MARY’S DAIRY DIARY - APRIL 2011
April is bright and blowy, warm like summer, cold like winter - plenty of weather. We all cheer up as the days get longer, the light gets brighter, nature fizzes with the wild dance of high spring. Birds everywhere take on the business of breeding, endless feeding. The ravens in the wood on the hillside spend all their time scolding - who? Each other? Badgers are about a lot at night: all ours look healthy, fat: we see the guardian boars, who roam the edge of the territory keeping their families safe. The wild boar sows have piglets, making them off limits: each one producing 6 -12 young. They will defend their young vigorously, so walkers need to keep dogs on leads, you don’t want the dog running back to you with a stroppy mum in hot pursuit.
CROPS - The long cold winter meant the crops took much longer to wake up, but they are away now, the dizzy race for each grain to produce 20 and more is on. Round the world, eyes are on how much grain farmers produce - tyrants tremble on the news of poor harvest, as discontent over food prices spills over to demands for liberty. Our crops look in good shape after the winter, fields looking even, telling of many plants, many grains to come. The first shoots of the spring barley we put in last month are coming through: half the grain, in the ground for half the time, less grain the swop for habitat for birds over winter.
We’ll put maize in at the end of the month, after all but the lightest frost - in the ground for even shorter, but with an amazing ability to grow 15 to 20 tonnes on each acre to feed cows next autumn & winter. Half the year’s light will be gone before the crop harvests most of the sunlight by the leaves meeting in the rows in late June.
The grass at last feels like plenty. So recently, we were wondering where the next blades are to feed the cows to working out which fields have so outstripped the cows that we need to harvest them for silage next month. We will delay the cows’ grazing next year by one week by getting them in calf a week later this year because the grass has grown more slowly after the second cold winter.
COWS - The cows have now almost all calved, just a few left. This is the small break in concentration before the most important time of the year - getting them in calf again. Night checks in the maternity ward stop, catching up on sleep before night checks on who’s hot and who’s not. Already, astonishingly, the cows come bulling, hormones having them frisk around, riding each other. We leave them at least six weeks to get their bodies recovered, and check they have cleaned up after birth before getting them in calf. Nature would have them try much sooner. The autumn calved heifers are already in the mood for love too, but we are spoilsports until they are big enough for birth to be safe, like annoying parents.
The heifer calves were outside, glistening, leaping, playing from very young. We took milk to them, great excitement when the milk bar turns up, shoving and barging to get a teat. We keep order, making sure each has what they need, a bit like at a children’s party.
CHEESE - The cows produce their peak milk, and it is a beautiful milk to make cheese from - a curd with enough strength from the protein to made a good body to the cheese, enough fat for richness and flavour, and the complexity from the grazed grass to give layer after layer of flavour. I love round richness, layers of flavour that allure you rather than beat you up, the rich lusciousness of our beautiful Devon valley coming through wherever you eat it.
It’s hard work now, our peak of milk as the cows reach their peak six weeks after calving, hard for cows to produce the milk and cheesemakers to turn it into cheese. Extra milk means extra cheese, all to be made, cheddared, milled, salted, moulded, scalded, dressed, and taken to store, and turned carefully every week until it’s old enough to be turned less often. Our cheesemen do a great job, taking as much care over the torrent of cheese now as with the trickle of cheese we had in January, however much their arms and back ache.
Still we keep on blowing the mite off cheese: they are ready for love by the billions all year round: no let up, even though we’ve plenty of other things to do.
RECIPE - Nettle tops and Mature Cheddar. This time of year lends itself to weeding that ends up on your plate. When you are weeding nettles in the garden, pick off some tender tops, before they start flowering. Wash them, cook in a pan with a little butter and the water that stays with them after washing. Cook till the nettles start braising in the butter. Grate a little Quickes Traditional Mature Cheddar into the pan, let the cheese melt and a little of the moisture now produced go, a twist of pepper, then eat: a tasty vegetable or a nourishing snack after gardening. I leave a small nettle patch in the garden that I cut down after I’ve got the tops to keep me in young shoots. It’s good for wildlife, a good excuse for an untidy garden and an unusual food that complements our cheese.
QUICKES TRADITIONAL FARMHOUSE CHEESES
Newton St Cyres
Devon EX5 5AY
Tel: 01392 851222