MARY’S DAIRY DIARY - DECEMBER 2011
What an extraordinarily mild and glorious autumn! Now we are due some cold in December, but was it the most beautiful autumn ever? Or is every autumn that gorgeous if you stop and stand and stare? The hedgerows are still weighed down with the richest sloe harvest, the fattest haws, the brightest hips. The warm autumn meant grass kept growing, even my lettuce in the garden thinks it’s spring. Each frost singes the sappy growth, but everything has thrived: deer look sleek and fat, ready for the winter.
CROPS - the orderly lines of next year’s crops come up, those lovely green skeins across the rich soil. The warm weather has had them race on – I saw some wild charlock flowering on someone else’s field in Devon looking like rape. Our stubble fields have greened up nicely, providing good cover for flocks of birds that rise up as you walk skylarks with their piercing voices, reminding you of all the unseen lives that depend on our activities. We check to see if everything is tucked up for the winter. Now is a good time to deal with weeds, before they get too big and bold and bad and outcompete the crops next spring. We wait for a dry spell, then weed with something that is specific to those plants and hurt as little as possible else.
GRASS - soft sappy growth, still growing as long as it stays warmish. Until the frosts come, it takes on an intense green that if you really take it in is astounding – imagine having your walls painted that colour – it’s all around us, but has just faded into the background, we are so used to it. The grass is short of sun, so is less nutritious than conserved crops, although still more nourishing that straw, and much healthier for animals to be out grazing as long as possible.
COWS - now the spring cows start going on their winter holidays, exploring the far reaches of the farm, into all that bright green. I find it a lovely sight – cows contentedly grazing in the low light of winter. We are still serving the autumn calved cows. They were a bit slow to begin with, until we realized that all the green stuff was less fruity-making than its colour promised – the girls needed a little buck-up from the cookie jar (the cake bin) to find the bull interesting. Who said it was just the way to a man’s heart through his stomach?
HEIFERS - we’ll keep them out as long as possible. I saw a neighbour’s farm – Peter Wastenage, at Budleigh Salterton, who keeps his heifers and calves out all year, just moves them often so they don’t pug up the ground. They looked very healthy and happy – something for us to think about. We’ve always felt we need to bring the young ones in to make sure they grow on enough. As he pointed out, a lamb is much smaller but you expect them to keep out all year. He does make sure they have milk for a good long time to keep them warm on the inside.
CHEESE - some lovely compliments on the quality of the cheese, some from around the world – this newsletter makes its way, along with the cheese, around the world, and then people tell me how the cheese is tasting – lovely to hear that, please tell me, because it’s so supportive to us as we toil away on the farm. My aim to make world class cheese enjoyed around the world, and it’s lovely to hear when we achieve that.
We’ve been working on the balance, length and complexity of all the cheeses. We’ve been adding the salt differently on our Double Gloucester and Red Leicester. The salt used to get washed out as it is a more moist cheese, leaving low salt which allowed bitter flavours to develop. Now we add the salt in stages, and find that it stick better, allowing the lovely citrusy flavours of these cheeses to develop. We are also very excited by the raw milk cheddar, which we are now making with Cornish Sea Salt – it gives a particular sparkly interest at the end of the flavour. The sea salt is more expensive, but we are selling it at the same price to allow people to try it out for themselves, but we will have to bring the price up soon.
SHOP - Send a taste of the farm - check the website www.quickes.co.uk and go to the online shop (UK delivery only). Orders will need to be placed with us by Tuesday 20th December to be able to guarantee delivery by Christmas.
RECIPE - I grew a lot of little squashes this year, now looking pretty on windowsills around the house, like overgrown Christmas decorations. I slice the tops off, take out the seeds and replace the top as a lid. Stand it on a eggcup in a container to contain any spills. I've been and microwaving them till tender (five minutes for a little one). Then I grate Quickes Traditional Mature Cheddar into the cavity, a dab of cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper and put back in the microwave until it is gooey and delicious inside (not too long). You can bake it in an oven with the filling from the start if you aren't impatient (goes a rich colour), but it makes a quick treat in the microwave. You can spoon it out of the squash onto plates, or very little ones, serve one per person and eat like an overgrown and luscious egg.
QUICKES TRADITIONAL FARMHOUSE CHEESES
Newton St Cyres
Devon EX5 5AY
Tel: 01392 851222