Everywhere you look luxuriates in the rich growth driven by the sun at the zenith. My husband Tom was digging a pond and as it was filling with water, he was speculating about whether it was useful for wildlife. At that very moment, he saw a little grass snake slide into the water and swim across the pond - a vote of confidence!
Hawks scream overhead as you get close to their nests. The hedgerows are dripping with growth and flowers. The cold dry east winds, followed by cool damp has lengthened the spring. This year spring was on standstill: not racing but ambling through its dance. The rain came and rescued us from drought. Growth exploded, with the largest dock leaves I’ve ever seen. The trees are heavy with leaves, all converging on the mid green of midsummer.
The spring sown crops stopped looking patchy and are leaping out of the ground. The wheat is at its most gorgeous and flourishing, all promise with its heavy green ears that are still flowers. The breeze becomes visible in the hypnotic swirl of leaves swept by each gust.
The grass changed from an alarming shortage to green plenty with the rain that came just as we were getting really worried. We’ve missed out on the peak of growth in April and May. I don’t know whether the cold spring will have held back the grass’s urge to sex and seed, to give us some good leafy growth. I’m still concerned whether we will catch up on the extra grass growth we need to harvest for the winter, and there is plenty of the year to go.
The spring calving cows are now at peak mating, knots of frisking cows urging others to jump them. They will get six weeks, two cycles, of dairy bulls by AI, then our little team of Angus bulls will see to any stragglers. The heifers get one chance of a dairy bull, using all female-producing semen. Then they go out to graze with one of the little black Angus, who eagerly checks for anyone not in calf. When receptive, they dote on the bull, hanging around him, attracting his attention, resting their chins alluringly on his rump. The autumn calving cows are at the other end of the cycle. Their calves grow big in their bellies, and they start to slowdown and become very good company. No sorrow is so great, no trouble looms so large, that sitting down with the cows doesn’t ease.
June milk is Malcolm’s favourite to make, even though it is hot in the cheese dairy. The milk is settled, a good balance of fat and protein, with a lovely grazed grass aroma.
We are excited by the Affineur Competition we launched last month with the Academy of Cheese. We’ve sent out 8 cheeses from one vat we made in February to other cheesemakers and some of the best cheese mongers in the country. They’ll look after them and we will taste them all on February 24th in London next year. We’ll see the impact of the different maturations and assess who has created the most interesting flavour. Affinage is an art we nearly lost in this country during the 40 years when the Milk Marketing Board stored cheese in central warehouses. How and where cheese is matured makes nearly as much difference as the milk a cheese comes from and how it’s made. This competition is a step to celebrating that art. More information here.
I’ve been completely addicted to grating our cheese onto interesting salad leaves. I love growing funky flavoured salads. All those glorious green leaf volatiles (thanks Harold McGee, for that wonderful book Nosedive, opening out the science of aromas), pair beautifully with a raw cider vinegar with the mother, a good green flavoured olive oil, some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. The grassy, buttery, umami notes of our Mature Cheddar tie the flavours together. And true bliss it to be had with a slice of Emma’s Sourdough Bread and our Whey Butter. Add some Sandford Orchards single varietal Tremlett’s Bitter Cider, and I’m gone.