It’s been a glorious golden autumn so far, with enough rain to keep things growing. Here’s hoping for some lovely weather into November to give us some sun before we go into the darkest time of the year. Leaves are coming off the trees. The bones of the landscape and trees get revealed in their stark beauty. I have to keep reminding myself that the darkening days are just how it is and should be, life going down into earth to rise restored next year. By temperament, I hold onto the light and resist the dark. To enjoy it, I take my head torch and see the farm by night. I need to avoid alarming the cattle, and it’s lovely to slip out into the dark and let it envelope you, the natural world alive and beautiful, looking the same and different. Dog foxes bark across the valley, the fallow deer bucks groan their longing for a doe. And it’s surprising how much gardening you can do by head torch.
The autumn sown crops are all safely tucked in and growing, beautiful lines promising fruitfulness, light green against the soil. The grass we’ve sown to feed the soil microflora is growing well. We are experimenting with some high tech New Zealand electric fencing to make it easier to graze, rather than fixed fencing for these fields that are in grass for a couple of years. Adam Brewer came in with his extraordinary hedge cutter that made short work of our overgrown hedges, restoring them to their potential as little jungles that harbour minibeasts and wildlife motorways. If they grow out, they become a long thin wood, without the cover the small creatures need.
Our cows are still grazing, harvesting the grass that exploded out of the ground after the drought finished. It grew lush, and it’s important to graze it to the right level: short enough to hold well over winter, long enough so we have some grass to turn out. The calves and young heifers come in as weather suggest: it’s important they keep growing and cold and wet is harder if you are smaller. They come back into the buildings to eat the summer’s (and autumn’s ) goodness in the way of hay and silage. We bed them on woodchip cut from the woods and hedges. It keeps the animals very clean, and the woodchip gets composted and returned to the land as a fillip of nutrient, organic matter and fungal networks able to kickstart the life in tired arable soils.
The cows are on the ‘last round’; the first field we close up for the winter will be the first one we graze in the late winter, around Valentine’s Day. The milkier autumn cows will come in sooner, as the grass quality reduces as the sun gets lower. That grass is still a good feed for the spring calving cows at the end of lactation. And they will graze right to Christmas Eve, soil conditions allowing.
It’s warm in the cheese dairy. We are making a little less than normal. Some of the retail shops that sell our cheese are struggling with the higher bills: do support them if you can. They support the farmers and producers they buy from. We work to create our natural rinds. We line our cheese moulds with cloth, and these dress them for maturation in fine muslin cheesecloth. That allows for the wonderful differential maturation as the cheese loses moisture at different rates under the cloth and at the heart of the cheese. A whole unique microflora develops on the rind, supported by the cloth, creating a unique flavour that is earthy and horseradishy. We are all learning a lot about how rind works and what you can do to give even more interesting cheese in the Affineur of the Year competition, created by our own Patrick Spinazza, where people are maturing the same cheese, including ours, around the country in different ways and learning from each other.
At this time of year it’s smoky all the way with Bonfire Night and open fires. I love the additional flavour the cheese and those smoked aromas from smouldering oak chips from the farm. At the moment, my favourite lunch is leftovers with thin slices of our smoked cheddar cheese from one of those continental cheese scrapers with a quick blast in the microwave to provide gooey delight through the mix. The richness of the cheese and the gentle smoke aroma turns plain leftovers into a feast.