MARY’S DAIRY DIARY - OCTOBER 2011
Autumn is really here. The high winds, residues of American hurricanes, have let us know summer has gone. Now the gathering dark in the mornings & evenings shows we are on the long switchback journey down to the shortest day. The consolation prize is those bright autumn days of colourful leaves vivid in the sunshine, every sunlit detail highlighted by the shadows as the sun gets lower in the sky.
There’s still plenty in the hedgerows and orchards. The summer birds left late, our house martens chattering, endlessly discussing the coming journey in the warmth, darting around harvesting flies, but they’ve finally gone. The little fox cubs in the lane are now bold young foxy gentlemen, confident and deadly, fattening on the ever-daft rabbits. The woods echo to fallow bucks’ roaring pursuit of does. I’m glad our badgers are looking healthy, even chubby. We welcome the government’s resolution to deal with the scourge of TB in wild and farmed animals and will look to vaccinate to keep our badgers healthy, as we can’t vaccinate our cows. Healthy badgers police their territory and keep out unhealthy badgers, outcast from their setts.
CROPS - We have sown oilseed rape, the first time for a while, it’s up and growing in the moist warm soil. Now we’ve got to keep the deer off it, as they love the whole cabbage family. We are growing more winter barley, as Adam noticed that while our ripening wheat was hammered by deer grazing, the barley seemed untouched - they don’t like those hard whiskery awns that stick in the back of your throat if you’ve ever tried nibbling barley ears. Most wheat ears are soft and papery, just the thing for a deer snack.
Grass grows fast in the last of the warmth, stocking up the grass that will keep the cows grazing as late into the winter as we can manage. It’ll keep growing until frosts come and chill the ground, giving fresh grass to flavour the milk and keep the cows out. We work out which are the first fields to stop grazing , which will be the first fields to turn the cows out to graze in February. So oddly enough, we shut up the driest fields first, because those will be the easiest to use at that difficult time of year, so important to getting the cows out early and getting the grazed grass flavour into the milk.
COWS - The autumn calved cows are settling into milking, just at that frisky stage where they’ve recovered from calving and are letting us and their herd mates know that they are in to gentlemen callers, please. They practice on each other this month. We watch to make sure everyone is ready for serving next month. Left to themselves, they would try to get back in calf immediately, but we wait until at least 6 weeks to let their innards settle down.
The calves come in first out of the wet and cold, then each group of animals by age. We’ll sort them out by size and how fast we want them to grow - we can let a few of the smaller heifers coast on to calve at nearly two and a half, rather than having them calve under two years. They need to be big enough, or the calf can damage them, so we check who will make the correct weight for serving, and feed accordingly. Our animals are fertile as they are cross-bred, and we don’t push them too hard, so we also have some to spare to sell.
CHEESE - Milk tends to rise in cream at this time of year, so we work the curd to keep the fat and the moisture down to keep the richest and most complex flavours. The temperature is not too hot for the cheese or the people, and not too cold to chill the curd. Our cheese stores stay a good steady temperature, so cheese can get on with the good steady job of maturing.
With a lot of hard work, our stores are looking perfect - just the right mould growing on the rinds, the right humidity and cheese mite free. I’m proud of how the cheese looks, and proud of the flavours as we send them off on their travels across the world.
PRIZES - September was a classic month for prizes - we won the prestigious Best Speciality Producer in the Great Taste Awards, showing that we have consistently over the years put award winning cheese in over and over again. At the Frome Cheese Show, we also won the Best Traditional Cheddar for our Mature Cheddar, and our Extra Mature also won a Gold, and the Best Goats, Buffalo and Ewes Milk Cheese for our Hard Goats Cheese. Our Ewe’s milk cheese won a Gold. At the British Cheese Awards, Stuart Dowle won Cheese Personality of the Year, Mild Cheddar won Best Cheddar, Goats won Best Export Cheese, as well Gold for Vintage, Silvers for Mature Cheddar and Double Gloucester and Bronzes for Ewes Milk Cheese and Extra Mature Cheddar.
RECIPE - I met the gorgeous Madam Fromage at the American Cheese Society Festival, who does wonderful cheese blog. She sent me this sandwich made with our cheese in the Wedge and Fig in Philadelphia: http://madamefromage.blogspot.com/2011/08/wedge-and-fig.html
She said: “I am not the sort of person who can walk by a cheese shop without going in. That’s what led me through a red door to discover the perfect sandwich: Quickes Cheddar, Marmite, avocado, and watercress pressed into a crusty baguette.
At Wedge and Fig, a new cheese shop and cafe in Philadelphia's Old City, this is called The Ex-Pat. It could also be called The Diary of Mary Quicke, after the British cheesemaker who makes this gorgeous clothbound cheese on her family's 450-year-old farm and blogs about it.”
QUICKES TRADITIONAL FARMHOUSE CHEESES
Newton St Cyres
Devon EX5 5AY
Tel: 01392 851222