The glorious early autumn is now a golden memory, and the dark days gather. The harvests are all gathered in, any unpicked apples a fast rotting slush in the orchards, vegetation dying back in the dank mists. I go out to find the last of the sloes, rose hips and hawthorn berries. Mostly the branches are bare. Young buzzards find their way in the world, still calling to their nest mates before they establish their own territories. The fox cubs, now lithe teenagers, are out hunting. We stood in the fading light, digesting some sad news about a friend. A bold young sparrow hawk, elegant and nimble, scythed between us. Unreasonably but comfortingly, it signified to me that our friend was at peace.
Last year's harvest was the best we've had, across all the crops. That took nurturing the soil structure, good timeliness, and good advice. Our best wheat crop was sown in December, which is much too late. It's best to go for the weather window, when the soil is right, not the text book time.
This year the crops have got off to a good start. Our magic GPS guided system for cultivation and spraying gives some gorgeous even fields. It's very odd to sit in the tractor as it steers itself. You just have to remember to turn it round at the end of the field, then watch it steer back to the right place. You use less seed and inputs - nothing gets covered twice or not at all, saving money and bare ground.
We do leave some skylark plots, deliberate gaps so skylark chicks, with their fluffy feathers, can find somewhere dry away from overhanging leaves. The tilled crops develop that look of shot silk, as the new crop starts to show up as a weft against the warp of the soil.
The grass that has grown vigorously through the the autumn gives plenty to eat, even though the growth now slows down. The cattle are on their last round, to eat it down so the residue will store safely through the forecast cold winter till early spring. Too long and the proud stalks become a sad mess. Actively growing healthy young leaves can shake frost off.
The heifers are visiting the further reaches of the farm. Even the youngest calves, born just in August, are on their travels. We give them sheltered fields and a little TLC in the form of some breakfast cereal. It's important they don't have to graze too tight. As they grow up, they will develop immunity to intestinal worms, and it's important not to ask them to get too close to the soil as they graze till their resistance develops.
Their sisters, a year older, are now, like their mothers, revving up to see the bull. There is lots of busy bulling, jumping on top of a hot friend, both parties with a blissful look in their eyes. It's to signal to the bull action is required. To begin with, they'll get the arm of the AI man up one orifice to feel where exactly to apply the semen in the other orifice. Unlike natural service, where nature provides hundreds of thousands of sperm, each lady gets a few thousand of the vital ingredient. It's important it lands delicately in the fertile horn of her uterus. A little needs to go not such a long way. A heifer will get in calf nine times out of ten, if we've got everything right.
Their mothers, the autumn calving milking cows, are also hot to trot, despite producing the most milk. For them, the watery, sun-deprived November grass needs a little jazzing up to enable them to produce rich milk suitable for cheese making as well as contemplate pregnancy. That's where a little silage comes in. This year we mixed a little wheat feed (bran and wheat germ left over from producing white flour) in when we made the grass silage, then piled the maize on top, mixed up with some rapeseed meal (left over from crushing vegetable oil). This melange will make an easy balance to the grass without having to dash around mixing it up for the cows when we are busy with serving.
The spring cows are heavily pregnant, and still grazing night and day. They really can't be bothered to come in for milking. We tempt them in with a little cereal, just as parlour bait, but they look at us with their great eyes as if to say 'must I'? Just a little longer, my beauties. They would get too fat for their and their calf's good if they dried off now. Their milk is very rich and concentrated, making a good balance with the autumn calvers' milk.
That's what it's all for - to make the perfect milk for cheese. We watch - is the milk grainy or fatty or just perfect.
We chat daily between cows and cheese.
The right milk makes it easier to get the right curd - rich and not greasy, firm and not hard, moist and not wet. All of those physical things show the right balance to have the cheese mature with flavours that are complex, balanced and enduring on the palate, a joy on the cheeseboard.
Then we must get the cheese into its muslin cloth, to lose moisture and grow its mould garden, with controlled cheese mite trimming the excess mould, like so many busy gardeners.
Our microflora gives a distinctive horseradishy note under the rind. The moisture loss gives a nutty flavour half way to the centre, and gives sharper, buttery notes in the middle of the cheese. The joys of life on the wedge!
We start to send out cheese for Christmas, and we hear how sales are going for Thanksgiving in America. We pack the different flavour and age profiles for different customers. It's a busy time, and satisfying to see our cheese, that started life as so many blades of grass, go on its travels.