Valentino: Etseri, Svaneti

That's what I'd call him if I was naming livestock, because he was born on Valentine's Day 2017. But I don't do this, because much of it will end up on the table, sorry to the vegetarians among you! The closest we've come is calling a recent bullock Mr Meat, and before his second birthday, after he ran away a few times, his fate caught up with him.

Like all our births, this one was wonderfully easy, or so it seems to me: go to the barn and there's the newborn calf, blinking in the unaccustomed light, still wet and sticky from its emergence into the loud, dirty world. You salt it down a bit to encourage its mother to lick it for bonding, improved circulation and cleaning, and help it to stand and find the all-important teats, source of the vital milk which will be its only food for at least a month or two. A day later, it's on its feet and mooing while mother responds to get it used to her voice, and ready to butt her udder for all it can to get more milk, more, more!

I decided long ago in Svaneti to give myself the ultimate test of a carnivore, or at least of an omnivore: Could I see an animal go from happily alive to cuts of meat, and then eat it? And found that I could. Really, it's the least one can do, if bearing the name of one who eats anything, including meat.

Having said that... my wife and I are finding that our barn's denizens are becoming a growing burden on us. We can't both be away from the house for more than a few hours, because there are feeding, mucking out or milking chores to be done every single day. One can always ask a neighbor, sure, but then you're in their debt. Then there's the summer routine of bringing back the cows from the mountain where "traditionally" they pasture for a few months. We do it in turns, each neighbor several times a week, but it takes up a few hours each time, never mind the weather, rain or shine! The former means you can count on slogging through mud, if not actually being poured on at the moment.

But we DO want the benefits, chiefly milk and its many products, eggs and meat! So what to do? We're seriously considering shutting down the barn, killing or selling the cattle and chickens, and buying milk and the rest when we need them, if we can persuade a neighbor to be involved for a fair price. Believe me, we do want the milk, especially: my cheese making experiments have yielded what I consider to be delicious versions of cheddar, blue and even Camembert! (I dare to add that French guests have honestly praised them, too, which for me is a huge thing.) With no (intentionally) added bacterial cultures! Who wouldn't want to progress with these successes? I need to standardize them to get the same result regularly, and then we'll really be in business. For ourselves and the guest house, if not for a larger market.

"Valentino"'s grandmother is also pregnant, due in a month or two, and then we'll have five bovines. But it seems that this year may see that population reduced to nothing, along with the poultry, and I'll feel much happier for it. I'd also give up natural meat and dairy products in a heartbeat if really good laboratory substitutes came along, as long as they were reasonably priced, healthy and better for the environment... So time will tell.

Tony Hanmer has lived in Georgia since 1999, in Svaneti since 2007, and been a weekly writer for GT since early 2011. He runs the “Svaneti Renaissance” Facebook group, now with over 1350 members, at

He and his wife also run their own guest house in Etseri:

Tony Hanmer

16 February 2017 18:41