Mary's Dairy Diary - April on The Farm


Wild garlic, bluebells, cow parsley; the fields, the hedges and the woodlands shout, "It's spring".  The answering world shouts back: baby rabbits, born to delight the buzzard sitting on the branch, in turn feeding his young.  The house martens come back one day, and the insects that dance in the air disappear, hoovered up by their swoops cross crossing the sky.  Every bird looks busy, nest building or finding food to support the family.  The sun is strong, the days get long, and the world breathes out after the long days of winter.

CROPS
Maize crops on Home Farm in Newton St CyresThe crops start growing, green and thriving replacing that grey yellow of leaves that have suffered cold and lived to tell the tale.  Those leaves sit down below the vigorous new growth.  In time they wither, become brown remnants; and they fed the plants in the harsh days.  Now first the barley then the wheat start to cast up the stalks on each plantlet that will carry the ear, more like a fat leaf at this point with a secret sweet heart, a little embryo ear.  All of the spring's growth nurtures and cherishes this one core, hidden in sweet folds of young leaves.

We plough and drill the maize, the one crop that benefits from that deep working of the soil, warming the soil to depth.  It's such a heat loving plant, we have to give it all the help it can get.  If the weather is right, we'll drill it an be rewarded with those beautiful pale green leaves luminescent against our rich red soil, rows snaking across the field.

GRASS
The grass now takes off, past that magic day when it grows faster than we can eat it.  Our anxious waiting for warmth to set off growth is now replaced almost overnight by working out which fields we should cut so the cows can keep on top of the rest.  Stalky may look more, but it's a lot less sweet and nutritious, so we want to keep as much of the grass as we can leafy and rich.

CALVES
Calves feedingThe calves are out, rejoicing in grass, evening light, each other, the milk trailer: anything delights them, any excuse to dash from one end of the field to the other, round and round, chasing each other and anyone who turns up.

YOUNG STOCK
The teenagers are nearly as lively, and quite alarming as they skip and plunge and buck - now weighing a quarter of a tonne.  You walk down the hill, and the girls thunder towards you, the ground shaking as dozens of them think you're worth exploring.  You hope they don't skid into into you.  Off they go to the other end of the paddock.  Sit down, and they'll be drawn to you - they seem fascinated by how people change shape.  They'll come close and sniff, stretch their long rough tongues to curl round anything interesting.

COWS
The cows are now recovered from calving, a great mob efficiently cutting the grass in each paddock, turning it from green to white overnight or between milking. It's amazing how thorough they are.  Not a blade of grass is standing left untouched in the whole paddock.  They are keen to come for milking, for food and to lose that full of milk feeling known well to breastfeeding mums.  They are keen to go out to the field, to harvest another delectable field, then lie down, ruminate and turn it into milk.

CHEESE
The milk just keeps coming.  This spring so far is very milky, the vats filling fuller than for a long time.  We had some heifers calve earlier, and their milk has shot up.  That's great, we need more milk to fulfil demand. That demand is growing, thanks to the reliability of our cheesemaking.

GRADING
Keith grading Quickes CheeseWe bring Keith Plowman, our external grader, in once a month to grade every vat of cheese we made three months ago. He takes a core with a cheese iron, and tests it by appearance, texture, colour and flavour to give an assessment of how we've balanced the fat, protein, moisture and acidity and how that cheese will mature. Our last few gradings have been wonderful, the best we've ever had.  That comes from great milk, and our team of cheesemakers all working together under Malcolm's expert guidance.

Selection - Keith regrades each vat at twelve months old, and we allocate the cheese by its flavour profile: buttery/ caramelly; brothy/ meaty/ umami; sharp / grassy/ oniony; and progressive.  The inimitable Lee Smith, editor of Cheese Connoisseur, had the clarity to provide us with these broad flavour families.  We can then find out which selection each customer wants, and which cheese will age onto Extra Mature or Vintage.  This has been a huge agent of satisfaction for people who buy our cheese, and great to develop our cheesemaking to give the exquisite flavours I can see in my head.



Mary Quicke

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 Calf and mother playing

Graded Cheese

 


 

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