MARY’S DAIRY DIARY - JANUARY 2012
I always think of January as cold, wet and dark, the weary start of the hundred hungry days to Easter, when there is little keep for man or beast, and we all live off our reserves (or the shops, if you are human). Then you get one of those dazzling days of sunshine, low rays picking out every detail, bright yellow gorse with its coconut scent, bright red rosehips, a bright blue sky, warm in the sun out of the wind if you’ve enough layers on. Even on the coldest and wettest day, moths dance in torchlight in the woods. The little fallow hind I met in the road looked fat and prosperous after a kind autumn. I saw a raven delicately nibbling a crab apple, then flying off with it in its beak.
CROPS - the field we got to too late to drill to winter barley is turned over ready for spring barley in the spring. We are growing more barley because the deer dislike its spiky awns on the ear, so we hope to reserve a bit more to us, not keep the deer quite so fat, but it’s less happy with damp feet than wheat. We’ve put oilseed rape in fields less prone to deer, but it does seem to draw them in, and they track their way through fences and hedges and banks. It’s well established, but it will be a fight to keep enough uneaten to get a reasonable crop.
GRASS - the fields we grassed to keep buried archaeological remains from being damaged by cultivation are coming along well - looking bright green and healthy in a dun landscape. We’ve just brought in the last of the dry cows and yearling heifers. They looking like furry mountain cows, the calves got called ‘the fur balls’: they didn’t look like dairy animals. They were happy and self sufficient just getting grass, not really interested in people (no food). But now everyone is inside, that rustle of hooves on bright straw, suddenly people are interesting as we come bearing gifts of food.
Now at the tender soil, lowest grass growing time of year, we preserve the grass for the magic time next month when we start calving and life bursts forth again in that annual miracle. We hold our breaths, get on with the inside work of feeding and bedding up, brace ourselves for the cold snap that always comes - how long, how cold? The days get perceptibly longer, but we are a long way before the weather follows the sun.
COWS - Milk is the best we’ve had for cheese at this time of year. We’ve got our minds round feeding for the milk to make the best cheese. Our carefully bred Friesian x Swedish Red x Montbeliard cows give a happy shape of fat and protein for our cheese. The good fertility of these crossbreds means we’ve now got enough autumn cows not to have spring cows milking on to give late lactation milk which is high and weak fat, giving a more fatty cheese.
CHEESE - Curd feels lovely in the vat, firm to the feel, not too fatty on the outside. Looking forward to grading this cheese! We still have lower amounts of milk. We are making truckles, little cheeses that are fiddly , now we can give them the attention: next Christmas is already well under way. In the store and packing, we can catch up with work that got left in the rush to get this Christmas’s orders out - we had a late flurry, after a slow start. If shops had a good Christmas, they start ordering sooner rather than later, and that seems to have already started. In a mad world for politics and economics, we can all take a bit of comfort in a lovely bit of cheese!
I’m very proud that Charlie Turnbull of Turnbull’s Deli and Café in Shaftesbury called our Vintage Cheddar ‘genius cheese’, and Owen Davies of Cheese Cellar reported that in their tastings of our Ewes’ Milk Cheese and Vintage came at the top, and we ‘can do no wrong’. Thanks for letting us know, it’s really great and supportive of our work to know it’s appreciated.
RECIPE - Jo Mason of Rowcliffe, that great supporter of artisan cheese, gave me this recipe for Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes. She grilled grated Quickes Traditional Smoked Cheddar on roasted Jerusalem artichokes. She scrubs them clean then roasts them in the oven in a medium heat, sprinkled with a little olive oil and pepper. When tender, she grates the Smoked Cheddar over them and grills for a few minutes till melted and just browning. They can make you air-borne (a bonus for some people) but the flavour is worth it.
HAPPY NEW YEAR - may your cheeses be rich and gorgeous, and a good friend to you and yours whatever the year ahead holds for you.
QUICKES TRADITIONAL FARMHOUSE CHEESES
Newton St Cyres
Devon EX5 5AY
Tel: 01392 851222