May explodes with the vigour of high spring, uncoiled and released from the unseasonal cold. In the evenings the woods are a symphony of bird song. The birds are now paired up and defend their territory. In the cold months, they were silent and cooperative in flocks: all you could hear was the flit of their wings. Swallows arrived early: they expected warm weather when they set out from Africa. I hope they’ll find enough insects to feed themselves, as they are only just waking up. Baby rabbits are popping out of every hedge, daft and food for hungry young fox families. Water birds enjoyed the wet weather, with ducks, geese and snipe still spread all over the place making the most of the abundance of food. The male red and fallow deer are dropping their antlers as the living is easy – we pick them up and use them as hooks for hats and scarfs.
Crops sprint to make up for lost time, hastening through their growth stages. I love the party trick of slitting the extending stems to see where the embryo ear sits, minute and translucent. Every stem in the field is doing the same, the nodes and leaves unfolding in an orderly dance.
Grass is growing at its fastest. It’s just a few short weeks from the scarcity of the cold spring to racing, flourishing growth that you swear you can smell. The cows certainly know it's sweet and delicious and wouldn't be anywhere else.
We cut and preserve the surplus grass for winter as silage. Fortunately we had plenty in stock, from last year’s huge growth, as we saw the back of the silage pits before this year’s growth was enough to sustain the cows. We are keen to restore the stock of silage. It may have been a once in 30 year late spring, and you never know when we might get another. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, or in our case grass and ferment it into winter feed.
The cows are getting in calf. The whole herd was raging with desire, as at any time a seventh or so were hot to trot and getting friendly with others in the same state. They get a dairy bull or his semen in these first two cycles. After that we use a beef bull, as dairy calves will be born too late to come in to the herd two years and nine months later. It's a great recipe to breed fertile cows, producing heifers from the most fertile cows best adapted to the farm.
The best way to set them up is to get them growing well all the way from calves. So we watch and weigh and give the calves milk till they are well grown, and the best grass and sheltered paddocks, and then off they go exploring the more remote and beautiful parts of the farm. We have lovely little meadows that lie in the folds of the land, many alongside trees, streams and orchards. They will spend the warm months grazing, playing and hanging out with their herd mates.
The cheese vats are full of creamy milk, we mind about the ratio of fat and protein to make cheese of the right quality. As soon as the cows get on full grass it always seems easier to have the milk the right balance. The grass is leafy and soft, giving a luscious cheese that has a glorious grass-soft melt in your mouth as it releases the flavours and aromas of the grass that made it. Hard work now, as we reach peak milk. It takes great teamwork to sustain the work required to have each cheese made and salted, dressed, pressed and turned as it should. Our monthly gradings show that the quality doesn't lapse, even when we make the most cheese, I feel humble in the face of all the work and care it takes by everyone in the whole team to keep everything just so.
I love Gill Meller’s delicious nettle, bacon and smoked goat’s cheese tart. It's a classic tart, filled with onions, nettle tips (you’ll need gloves for picking and washing them but their sting disappears as soon as you drop them in the hot water), bacon and Quicke’s Smoked Goat’s Cheese filling. The faintly shellfishy, intensely green flavour of the nettles with the smoky cheese and bacon, and the lusciousness of the goat’s cheese makes for a satisfying lunch or light supper.
M A R Y Q U I C K E