Low light illuminates the woods, the trees standing like the pillars in a cathedral. Little clumps of young deer enjoy the social fun of adolescence before their adulthood of competition and sexual frustration for the males, and motherhood for the females. The last of the fruit clings onto the trees and bushes. A walk is a feast of aromas: plants rotting, turning back to earth, a whiff of animal from a hidden beast and always some unfamiliar waft that comes from the myriad fungi. We see sulphurous coloured penny-bun shaped mushrooms and decide against taking some home to identify if they are edible.
Bitten by last year’s rain, we sowed the winter crops early. They are now growing lush and leafy in the remaining warmth of the soil. Ideally we’d like a little cold weather to avoid over-proud crops that will struggle to stay healthy overwinter. It’s lovely to see the clover thriving as it does in the autumn when the grass grows less vigorously. It’s a three-leaved tide that looks as if it with overwhelm the grass. The tide goes out in the spring, and we hope each year the clover will grow more strongly, structuring and nourishing the soil. Chicory and other broad leaves we have planted in the pastures stop trying to flower and get on with producing leaf and grazing interest for the cows.
The heifers graze a hidden valley at the top of the farm. It has wonderful view, towards Exmoor on one side and almost to the coast on the other. Their greeting echoes across from the far side of the valley. They associate people with food and in this remote part of the farm , where they don’t get to see many, they come looking for some deliciousness you might give them.
The spring cows are on the last grazing lap before their winter rest before calving. We place bales of silage across the field to give the cows the good balance of fresh roots and leaves for each day. The autumn cows are now in full milk; they too are on the last tour of their pastures. They are revving up to get in calf, and practicing a lot on their friends. We will start giving them a little grass silage as the grass growth slows up.
The milk is lovely and balanced in the cheese dairy, still with those lovely grazed grass flavours. It’s great to balance the last of the rich late lactation milk with milk with stronger protein from the autumn herd. We are still making cheese assuming life will be returning more to normal in a year’s time through this year’s turmoils. All we can do is work with the beautiful and interlinked cycles of the natural world and keep making lovely cheese.
The cheeses sit maturing quietly in the cheese store. We check at 3 months how the flavours are. We had some outstanding intense buttery flavours at our last grading, a real pleasure. At 12 months, we taste again and work out where the cheese will go, which customers want which flavours.
We select a delicate non-combative flavour to balance our home-grown woodsmoke in our smoked cheddar. We thin the native oak woods, singling out the coppice trees to make a single tall stem and a noble-looking wood That gives us oak wood, which dries in a stack on the farm. We hire a wood chipper in to make little oak chips. We light the smoker fire with oak shavings, and damp the fire down with the slowly-smouldering chips. We blow air gently across the burning face and the smoke moves over the cheese, now cut into sixteenths. The smoke gently percolates through the cheese overnight. I’m looking for a smokey hit at first, then a little dance of the smoke and the cheese and then the the cheese flavours unfold. We will have smoked some of our 1.8kg mature truckles.
CHEESE & CIDER PAIRING
I’ve been really enjoying some of the wonderful flavours from our Devon cider renaissance: so many new ciders from new and established cider makers exploring all of the ways of turning our heritage apples into refreshing sparkles that balance the luscious and unfolding flavours of our cheese. The Devon cider makers claim to have invented ‘methode champenoise’. The French disagree, and I’m so happy cider makers are reclaiming these old techniques. I love the fresh fruit, sweet and sharp, plus the tannins of the cider varieties. And bubbles always cheer up a dark November evening. I love the single variety ciders of Sandford Orchards, Find and Foster’s remarkable ciders and the lovely ciders of Stoke Hayne. And those are just from our immediate valley. They make a lovely pairing for our smoked cheddar: our local trees and our local cows celebrating our beautiful landscape on it's way to the slumbers of winter.