MARY’S DAIRY DIARY - JUNE 2011
June is rich and luscious, leaves dripping from the trees, all new unfurled and perfect. Everything has a prosperous look. The badgers scuttle away from us every time we go down the lane at night, fat and mercifully healthy looking. The red hinds feast on the broad flag leaves of wheat, with the sweet ears just emerging. They are so well fed that they are inattentive, and jump out almost on top of us out of the hedge. I scramble up the hedge to see a herd of 40 hinds looking at me indignantly and quizzically wondering why I disturb their feast. They seem to know that it’s the close season and trot over the skyline in an orderly formation: I can smell them on the wind, there are so many of them, so they are still grazing just out of sight.
CROPS - the wheat ears are flowers first, pouring pollen out into the wind. Heavy rain at pollination can mean a poor set of seed, but there is so much pollen and usually some dry weather in the critical few days in Wimbledon week (a landmark for wheat as well as tennis) to fill the ears well. Then the flower starts filling – it looks exactly like a full green ear of wheat except it is stalky not starchy. It fills first watery ripe, then milky, then doughy then cheesy towards the end of the month depending on weather. The flag leaf, the one that waves in the wind, is the main motor receiving the sun’s energy. The dry weather is keeping it healthy and clean of mould, although deer are chewing away at them. The crops always look magnificent and thriving now, only later as the plant ripens do we see if the luscious growth results in harvestable grain - will we get enough rain to fill the grain - we’ve had more than other people. This year the crops are worth more money, and it has cost us more to grow, so we watch and wait anxiously. Wheat looks expensive, although it’s only half again what it was when I started farming in the early 80’s – most things have gone up 5 or ten times as much or more, think about a pint of beer or a gallon of petrol or a house.
Our maize is looking good - the plants go from looking small and chilly to growing almost visibly as we get into summer, leaves meeting across the broad rows.
GRASS - we’ve cut all our grass silage, winter feed, and we anxiously wait for rain to push on grass growth. The cows are eating more because we are really pushing to see how much milk and what quality for cheese we can get just from grass, with very little else. So we are eating the grass that formerly we made into silage, so we have to keep kicking ourselves to remember the emptier silage pits would just contain the silage we would be feeding next year at this time if we didn’t trust the grass as much. But now the grass growth has slowed up with no rain.
COWS - The cows look well on this tighter regime. The August calving cows are just coming to the end of milking, and we are using them to tidy pastures up, instead of mowing it tidy – better the grass is in a cow’s belly. I walked across a grassy field to one they were tidying up and they clustered around the gate, asking politely but insistently if they could go and have some of that nice grass please. But just like people, calving is easier if you aren’t too fat, so I had to equally politely tell them they couldn’t have it, it’s odd to see a herd of cows collectively look disappointed.
The spring calvers are now about half or more in calf, by the end of June they will be mostly in calf, and we will put the bulls in to catch the last few shy ones. Very fast the furious frolic of mating gets much quieter.
Calves are now growing in confidence, coats shining as they settle into grazing. Their big sisters, a year older, half grown, are just now at long last seeing Mr Bull, and just like a gorgeous man with a group of teenagers, he becomes the centre of attention. We hope lots are already in calf to a dairy bull, but for ease of handling, for the real thing, we use an Angus bull, so the calves will be very tasty.
The milk now settles into a lovely clovery balance, and more clover comes into the sward and it starts flowering – I like to think you can even taste the clover, but I may be adding that idea in to the flavour.
CHEESE - We did an exercise where we looked at our cheese gradings compared with the fat and protein content, and we can now make cheese that makes very well from milk that is a little too fatty or a little too proteiny by carefully adjusting how we make the cheese – cutting the junket finer, or working the curd to keep the right amount of moisture in. But the cheese that was made from the milk of the correct ratio had a perfect quality about it, which showed up particularly in the beautiful ‘candle-like’ appearance of the core we take with the cheese iron that presages a perfect cheese. So we keep to our aim, to have the cows produce the perfect milk for cheese, which always seems easier the more they rely on grass – not surprising as it’s the natural food of a cow.
In the store, we carry on our cleaning of cheese, each one being cleaned all over about once every 4 weeks. All the work is paying off, as we are looking at about one-tenth of the bluing inside the cheese – a huge relief after very damaging levels of internal mould – not bad for you, just not what people expect from our cheese.
PRIZES 2011 -
|Show||Cheese||Award||Devon County Show||Mature Cheddar||1st|
|Mature Cheddar||Best Cheese made in Devon|
|Mild Cheddar||Show Reserve Champion|
|Cheddar with Herbs||1st|
|Hard Goats Cheese||2nd|
|Vanilla Ice Cream||2nd|
|Long Service Awards|
|Stuart Dowle, Graham Woodman, Alan Westwood - 100 years combined|
|Royal Bath & West Show||Ewes Milk Cheese||1st Anthony Rowcliffe & Son Trophy for Best Speciality Cheese|
|Mature Cheddar – best pair of sixteenths||1st|
|Raw Milk Cheddar||2nd|
|Cheddar with Herbs||2nd|
|Hard Goats Cheese||3rd|
Alan Westwood, Mary Quicke, Stuart Dowle, Graham Woodman
RECIPE - Cauliflower Cheese Soup – Montpelier Basement, a supperclub in Bristol (Twitter@MontpelierBsmt) gave me this recipe on Twitter – amazing when your phone gives you a recipe. The amounts serve 4:
I small cauliflower,
1 large potato,
2 garlic cloves,
175g Quickes Traditional Mature Cheddar,
Maldon salt & freshly ground black pepper.
Trim, wash and finely chop the cauliflower, core & all. Peel & finely chop the potato & garlic. Put cauliflower, potato & garlic into a large pan, cover with the milk & put on a low heat. Simmer until the potato is very soft. Add the butter and the cheese and, using a stick blender, blend till totally smooth. Season to taste. Serve with fresh bread for a light lunch or a delicious light first course.
QUICKES TRADITIONAL FARMHOUSE CHEESES
Newton St Cyres
Devon EX5 5AY
Tel: 01392 851222