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Mary’s Dairy Diary September 2014

The earth moves to the equinox, days and nights of equal length.  The warmth of summer stays in the sea.  We are 15 miles from the English Channel, and 50 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, so we are wrapped by their warmth like a blanket.  It’s still warm in the day and the air takes on that chill in the mornings, and mist curls up from warm fields into cool air.  The shift in the sun provides the signals to the whole of the natural world to start hunkering down for the lean time.  Fruit pours from orchards and hedgerows. Creatures stop breeding and rearing, and fatten up.  Leafy plants stop the race to seed, and grow leaf to catch the sun to feed the roots. 
I watched, fascinated, to see a thrush pick up a snail and bash it against a stone, sounding almost like a woodpecker in its regularity.  The shell broken, he swung the curled creature free, the movements somehow pre-ordered.  Thrushes have been doing exactly that to snails for millions of years, and will carry on doing it all winter.  The house martens, by contrast, will leave this month.  They had a good summer, and the sky has been full of their acrobatics, catching flies to feed their young.  A fledgling flopped on the grass, puzzled what to do with his legs and unable to get air under his wings.  Up you go, little fella!  I threw him into the air and instantly he fluttered across the valley.  Will he make the journey to Africa?  Will he make it back?  I’m happy that my windowsill won’t have piled house marten calling card on them.  I’m sad that the newly emboldened flies crowd into my house.  We have to keep the curtains closed at night to stop them flooding in.

CROPS  –  We harvest the spring barley, that lower yielding and lower input cousin of winter barley.  We grow it to spread the harvest and also to have stubble over winter to feed all the farmland birds through the lean times. 
We’ll watch the maize, to get the right time to cut the whole plant to fill our silage pits.  It’s been a good year  – enough warmth and enough rain.  We harvest it when the cobs go hard and starchy.  We pile most of it on top of grass silage so we get a good mix of the beneficial fibre of grass silage and the rich starch in the maize.  That’ll do the cows just fine in the depths of winter, when we still want them to produce milk for next Christmas’s cheese and the grass is less rich.

YOUNGSTOCK  –  The heifers look up as you go into their field, wondering if you are bringing food, interest or something they should worry about.  They are starting to get sleek for the winter, shiny coats, the pin bones of their hips on their backs looking rounder and less distinct as the warmth-giving fat covers them.
Young calves, born last month, find their feet.  They become a hilarious gang rushing around, playing, teasing, leaping in the air.  Brett Graham of The Ledbury, one of the world’s top restaurants, visited and had a calf run after him up and down  –  check out our Instagram 
http://instagram.com/quickescheese for the pictures!

COWS  –  Just like us, the cows slow down and get serious as they grow up.  Choosing a career in dairying means sustained work, turning the lush September grass into milk.  The autumn calvers will finish calving this month.  It’s a delight they are able to calve and remain outside, just coming in for milking.  This year has been good for grass growth, warmth and enough wet at the right times to keep the grass moving.  It lovely to watch them, and in particular hear them ripping and chewing the grass, head one side then the other, harvesting thoroughly.  Take one step forward, harvest again.  Take another step, and so on until in 12 hours the paddock turns from grass above your ankle down to a lawn, with just the odd dung pat from the previous grazing they have avoided (I wouldn’t want to put my nose in it either).

CHEESE  –  And the cheese is so good from this balanced milk.  I met a wonderful Korean American cheesemaker, Soyoung Scanlan of Andante Cheese, who had always wanted to make her exquisite soft cheese with English milk, the best in the world, she said.  I offered her to come and make it in our little trial vats.  I can’t wait to see what she makes with it. I’ve always loved September cheese – rich, balanced, cows happy, grass settled back into leaf production.  The dairy is cooler, easier to work.  The humidity in the stores is effortlessly just right, giving a lovely mould garden growing on each cheese.  We select and prepare cheese to send off for Thanksgiving in America, and Christmas in Australia.  Our pastures’ and our cows’ milk gets ready for its adventures around the world.

AWARDS – Over the moon to have received the highest accolade of three gold stars at this year’s Great Taste Awards for our Hard Goats Cheese and one gold star for the Mature Cheddar.

QUICKES FARM KITCHEN  –  In the meantime, I get my garden geared up to grow flowers, herbs and salad leaves for the winter for the house, and for our cafe, Quickes Farm Kitchen.  It’s been lovely sharing my flavoursome, beautiful salads with our guests in the Kitchen.  Most people have been eating them all – thank you, that shows great trust in me and our chefs Deborah and Tomasso, to be eating such a wide range of plants, about 50 or so that make up the salads.  I keep up the flow through the year – it’s lovely to have fresh stuff break through richer autumn food.

APPLE DAY – We are hosting our third annual ‘Apple Day’ Food Fair Sunday 19th October. The food fair is a lovely celebration of local food, cheese and the Autumn season. There will be a hog roast and to help wash it all down – spiced mulled cider and local ales. We hope that many visitors will join us and enjoy the variety of activities that will be taking place throughout the day.

Mary Quicke

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