Great news! Lamb prices are up, smiling shepherds in market today. The sun was shining and I rather wished I’d worn my peak hat, it was so bright. Gone are the reports of diminishing demand for sheep meat. Now… there’s a global shortage. Better returns makes the hard work worthwhile. Now my dilemma is, should I sell stores or continue to finish hoggets?
It was beginning to dry out, but today we’re back to wet, windy, stodging about in mud weather. I spotted the river levels rising and a bunch of sheep obliviously grazing on the bank, so I grabbed Brie (the sheep dog) and headed to the marsh. We waded through rising waters and drove the sheep onto safer grazing. While doing this I was thrilled to catch sight of a kingfisher, a flash of colour to brighten up my day. I’ve noticed an abundance of magpies around lately which I fear will have a detrimental affect on the welfare of our small bird population.
February marks the end of the shooting season, and our spaniels are in recovery mode sprawled around in the kitchen. Seemingly asleep, unless there’s a tasty morsel of food on offer. Initially when grandchildren arrived, the spaniels were most unimpressed at having their peace disturbed. However after discovering the benefits of sitting close to the occupied high chair they’ve reevaluated their thinking. Thank goodness, because the Londonites have finally seen sense, and are moving out of London. They will be temporarily living at the farm, while they secure accommodation at a nearby seaside resort with a mainline station.
Grandson George is already besotted by tractors, I’m now trying to encourage a good work ethic. He has lots of energy and a bucket and spade ready for his trips to the beach. So I suggested he and his father could put his spade to good use and help bag up some rolled corn ready to feed to the stock. George soon realised that the larger shovel was the way forward!
By coincidence this weekend both son-in-laws arrived bearing gifts of home made sourdough. Making bread appears to be increasingly popular. My mother made all her own bread. I love the smell of freshly baked bread coming out of the oven. I don’t get much time to make it myself. I recall my cousin’s brag about her mother’s bread making abilities. ‘Jesus could turn stones into bread, but my Mum can turn bread into stone!’ Maybe ‘water into wine’ could be the next, and it would go nicely with cheese.
While attending a Princes Trust workshop, someone asked about cheese making and I realised how little I knew about the process. I resolved to join Hazel and Martin on a ‘make day’. Swapping my farm clothes for cleaner garments. On entering the lobby I put on a white cotton shirt, a protective hairnet and white wellies, stepping through a clean dip and thoroughly washing my hands. This reminded me of my time working in theatre as a scrub nurse. Pronounced clean I was allowed to observe the mysterious going’s on in the cheese rooms.
Cheese was first discovered around 8000 BC. Rennet, the enzyme added to make cheese, occurs naturally in the stomachs of ruminants. Leak proof stomachs were often used to transport liquids. Without refrigeration, warm summer heat combined with residual rennet caused the stored milk to curdle naturally. The curds were strained and salt added for preservation, producing the earliest form of cheese.
Nowadays it’s a little more high tech and the ‘make room’ contains some impressive looking kit. Firstly the organic cow’s milk is pasteurised in a large stainless steel Vat. Temperature control, monitoring of PH levels and timings are vital, these are plotted on a graph throughout the making process. Adding cultures and blue moulds starts the cheese making, acidifying the milk, helping the curds to form, plus impacting flavour. An hour later rennet goes in, causing the milk to gel through proteins linking up. Later the gel is cut into cubes described as curd. The size of the cubes varies depending on the different type of cheese being made. For the next couple of hours, the curd is gently agitated or stirred at regular intervals and the whey separates out. When deemed ready, the curds are decanted into cheese moulds.
The moulds are left to drain, and are turned. Once the cheese retains its shape it is placed into a brine for a short time and then removed and allowed to dry off. Next it’s moved into the maturation room which is a cooler drier atmosphere. Here it will sit on shelving and is given tender loving care. It will be pierced which allows the air into the cheese and the blue mould to develop. It will be turned and supervised until ready to eat. Trust me, the taste testing is definitely the most exciting part of the process.
We enjoy being involved with our family’s different projects. It helps to dispel the sometimes overwhelming all consuming business of farming. The recent battering by the weather resulting in atrocious conditions has been challenging. It’s depressing, living and working in isolation can compound the problem. Negative media attention and unthoughtful social media comments can be hurtful. I like the quote ‘in a world where you can be anything – be kind’.
Farmers are known for being a ‘Jack of all trades’ but they do need to realise that they are not superhuman, when they get tired and down they need to do something about it, not bury it. Be kind to yourself. Talk about it, seek help, take a break. Recently my daughters suggested I join them on a skiing holiday. I worried about leaving the farm, the expense, all those things on my to do list, and whether I’d be able to keep up with the young’uns. Exhilarating skiing, mountain air, hot chocolates, relaxing in the hot tub, plus the odd tipple, incredibly therapeutic! Oooh and the cheese fondue…
I feel so much better. Bring on the red tractor inspection, calving and lambing!