April is the cruelest month, the poet said. It’s full of new life and new beginnings. That’s hard for the old and the sick, whose sap does not rise, nor their hearts leap with the new life. My mother died last month. She was happy to go, and her last view was of the trees coming to life and the birds at the feeders we put outside her window. Alongside being an artist and mother of 6 children, she reintroduced cheese onto the farm, built the cheese dairy in the early 70’s and ran it till I came back to the farm in the mid 80’s. All of our values come from my mother and father, and they live on in how we operate every day.
This spring is so beautiful and poignant. Sun and rain drive growth, every day noticeably longer than the last. The leaves unfurl, the blackthorn blossoms, the hedgerow more riotous with each successive day. The birds get busy with their broods, carrying food back to the nest to feed their insistent chicks. The woodland floor explodes with wild garlic, then bluebells. We’d love your photographs for our Spring Photo Competition, check it out on our website www.quickes.co.uk .
On the farm, the spring barley we drilled last month emerges, the leaves contrasting with the soil like shot silk. We spread slurry and manure. The slurry comes from our lagoon, diluted with rainwater. It sinks into the ground, nutrients feeding the plant roots to grow the leaves that feed the animals in that lovely perpetual motion machine.
Grass grows, shyly early in the month, then gathers pace as the soil temperature warm up, until it outstrips the hungry mouths of cattle. The pasture turns from shortage to plenty in nature’s magical bounty.
As the weather warms, we send the younger animals out to graze. The newborn calves need milk and a little protection from the elements, and even they nibble the tender shoots, gaining the appetite for their lifetime feed. They explore and play, inviting games when you turn up. Sit down and they’ll come and sniff you. Run and they’ll follow, leaping and kicking for the sheer joy of being alive.
Their mothers are settling into milking fed by the delicious grass. They go out hungry after milking, graze for a couple of hours, lay down and ruminate sociably with their friends, get up to spread manure, catch a few more mouthfuls of grass, sit down again, must be time for milking, amble back to the parlour for a milk and a snack, out to the field again, have an evening meal, have a snooze, perhaps a midnight feast if you are peckish, a bit more sleep and digesting, then in for morning milking. This gentle routine is broken up every 21 days by the urgent desire for a bull. All the spring cows have had their calf, and nature urgently requires them to fill the gap. We deny them the chance until their bodies have had some time to recover next month. The cows are frisky, flirting and practicing with each other.
Their milk is frisky, telling the story of the pastures in the gentle grass-fed aromas that rise from the vats of warm milk, and then from the cheese as we taste it. We’ve been doing a little work on how the flavours of our cheese unfold over time, in our Flavour Mapping Project. The video about our Flavour Mapping Project is on our website. Just as the flavour of our cheese alters from the heart of the cheese to under the rind, it alters over time on your palate. We’ve had a lot of fun distinguishing which flavours come up when. It’s a characteristic of all handmade foods that you get this unfolding of flavour on your palate.
We’re indebted to the Academy of Cheese in its Structured Approach to Tasting for encouraging us to think more deeply about the flavours that arise in cheese. If you want to explore more about all things cheesy, we are running online Academy of Cheese Level 1 courses. It’s the opportunity to taste and find out about 25 different cheeses, there are more details on our website. The courses are now being studied in 49 different countries. Love of cheese is global!
I loved this recipe inspired by Delicious magazine for hot cross buns toasted with bacon and Quicke’s Mature Cheddar. Grill bacon rashers. Grill the cut surface of halved hot cross buns, ideally without candied peel. Put a slice of Quicke’s Mature Cheddar in each bun, and grate more cheddar over the top, grill till the cheese is melted. Pop the bacon back in each bun. Enjoy for an Easter snack.