In our never-ending effort to control costs and delight our cattle, we are always looking for healthy additions to the hay and grass that are eternally on their menu. And I'm happy to say we have a new supplementary food source – Hermit Woods Winery in Meredith.
Typical wine is created by crushing and fermenting grapes, of course, but wine can be made from just about any fruit. In fact, a high school classmate of mine, while doing time in federal prison, used to make it from canned fruit cocktail. But operating under more wholesome conditions, Hermit Woods uses a variety of fresh local fruits to make their wines. For example, each year they ferment 20,000 pounds of wild, whole blueberries before pressing them off to create wine. The byproduct is about 1,000 pounds of fermenting pulp known as “must.”
While humans might enjoy a glass of “2018 Petite Blue,” guess who's been enjoying the blueberry pulp? Pigs. A local pig farmer who collected the spent fruit for feed discovered there was just enough alcohol in the mash to inebriate his pigs. The winery now features a wine called “The Drunken Pig.”
After that first experience, the pig farmer mixed the spent berries with other grains to dilute the alcohol. That worked well for years, but when the farmer went out of the pig business, Hermit Woods co-owner Bob Manley called Miles Smith Farm to ask if we were willing to collect the spent blueberries and other fruit. After thinking hard – maybe 2 seconds – I said, “Yes!” The next day I was at the winery to discuss details with Bob.
Hermit Woods creates all of their wines in a fully equipped winery and tasting room in Meredith. Located at 72 Main St, they use mostly locally-sourced ingredients in all their wines. In addition to blueberries, they buy strawberries from Vermont, and peaches and crabapples from New Hampshire to create a wide variety of nontraditional wine.
Our cattle are no strangers to alcohol (in moderation). The baleage hay we feed them in winter is summer grass that has been sealed in plastic wrap. It ferments to create a high-protein feed with just a touch of alcohol, and they love it. Although cows can get drunk on fermented fruits, their tolerance for alcohol is higher than pigs! So, we won't see them go reeling around the barnyard.
In mid-April, we picked up our 1,000 pounds of crushed blueberries. At first, the cows were not interested in this strange blue feed, but when mixed with an old favorite, brewers grain (the by-product of making beer and variously consists of oats, barley, or wheat.) donated by Great North Aleworks, they gobbled it up and looked for another round. No doubt other types of squashed fruit will be received and enjoyed with equal gusto.
So as you sip a glass of “Petite Blue” or “Boathouse Blue” or “Hermit's Hard Blueberry Apple Cider,” my cows could be licking their blue lips, happy beneficiaries of locally-sourced wine production and good old Yankee thrift.