I was watching the house martens gathering on the telephone line, chatting away. One came back from the wood, and there was a murmur through them. They all took off in a flock, darting, swooping, scything over the trees, even flying in under the leaves. It looked like the one was a scout, reporting back that the flies were particularly fat, juicy and plentiful in the wood. Too soon they gather on the wire for the last time, and are gone until the spring. The house is suddenly still, quieter, and the insects return, made bold now they are no longer being harvested to feed chicks. It’s an end of summer moment when they go.
The house martens bred well this year; a lot more will leave for Africa than came. Other birds did well this year here: we had two barn owl chicks fledged, and it has been difficult for them elsewhere. We heard the distinctive wail of young kestrels begging for food. Our mix of farmland and woodland, and this season, easier than last year, has worked for them.
Plenty is all around us, the hedgerows and orchards rich with fruit, and we bring in the harvest. The season has been such a mix – cold and wet till April, then hot and dry: now what? We check our stores – will we have enough to feed the cows through the winter? The maize loved the heat, where last year it shivered in the cold. This year, it should put on a third of its bulk in September, storing the last of the summer’s sun for the winter. This year, the grass was slow to start growing and quick to stop as it burned off in the heat. We will make a little more grass silage this month if the rain penetrates to the roots. We will need it to dilute the maize silage. Too much maize and the milk gets too white and the curd too hard and brittle for what I’m looking for. Mostly we will use it to give a little summer richness to the cows as they graze the grass deep into the winter and in early spring, where it will be diluted with the green stuff. We are growing fodder beet for the first time for a while. It chased the water down, and is starting to sit in remarkable towers of feed with its little topknot of leaves – extraordinary that those leaves have filled that fat root. Badgers are drawn to fodder beet’s rich sweetness. We will fence them off the fodder beet where we plan to outwinter the cows.
The autumn cows have calved. Milk is a beautiful balance for cheese, and the cows are recovering well from calving, returning to their shiny-coated well being soon. The grass came back just in time to keep them going, just like the spring.
It is lovely to see another generation of beautiful calves find their feet and follow the milk bar, associating people with food for their whole lives. Adam saw some yearlings processing across the barley into the woods one evening last month, and could just call them back into the field. They got food, but not the half remembered glory of the milk bar. Perhaps they were fed up with the prickly awns of the barley, just like the deer, and wanted some soft grass to eat. It turned a breakout into the woods into a short and manageable excursion.
I think September cheese is some of my favourite – milk settled, rich from the grass with good amounts of clover, and well balanced with enough fibre in the grass and enough sugar from the still-warm sun. The work is less demanding, too, as the days cool. Our amazing team of cheesemakers maintain all the work required to make the cheese just so when the temperatures soar, but it’s easier when temperatures are sensible. The stores keep less dry too; easier to keep the cheese just so while maturing. Our photovoltaic panels have been giving us electricity, and also keeping the sun off the main store roof, a double benefit.
At The Great Taste Awards, we received 3 gold stars for Vintage, and 1 gold star for Raw Milk Cheddar. Vintage also won a place in the Great Taste Top 50 Foods. In addition, we picked up Gold for our Mature and Ewes Milk Cheddar at the Taste of the West Awards, as well as Silver for our Extra Mature and Raw Milk, plus Bronze for our Oak Smoked Cheddar.
Quince Cheese with Quickes Traditional Mature Cheddar.
My quince trees have had a marvellous year, their boughs dripping with golden fruit. The quinces don’t last well in store, so I harvest them as they come ripe. I core them, take out the gritty bit close to the core, and boil them to a soft puree, then mouli them to take out the skin. It’s only when you add the sugar, in really alarming quantities, that the aromatic richness of the quince is revealed. I freeze it by the litre container, to bring out through the winter. To some puree, I add as much sugar as you would for a jam, equal in weight to the puree, and let it dry in racks on silicon sheets, over the Rayburn or in the airing cupboard, or in the lowest oven possible, 50oC if you can do it, hotter and it will caramelize, and I prefer it not. When it becomes a jelly I can handle, I cut it into cubes and shake it with yet more sugar. Dry it further, and serve with your cheeseboard or give it as lovely home made sweetmeat for lovely & unusual Christmas presents.
I met Bethany Keuter in Atlanta, selling coffee at Wholefoods. She’s hoping to go to Oregon with Wholefoods to sell cheese there, and said that our cheese pairs really well with a full-bodied Colombian coffee. That’s a new take on the cheeseboard. Nibble Quickes Traditional Mature Cheddar with the quince cheese with a single estate Darjeeling tea or Colombian coffee for a mellow end to a September supper.