MARY'S DAIRY DIARY - NOVEMBER 2010
I'd like to introduce Mary Quicke, of Quickes Traditional Farmhouse Cheeses in the UK. She's been generous enough to share the beautifully-written updates she sends from Devon, where her family has farmed for more than 450 years. —Will
MARY'S DAIRY DIARY - NOVEMBER 2010
November has dark evenings when we can still remember the light ones, leaves are whirling off the trees when we can remember the green of summer, and chilly when the wreckage of summer lies broken all around.
Our amazing local geologist Richard Scrivener told us about the geology of Newton St Cyres. Our rich red valley was left by floodwater scouring ancient desert mountains, Himalayas in their time, rushing down a deep depression left by a huge volcano on Dartmoor empyting the earth. I see our soft land, round hills, fertile fields and lush woods, familiar and lovely, and this wild past makes me feel like a child exploring a strange garden, not knowing what I’ll see.
CROPS - The fields start to tell of next year, in that lovely velvety shot silk effect as the new shoots peep through the freshly tilled soil. The minimum tillage machine leaves a rougher seed bed - you only finely cultivate just that tiny bit where the seed has gone in. If it rains, while the soil is still warm, all the slugs have a feast on the succulent shoots, so we keep a look out and spread slug pellets if we need to. If you are organic, you plough and cultivate finely and press the soil down firmly to stop slugs, a choice between being heavier on the soil and fossil fuels or using chemical control - you pays your money and takes your choice.
The winter farmland birds enjoy our wild bird plots and stubbles, flocks of finches and buntings rising, scattering and setting down again.
CLOVER - On some of our fields surrounded by woods, Coldharbour and Western Coombe, we can’t keep the deer and boar off them enough to grow a sensible arable crop, so we’ve put in grass and red clover that fixes its own nitrogen fertilizer from the air. The wildlife don’t seem to damage it as much - clover is bloating, like beans in the same family, not as sweet as a young wheat plant. It’s looked good all year, and clover makes a lovely soil structure and produces a high protein feed.
CALVES - The youngest calves are tucked up in the barn, in the dry, and we will bring the rest of the heifers, the growing cows, in as the month goes on. We’d like to keep them out as long as possible particularly this year: the hard winter and slow spring used more, and gave less, winter feed than usual, so the heifers grazing outside in kind weather feels just perfect, and who knows what weather we will get. I love to see them out and contented as the leaves come off the trees, I love the oddness of it.
COWS - The spring calved cows stay out longer than the autumn cows. The spring cows are getting late in pregnancy, heavy, mellow, coasting to holiday time, happy to graze the grass that is still lush but not so sweet. The autumn cows are giving their peak milk, and are bulling, their hormones rushing to get in calf again, jumping each other and frisking. To get in calf while they are giving the most milk needs spring grass and sun on their backs, and failing that, silage that time-shifts the warm weather, a nudge of grain and a warm shed. The winter routines start, feeding in the troughs, scraping floors to keep them clean of manure, comfy beds - absorbent and soft paper beds (from recycled paper), on rubber mats (same stuff you find in playgrounds).
CHEESE - The temperature is comfortable in the dairy, warm and moist is pleasant when it’s cold outside. Cheese needs warmth to knit together in the presses, although the heavy work of moving the moulds around is easier a little cooler, so we keep it balanced between people and cheese temperature.
The winter milk is creamier from the silage fed to the autumn cows and richer as the spring cows come to the end of their milking time. To avoid this richness veering to over-acid and harsh flavours, we slow the make down and dry the curd a little by working it with our hands. The feel, look and acidity of the curd tell us what we need to do as we aim to achieve our perfect flavour.
STORE - Our main store is emptying as we get cheese out for Christmas and the cows’ yield of milk slows down for winter. As fast as the cheese leaves, we’ve pulled extra shelves in, so we can forklift all our older cheese from other stores into our magic mite machine, where our mite busting champions (just after they’ve made today’s cheese in the dairy) blow the cheese with compressed air to keep them clean and undamaged.
PRIZES - I’m very proud because we got a prize for almost everything we put into the British Cheese Awards, gold for Extra Mature Cheddar and Smoked, and silver for Goats, Mature Cheddar and Herb Cheddar and bronze for another Smoked and Mild Cheddar.
SHOP - Remember to order cheese by post in time for us to send it to your friends - make up a gift from goods in the shop, or send one of our suggested combinations.
RECIPE - Jane Timlett’s Spinach, cheese and potato pie: Boil potatoes in their skins. Chop onions and crush garlic, sweat in a little Quickes Traditional Whey Butter, add spinach - I find it as easy to cut it with kitchen scissors in the pan once it’s soft. Boil away some moisture, add some cream, season and put into a pie dish. Grate a good layer of Quickes Traditional Mature Cheddar on top, and put the potatoes through a ricer or mouli, to make a top layer. Dab butter and seasoning on top and bake till golden brown.
QUICKES TRADITIONAL FARMHOUSE CHEESES
Newton St Cyres
Devon EX5 5AY
Tel: 01392 851222