from an unrelated family.  The children are in foster care because both natural parents are drug addicts.  The youngest child was born addicted to methamphetamine and with multiple birth defects, and at age four and a half, she is the developmental equivalent of a three-year-old. She has spent three and a half of her four and a half years in foster care. From her first day on the planet, she has been dealt a pretty brutal hand. Parenting these children has caused me to reflect on chance and opportunity in general.
Many of us, maybe most of us, have been dealt difficult hands.  Some of us have genes that make us likely to develop high blood pressure, high  cholesterol, or cancer; some of us were born with autism or food sensitivities or any number of issues.
For animals it is the same:  some animals have been selectively bred for modern production characteristics, such as rapid weight gain, large muscular frames, high egg production, and docile natures.
Every day on our farm, we see proof that no matter what hand you've been dealt, it's up to you to play the cards . . .

. . . For our own foster children, we saw them arrive four months ago fairly shell-shocked in appearance, poor in color, and very underweight.  The oldest did not require his first haircut until yesterday:  in four months his hair simply never grew, whether from trauma, stress, or malnutrition it's hard to say.  But something about living here for four months has finally allowed his hair to start growing again.  Maybe it's the regular schedule or sense of personal safety; maybe it's the great food.  The youngest had crippling muscle spasms almost daily; now it's been two months since she's had one.  Maybe she was just mineral deficient?  The middle child went eight weeks without any conversation related to anything other than survival; now he's asking questions about abstract topics, and has made up a full school year of work (albeit kindergarten) in only four months.  You don't have to keep the hand you're dealt with.

Thank you, Chrissie and Koorosh for sharing your past, your present and your hopes and dreams with us.  We wish you the best.

Kookoolan Farms is located on Highway 47 between Yamhill and Carlton.
15713 Highway 47
Yamhill, OR  97148

Phone (503) 730-7535
Chrissie and Koorosh Zaerpoor
They may also be found at the Hillsdale Farmer's Market in southwest Portland on the last Sunday of every month (April-November).

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