England is at its most beautiful. I’ve had the privilege of a slow train journey across Southern England. It’s an intense vivid green. Back at the farm, the extraordinary variety of greens of spring coalesce into that luscious, dripping weight of mid green leaves everywhere. Nature is at its fullest and most fecund. A hen pheasant puffed herself up to double her size, made threatening noises and firmly but insistently drove me away from her nest in an area of the garden I was tidying up. A good excuse to leave that bit of garden alone for now. Tom Browne saw a crow grab a duckling off a pond the other day and devour it in a nearby grass field. Life goes on: over the way, some deer were enjoying the sun as much as us, sitting out on the grass soaking up the rays. Round his house, swallows swoop down to dip into puddles for their home renovations, while we hope our house martens will return soon and haven’t become someone’s dinner in their extraordinary journey to Africa and back over winter.
The crops made an astonishing recovery from the snow and cold, leaping forward in growth stages to make up for lost time, ears out, pods setting and racing to catch peak sun later this month. The later sown maize plants are coming up. They always look tiny, a tracery of green lacing in rows across our red soil at this time of year, and by the end of the month the plants meet in the rows, the flag leaves rustling in the wind.
The late spring meant we ate all our old silage stock, and we hope to restore the security blanket we provided. I’ve only once run out of silage, and it’s something you do only once, as cows look at their stalky straw rather than luscious grass or silage. So we’ll take the summer’s plenty and restore our empty silage pits. While we can’t farm for 30 year events, we can give ourselves the slack to provide for nature’s vagaries. Everything tells us we may get more of them.
So we keep the grass grazed and cut, the cows getting the leafiest and most nutritious paddocks. Any paddocks that get away from the cows, getting long and stalky, we will cut paddock by paddock for winter fodder. I love seeing the big machines at work. The task of a whole village working together is now done by a few people and machines, still working as a harmonious team, while the many who work in towns are freed from back-breaking labour. We get the visceral, ancestral satisfaction of knowing we have the winter’s feed in.
The spring cows quieten, their urge to breed slaked by conception. Just a few cows seek out others not yet in calf and dance in little knots in the field. Enjoy the rich grass, girls, have your bodies happy to breed again. It’s a lovely thought that right now in the field embryos are implanting, and calves growing, and cows become contented in their pregnancy.
Autumn calving cows come towards their summer holidays, gleaming coats, rich with late pregnancy sheen. Group by group, we’ll dry them off so they can restore their bodies, nourish their calves, without the chore of milking. They take on that progesterone chill that makes late pregnancy one of life’s most relaxed experiences.
In the cheese dairy, the tsunami of milk abates as the cows choose to divert energy from milking to calves. That’s good, because the summer heat makes it hard work. Now going and turning each of the young cheeses in the nursery stores once a week becomes a relief for our champions in the cheese dairy. This is Malcolm’s (cheese dairy supremo) favourite month for balanced curd, as the milk settles with the cows in calf and the grass with a little more fibre.
I did a cheese and cider pairing with Barney Butterfield of Sandford Orchards at Exeter Festival of Food and Drink, to distinguish the different flavour notes of cider and why they went with our cheeses. Elderflower cider ‘Old Blossom’ went with our goat's cheese, the aromatic notes teasing out the aromatics from the goat’s milk. ‘Devon Red’ went with our smoked cheese, the fruity richness playing with our gentle smokey hints and buttery notes and ‘The General’, robust and full, was a glorious match for our mature cheddar. We reflected how cider and cheese, both quintessential Devon products, that so express our beautiful county, is a marriage made in Devon. No better way to enjoy the warm weather than to sit out in a balmy evening with some ciders and some cheeses, a luscious way to end a glowing day.