November 2015 on the Farm
The glorious early autumn is now a golden memory, and the dark days gather. The harvests are all gathered in, any unpicked apples a fast rotting slush in the orchards, vegetation dying back in the dank mists. I go out to find the last of the sloes, rose hips and hawthorn berries. Mostly the branches are bare. Young buzzards find their way in the world, still calling to their nest mates before they establish their own territories. The fox cubs, now lithe teenagers, are out hunting. We stood in the fading light, digesting some sad news about a friend. A bold young sparrow hawk, elegant and nimble, scythed between us. Unreasonably but comfortingly, it signified to me that our friend was at peace.
CROPS - Last year's harvest was the best we've had, across all the crops. That took nurturing the soil structure, good timeliness, and good advice. This year the crops have got off to a good start. Our magic GPS guided system helps produce some gorgeous even fields. It's very odd to sit in the tractor as it steers itself. You just have to remember to turn it round at the end of the field, then watch it steer back to the right place.
GRASS - The grass that has grown vigorously through the autumn gives plenty to eat, even though the growth now slows down. The cattle are on their last round, to eat it down so the residue will store safely through the forecast cold winter till early spring.
HEIFERS - The heifers are visiting the further reaches of the farm. Even the youngest calves, born just in August, are on their travels. We give them sheltered fields and a little TLC in the form of some breakfast cereal. Their sisters, a year older, are now, like their mothers, keen to partner up with the bull, both parties with a blissful look in their eyes.
COWS - Their mothers, the autumn calving milking cows, are also hot to trot, despite producing the most milk. For them, the watery, sun-deprived November grass needs a little jazzing up to enable them to produce rich milk suitable for cheese making as well as contemplate pregnancy. That's where a little silage comes in. This year we mixed a little wheat feed (bran and wheat germ left over from producing white flour) in when we made the grass silage, then piled the maize on top, mixed up with some rapeseed meal. This melange will make an easy balance to the grass without having to dash around mixing it up for the cows.
CHEESE - That's what it's all for - to make the perfect milk for cheese. We chat daily between cows and cheese. The right milk makes it easier to get the right curd - rich and not greasy, firm and not hard, moist and not wet. All of those physical things show the right balance to have the cheese mature with flavours that are complex, balanced and enduring on the palate, a joy on the cheeseboard.
Then we must get the cheese into its muslin cloth, to lose moisture and grow its mould garden. Our microflora gives a distinctive horseradishy note under the rind. The moisture loss gives a nutty flavour half way to the centre, and gives sharper, buttery notes in the middle of the cheese. The joys of life on the wedge!
We start to send out cheese for Christmas. We pack the different flavour and age profiles for different customers. It's a busy time, and satisfying to see our cheese, that started life as so many blades of grass, go on its travels.