MARY’S DAIRY DIARY - JANUARY 2011
We’ve got heaps of snow lying around, how long will we have snow on the ground? We scraped the snow up so we can reach the animals and get to the cheese, making huge piles like disorderly snowmen. I’m old enough to remember 1963, when I was very sad and the grown-ups were inexplicably happy when the snow finally went away in March. My son made a convincing looking igloo by packing snow into a box to make blocks and built them into something big enough for 3 lads to sit in, grinning wider than the doorway.
We can see the tracks of wildlife – deer, boar, rabbits, hares, badgers and foxes. We can see how bold they are, coming right up to the house, deer going between the house and barns. It’s hard for them, and hunger drives them closer. When the snow goes, everything has that battered look, all the food the wildlife rely on deep frozen and thawed.
CROPS - It’s good for crops to be covered with snow, kinder than harsh frost and drying winds, but too long they look sorry for themselves, out of the light. Frost does create a lovely texture in the soil, ‘frost tilth’, a bit like worm casts, friable and open. Frost also drives the slugs and other pests deep down, so everything is in suspended animation.
COWS - We had water frozen for the dry cows grazing on kale. Last year, we spent too much time carting water to them, so this winter, we walked them down to fields where the cows can drink from the river or stream. We take silage to them, but most of the cows had their heads down foraging for grass through the snow, coats woolly and thick. They’ll be starting calving at the end of January, and slowly we’ll bring them in to their pre-calving base in the barn to make sure they have their pre-calving minerals to set them up for calving.
The autumn cows are in the barn, now mostly in calf. They are milking well, giving some really rich milk – last year we made some good cheese from this rich milk by letting the make take its time and handling the curd gently. We keep the milking parlour closed up up at night to avoid frost, but you can still come in at 5 in the morning and find something’s frozen up. The slurry separator gets frozen, and has to be cleared, hoping you don’t get covered (and you do) to keep the slurry moving.
HEIFERS - Heifers are all in the barn, the spring born calves looking better after their IBR – a bad cold and worse. The in-calf heifers are looking good, their sassy boldness modified a little as they start to get slowed down by the calf, their udders developing, the ‘nature’ coming into them, their udders starting to look the part, ‘a lovely little vessel in the making’ as Terry Hamlyn, a well-known local auctioneer, would put it if they were in his sale ring.
CHEESE - Mostly the cheese dairy keeps free of frost with all the warm curds and whey, just the odd valve in the roof that sticks. People have been great, walking in to make and pack cheese, helping each other out. January is the one month of the year where the milking cows don’t graze, but the rich milk gives a lusciousness that is very pleasing.
We are looking at the flavour of our cheese and how people view us. I have this picture of our flavour, which is ‘creamy at the front, developing into a complex balanced flavour, with a long finish’. Everything we do is to provide that: I see it as always accessible but developing in interest and complexity as you let it dwell on your palate, but never getting bitter or aggressive in flavour, like a beautiful wine, not like a peaty whisky that may be magnificent but take a bit of getting used to.
The normal age of our mature cheddar is seasonally at its youngest, as we move through the lower months of make last year, before we get into last spring’s grass-fed flush of milk. It’s still well over 12 months of age, and a stronger contract with our Extra Mature Cheddar.
RECIPE - Café Coco’s Swede and Mature Cheddar Soup: I had this soup at a chilly lunchtime in Oxford, and Café Coco were delighted with how easy it is to make, boiling giving the same result as roasting the veg., and was completely delicious and filling with some bread & butter. Boil up skinned swede chunks, onion and a bit of potato in stock or add a stock cube. Season and whiz up when soft. Grate some Quickes Traditional Mature Cheddar and serve hot with bread a butter for a satisfying lunch or first course.
Newton St Cyres
Devon EX5 5AY
Tel: 01392 851222