The lingering end of winter, and the hopeful start of spring. The strengthening light of the sun, ever higher in the sky, up earlier in the morning and down later in the evening, powers the whole natural world. Catkins stretch and sway, daffodils make a great splash, leaf buds swell and burst. Birds nest, carrying twigs in their beaks, then feed chittering nests. The first baby rabbits, daft and tasty, make their way out under the watchful and hungry eyes of foxes and buzzards.
The deer are now much fewer, enough to be interesting, not so many as to cause excessive damage to crops. The does have bellies heavy with young, the kids will be born by the end of the month.
CROPS – The oilseed rape has come through the winter, the first time we have managed to grow it now the deer numbers are reduced to a sensible number. The pigeons have had their share, and left enough of a crop for us.
The wheat and barley start growing, thickening up. Now we see how well the roots have grown. We put them in with minimum tillage, to maintain soil structure. They are growing in eerily straight lines, sown by the guidance of GPS. That way, the plants all have an equal chance of light, water and feed.
We’ve bought a new tractor (even larger) with the idea that we can till and drill ground in one pass, so minimising the loss of organic matter and disturbance to soil life, structure, and organic matter. It’ll have its first serious outing drilling spring barley this month.
SOIL – What soil likes best is lying undisturbed with roots, fibrous and more chunky, growing through it. The soil sits in a nice crumb structure, and top predator earthworms and the whole ecosystem they rest on develops like a vast city. Disturbing the soil disrupts all this like some city-wide cataclysm. That’s why grass grows so well, especially with clover growing in it, opening it up and feeding it.
GRASS – We watch and wait, welcoming the new shoots, fretting about the cold nights, for the cows are calving, and the best feed for a fresh calved cow is nibble of fresh grass. The finest food to produce a vat full of milk for cheese is a field full of grass. It grows in the warmth, and stalls in the cold. The cows calve, nine months later, warm or cold.
COWS – And we’ve got calves everywhere. The cows’ udders firm up close to calving. We bring those first to calve from their winter quarters, barn or field, and get them settled in their milking quarters. Soon we will have them outside both night and day, but until there is enough grass, we keep them inside at least for the nighttime.
The very first calf born was delightful and lively. I sat down in the pen where she was born, her mother just gone to join the rest of the cows for milking. No playmates—she was the first. She was so curious and bold, coming up to me, racing round and round the pen, cocking her head on one side. I suppose she was exploring the world—the rest of the herd was visible over the low wall. It always seems hard to separate cow from calf; the cows get straight back into the herd, happy to put aside the bother of a little straggler tagging along behind.
It was amazing to see this self-possessed little creature, so young, so confident. She’d already worked out that people mean food. Now she has a pen full of playmates, and has grown so fast in those first few days. She is still friendly and interested, coming up for a quick scratch.
CHEESE – The milk from these cows grazing grass is glorious. Our cows don’t produce so much milk, and what they produce is very rich. It’s a perfect balance of fat, which gives flavour and lusciousness, and protein, which gives the structure and firmness of the cheese.
The milk builds up in the vats, filling them a little fuller each day, making half a cheese or more extra each day. That builds up into extra work, each cheese needing making, cheddaring, milling, moulding, pressing, brining, and dressing, and all that before it gets to the store. Then each cheese needs turning once a week. As the milk rises, the cheese dairy team get more focused&mdash:less time to repair racks or help pack a bit of cheese, or take a turn blowing the racks of older cheese to keep them clean of mite.
In March, we are packing cheese for the little Easter flurry; a later Easter gives a bigger flurry: people are more party-minded with the longer days.
KITCHEN – It’s lovely how well people have supported our Kitchen cafe, through the cold weather, and lovely to welcome new people in. I love it that you can see the grass, the cows and the calves, while eating cheese and meat from the farm, garnished with salads and flowers from my garden. Local—as local as you can get—is our larder.
St Patrick’s Day Lunch: Tuesday 17th March—we have a special menu featuring all those hearty Irish dishes you can make with all our Devon products—book now to avoid disappointment.
We had a lovely pairing of our cheese with some outstanding Creminelli air-dried meats, with Vanessa Chang. Their lovely meats have a complex depth of flavour that really works well with our cheese. Artisan methods give unrivaled complexity and depth, it’s no wonder they pair beautifully.
Calabrese (Southern Italian–style salami, five different types of peppercorns and chili peppers; coarse-grind heritage Duroc pork sirloin and back fat) worked really well with our Hard Goat’s Cheese.
Bresaola (air-dried eye of beef with sea salt, aged 2–3 months), thinly sliced and paired again worked with our Hard Goat’s Cheese and also with our Mature Cheddar.
Both Barolo Salami and Whiskey Salami (High West Distillery Son of Bourye Bourbon Rye Blend they use) was amazing with our Vintage Cheddar.
Coppa Crudo (marbled shoulder) with as much care taken over it as our cheese—Mature Cheddar was a perfect match.
Wild Boar Salami, a mixture of wild boar and pork, seasoned with cloves and juniper for a robust yet sweet flavour—our Vintage hit the spot!