The natural world closes up, retreats, and sinks down into the detritus of long-gone summer. And then I found a little clutch of grass snake eggs as I was getting compost from my compost heap, attracted by the warmth. I could feel the little grass snakes in the leathery eggs, and fancied I could feel movement. I carefully put them back in the warmest place in the compost heap and hope they will hatch out in the spring.
This is the wettest autumn we’ve had for some time. We haven’t had the devastating floods of the north of England, and it has rained almost every day. We’ve decided to hold off drilling any more crops until after Christmas. If we put the seed in now, it would sit, sulk and rot before it could grow in the cold and the wet. We’ll wait now until the light turns after Christmas, and the seed germinates into improving conditions. I’ve said we are pursuing no-till. We realize that we need to get some of our soils in better condition to use the no till drill. We are putting a grass and clover break and use more manure to get the soil in a good enough state to use the no till drill on some of our more difficult fields. It just reinforces for me how hard arable cropping can be for soils. Soils give arable crops as a gift after they’ve been nourished by a longer term crop, like grass or clover.
We’ve put in some new grass and clover leys on some formerly arable only fields, and it’s like the fields have breathed a sigh of relief, flourishing under the protection and symbiosis of verdant plant growth. The grass and clover will replace maize, a crop that has done us and the cows well over the years. It’s only in the ground April to September and that leaves the soil without growing plants, bare and vulnerable for too long.
The autumn cows are now inside day and night. They are milking well. The first calved heifers had always been a little lighter right from weaning (now we feed the young calves more to make sure they are big enough). I’d been concerned that the smaller heifers might find calving difficult: the calf is the size it wants to be, regardless of the size of the mother. As it happens, they’ve been fine, and have started telling us very clearly they are ready for another calf. We get the vet to check everything is in order if there is any doubt. We will give them light for some of the evening: that will mimic the long day length that encourages cows to breed more readily and help the people when we go to check them at night.
The spring calving cows are at the other end of the breeding cycle, finishing off milking to have a well-earned winter holiday before calving in February and March. We get them used to the fodder beet, sweet roots that stand proud above ground. The cows graze the fodder beet and some silage bales we put amongst the beet. To ease them onto this new diet, we give them a little taste every day now while they are milking so the beet doesn’t come as a shock to their digestions.
The milk settles into its winter phase, with no grazing. It can be a little more fatty, so we adjust the make, and cut the junket a little finer to lose some of the fat into whey butter. The whey is nine-tenths of the milk, and contains maybe ten litres of cream for every thousand litres of milk. It’s been through the cheesemaking process, so it’s got a delicious nutty flavour. We stop the starter bacteria from souring the cream further by heating it up, then we churn it into butter, and roll it into curls for sale. It’s delicious, a Slow Food ‘Forgotten Food’, that’s worth remembering.
A long-standing friend of our cheese, Steve Parker, has just retired from running Hampton Cheese and Wine Company. He’s written a cheesy joy of a book ‘British Cheese on Toast', and features our cheeses in some delicious recipes. This is a good Christmassy recipe while being light and delicious.
- 75g Quicke’s Mature Cheddar - grated
- Crusty white bloomer or farmhouse - thick slice - toasted on one side only
- ½ Granny Smith apple - sliced
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
- 10g butter
- Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4 / 180°C / 160°C Fan and preheat the grill to high
- Put the apple in a bowl with the spices and sugar and stir to coat the apple
- Melt the butter in a saucepan and cook the apple in it for about ten minutes
- Remove from the heat when the apple has softened • Pour the cooked apple slices onto the untoasted side of the toast
- Spread the cheese on top of the apple slices
- Warm through on a baking tray in the preheated oven for a few minutes
- Place under the hot grill until the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown.
VISITING & ORDERING
We are busy packing up Christmas orders. Let us know if you want to send a hamper or a box of cheese as a gift. You can visit the website www.quickes.co.uk, pop into the Farm Shop or call us on 01392 851000.
If you’d like to visit the farm and see for yourself grass, cows, making cheese, storing, and of course eating, we are running tours from April-September 2020. You can book the tours here https://www.quickes.co.uk/pages/cheese-tours
Shop Christmas opening times:
The shop is open 9am-1pm on Christmas Eve.
Closed for the rest of Christmas week.
We're open again on Monday 30th December and Tuesday 31st December 10am-4pm, so you can replenish the stores ready for New Year. We're then closed until Saturday 18th January.
Online ordering times:
Last orders online must be made by noon Thursday 19th December in order to guarantee delivery by Friday 20th December.