MARY’S DAIRY DIARY - AUGUST 2011
The countryside is taking on that internal look, drier, harder, plants ripening, getting stalky, animals fattening, birds growing, strengthening for the long flight to Africa for many. To us, it feels like we are still in the height of summer. To the natural world, the hatches are starting to get battened down for the rigours of winter. The young rabbits are getting fat on the rich vegetation, and the buzzards and fox cubs are getting fat on the young rabbits.
CROPS - The combine harvester clank across the fields, the rhythmic sound so distinctive. They cut the straw with hundreds of knives like old fashioned shears, comb it straight into the rollers with the headers, with their little metal fingers. Then the threshers roll over the grain heads to roll the grain free, up into the grain tank, and the straw dropped out of the back into great swaths of sweet smelling straw. This year the grain is valuable, and the straw nearly as valuable, so we need to get everything into the barn in good condition, no rain to make it mouldy, ‘fausty’. So we run after the combines as soon as possible with a baler that picks up the straw with long fingers, presses it into great wads, then ties it up with baler twine so it will hold together into the barn and then to the animals for feeding or bedding in the winter. So forgive us for working late into the evening, until the dew comes to make the straw too moist to thresh. Forgive the tractors and trailers, laden with grain and straw, making their way as fast as the heavy load will allow, to the barn. Forgive the straw on the hedge sides as we sweep the trailers along the hedges, see, as we do, the feed and bedding for the winter, the milk and cheese to come.
COWS - The autumn calving cows start calving from early August, the first calves coming just a bit earlier. A week early is very premature in the cow world, where in the wild, the weakly young would be scooped up by predators. Now, we do what we can, but accept the early ‘slips’, those that just don’t make it. Soon, we get into the swing, healthy lively calves slopping out, wetly landing on the ground, shocked and licked into the first breath. Instinct driving those wobbly legs and unwieldy bodies, seeking the elixir they know lies under a flank, not sure quite where yet, will find, aah! there, silence except for satisfied slurps, cow and calf a primeval and beautiful and happy picture.
The spring cows are now all in calf, fattening on the clovery grass, beautifully balanced, scented milk. Life is sweet, coats are shining, drier grass gives less mouthfuls to get a full belly. The cows are cross-breeds, Kiwi Friesian x Swedish Red x Montbeliard, now we think we need to bring in a little of the small grazing Holsteins to avoid animals getting too beefy. We love the buttery note coming in the cheese from the Swedish Red and Monbeliard with their good balance and small fat particles, giving a glorious richness to the flavour.
HEIFERS - New calves again, lovely, their spring born sisters now quite the playful confident, end of primary school, some approaching puberty girls. The two year old girls come into the herd, and their younger cousins growing on, personalities developing. I talked to Taz, a Comte milk producer, who uses only the Montbeliard breed, and he said you can’t tell a Montbeliard, you have to ask her – they are always the curious ones, even as crosses. If a heifer is out, or the wrong side of the fence, she’ll have a white face, the marker from a Montbeliard sire.
CHEESE - I’ve just come back from Washington DC, taking our cheese there. I really love meeting people who know and love our cheese, often that I’ve never met. We make it on our farm here in Newton St Cyres, and there are people in New Orleans, California, Vermont, Chicago, Florida, Oregon, Texas who know Quicke’s – I find that wonderful, extraordinary - meeting across the ocean. Really interesting, as well, to taste some very interesting new American artisan cheeses. I’m seeing what it is that we do, speaking to these acute observers of cheese. Our cheese will always have the complexity and length of flavour you expect from a traditional cheese, with the traditional starters, hand cheddaring and cloth wrapping and natural rind. The other traditional cheddar makers are men, who maybe like an assertive flavour that hits you between the eyes. Our flavour has creaminess, even butterness, and balance – I’m a girl, I don’t like being beaten up on the way to pleasure. I value a flavour that unfolds, allures, seduces you, is there developing when the cheese has left your mouth, going on and on with different layers, but never bitter or over acid.
PRIZES - Great Yorkshire Show – We won 1st for Goats, which also won the The prestigious Prince of Wales Award for Outstanding Quality, approved by HRH The Prince of Wales, Patron of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society. At Nantwich Internatinal Cheese Show, we won a Gold for Mild Cheddar and Bronze for Mature Cheddar and Hard Goats Cheese.
Great Taste Awards – We’ve won 3 gold stars for both our Vintage Cheddar and our Extra Mature Cheddar, and 1 gold star for both our Mature and our Mild Cheddar – lovely. The 3 gold star cheeses were picked up from the farm by helicopter to take 36 of the 3 gold star winners to a dinner in aid of Action For Hunger, plus an amazing puffball I found as the helicopter was landing, and a little donation from us, great cause!
RECIPE - Lee Smith, editor of the beautiful magazine Cheese Connoisseur is great pairing cheese with various drinks. She was telling me about an article she’d done recently pairing cheese with tea, which I was dubious about. Then Harney’s gave me some of their magnificent Singbulli Darjeeling, and by chance I sipped some and tasted our Mature Cheddar at the same time – wow, extraordinary, the balanced astringency and lightness of the tea perfectly complementing the richness of the cheese, each adding to the other. You could do either – serve a little cheese at tea time, or serve tea with your cheese course. Message to self – listen to new ideas, there is a lot of fun to be had.
QUICKES TRADITIONAL FARMHOUSE CHEESES
Newton St Cyres
Devon EX5 5AY
Tel: 01392 851222