March 2016 on the Farm
We haul ourselves out of the long wet winter. Even the field mice tried to come into the buildings, their nests getting soaked. Not great if you are tiny and trying to survive the winter by hibernating. I weeded my heathers, and disturbed some sleepy bumble bees, bedraggled from the wet. At least they don't take harm in the cold, a bask and a shake sees them right as soon as the sun shines.
It's thrilling to see the spring taking off. The warm winter gave some odd advance parties - damson flowers in November, may flowers in February. Now the spring, barely held back by the mild winter, starts to shred winter's veils to let the stronger sunshine warm the earth, the plants, the animals and us.
It's so lovely to greet the knobbly oak flowers, purple on the margins of the oak trees. The Japanese larch turns a delicate pink just before it sends out its luminescent green needles. The hedge banks, bleak and barren in the winter, surprise you when you turn the corner and see them clothed in yellow primroses and catch their sweet aroma on the cold wind.
The crops strain for the off. Now we see how much damage the roots have taken from the wet. Will the roots recover quickly enough to harvest nutrients from the soil? Will the soil warm up quickly enough to feed them? How much goodness is left after the floods? We watch the leaves, looking for a healthy green not blotchy and mildewed or starved and yellow or even reddish, and reflect on how best to nurture them. A good soil, working well, solves most problems, and that doesn't come by wishing.
We watch anxiously to see how fast the grass growth takes off. The cows are calving and looking for the grass, the source of the milk they produce almost immediately. It looks like it will never start to grow! We know it will, and I always have that failure of imagination when it feels there is not a single blade of grass to feed the cows as new growth is desiccated in the cold easterly winds. Then warmth and gentle rain comes, the grass grows….
As the grass grows, so we turn out the younger animals, the calves and the heifers, to graze. It's so funny to watch the young calves leaping, chasing their tails, playing tag, filled with the joy of being young and being alive, having friends and meeting everything for the first time. The older animals slow down as they get older, and even the oldest matron can't resist a leap and a buck and a tussle as they are turned out to grass.
And the steaming vats of milk make the most glorious cheese as the grass flavours come through, giving those warm, animally rich notes to the flavour. The milk builds up, the work builds up, words get scarcer by the end of the month. The vats fill up, the presses fill, the shelves fill up, and all that cheese needs making, pressing, dressing, turning, caring for to help it flower into gorgeous flavours.
Then once a month, we taste each vat from three months ago and a year ago, and distinguish all the different flavours: the buttery and caramelly, the oniony, the grassy, the sharp and the brothy, the meaty and umami. That tells us which cheese should go where, as we discuss with each customer which of our flavours that will suit their customers best. It's a treat to spend our lives working out what will give the most pleasure to the most people around the globe.