Wild garlic, bluebells, cow parsley; the fields, the hedges and the woodlands shout, “It’s spring”. The answering world shouts back: baby rabbits, born to delight the buzzard sitting on the branch, in turn feeding his young. The house martens come back one day, and the insects that dance in the air disappear, hoovered up by their swoops criss-crossing the sky. Every bird looks busy, nest-building or finding food to support the family. The sun is strong, the days get long, and the world breathes out after the long days of winter.
CROPS – The crops start growing, thriving green replacing that grey yellow of leaves that have suffered cold and lived to tell the tale. Those leaves sit down below the vigorous new growth. In time they wither, become brown remnants; they fed the plants in the harsh days. Now first the barley then the wheat start to cast up the stalks on each plantlet that will carry the ear, more like a fat leaf at this point with a secret sweet heart, a little embryo ear. All of the spring’s growth nurtures and cherishes this one core, hidden in sweet folds of young leaves.
We plough and drill the maize, the one crop that benefits from that deep working of the soil, warming the soil to depth. It’s such a heat-loving plant, we have to give it all the help it can get. If the weather is right, we’ll drill it and be rewarded with those beautiful pale green leaves luminescent against our rich red soil, rows snaking across the field.
GRASS – The grass now takes off, past that magic day when it grows faster than we can eat it. Our anxious waiting for warmth to set off growth is now replaced almost overnight by working out which fields we should cut so the cows can keep on top of the rest. Stalky may look more, but it’s a lot less sweet and nutritious, so we want to keep as much of the grass as we can leafy and rich.
CALVES – The calves are out, rejoicing in grass, evening light, each other, the milk trailer: anything delights them, any excuse to dash from one end of the field to the other, round and round, chasing each other and anyone who turns up.
YOUNG STOCK – The teenagers are nearly as lively, and quite alarming, as they skip and plunge and buck—now weighing a quarter of a tonne. You walk down the hill, and the girls thunder towards you, the ground shaking as dozens of them think you’re worth exploring. You hope they don’t skid into into you. Off they go to the other end of the paddock. Sit down, and they’ll be drawn to you—they seem fascinated by how people change shape. They’ll come close and sniff, stretch their long rough tongues to curl round anything interesting.
COWS – The cows are now recovered from calving, a great mob efficiently cutting the grass in each paddock, turning it from green to white overnight or between milkings. It’s amazing how thorough they are. Not a blade of grass is standing left untouched in the whole paddock. They are keen to come for milking, for food, and to lose that full-of-milk feeling known well to breastfeeding mums. They are keen to go out to the field, to harvest another delectable field, then lie down, ruminate, and turn it into milk.
CHEESE – and the milk just keeps coming. This spring so far is very milky, the vats filling fuller than for a long time. We had some heifers calve earlier, and their milk has shot up. That’s great, we need more milk to fulfill demand. That demand is growing, thanks to the reliability of our cheesemaking.
GRADING – We bring in Keith Plowman, our external grader, once a month to grade every vat of cheese we made three months ago. He takes a core with a cheese iron and tests it by appearance, texture, colour, and flavour to give an assessment of how we’ve balanced the fat, protein, moisture, and acidity and how that cheese will mature. Our last few gradings have been wonderful, the best we’ve ever had. That comes from great milk, and our team of cheesemakers all working together under Malcolm’s expert guidance.
SELECTION – Keith regrades each vat at twelve months old, and we allocate the cheese by its flavour profile: buttery/caramelly; brothy/meaty/umami; sharp/grassy/oniony; and progressive. The inimitable Lee Smith, editor of Cheese Connoisseur, had the clarity to provide us with these broad flavour families. We can then find out which selection each customer wants, and which cheese will age onto Extra Mature or Vintage. This has been a huge agent of satisfaction for people who buy our cheese, and great to develop our cheesemaking to give the exquisite flavours I can see in my head.
Pairing of Quickes Cheddar with Pomona: The fabulous Charlie Turnbull of Turnbull’s Deli in Shaftesbury sent me this tweet: ‘Hi @maryquicke my table britannia agree your Cheddar is king @DebraStephenson @Francineshowbiz @garybembridge plus pomona @ciderbrandy’.
I agree, Pomona—that wonderful mix of Somerset Cider Brandy and apple juice is a great match for our Mature Cheddar. Sounds like it was a great night!