An extract from the edairy of real food by Hilary Peters.
“The problem is the regulations”.I don’t suppose any farmer would disagree with that. This journey is the story of people who have jumped through all the bureaucratic hoops, cut through the red tape, and somehow reached the public. During the years of five year plans, Russia lived off the people’s allotments and the tiny amounts of farming they did in their spare time. There is the same desperation and the same determination to survive in British farming now. (And by farming, I do not mean agri-business.)
Our neighbour here has an exceptionally beautiful herd of Anglo-Nubian pedigree goats and a café called the Dancing Goat in Framlingham. You might think the goats would supply the café. No such luck. It would cost a fortune to install the equipment Defra now requires. This is goats we’re talking about. They do not get most of the illnesses that make the authorities so jumpy about cows’ milk. In the mid-seventies in the middle of London, I was making a cheese from my goats’ milk and selling it to local health food shops! It’s another world.
At CHURCH FARM, FRISTON, SAXMUNDHAM, they do make cheese and yoghurt, AND sell it direct to the public. They deal with the regulations by “just keeping on and on.” Church Farm is a small organic family farm, milking 70 cows, mostly Friesian-Holsteins with some Red Polls. All their cows were bred on the farm. They haven’t bought an animal for 30 years. All processes are done on the farm and produce is sold locally at farm shops and farmers’ markets. Cheese making is a recent development. They wanted to buy British equipment, but couldn’t find any.
Reluctantly, they turned to Holland, where they got what they needed with no trouble. Their Yoghurt is excellent and creamy. They make flavoured curd cheese, which I haven’t tried and “Cheddar”, which I liked very much, but they are giving it up in favour of “Caerphilly”.
Their cows lead an independent existence, with a robotic milking parlour. This means they can come in and get themselves milked whenever they feel the need.
RENDHAM HALL FARM
01728 663440 David and Colette Strachan have a dairy herd of 200 Holsteins. They process, bottle and sell their own milk under the trade name of MARYBELLE. Its lovely milk, which should be in all the local shops. The cream is made into ice-cream, also by the hard-working Strachans. It is sold in local shops as SUFFOLK MEADOW ICE CREAM
There are numerous delicious flavours. They also do sorbets. This brave, independent venture is struggling against enormous odds. "It's a big big hill to climb," Colette told me "and I don't like heights"
The Strachans are forging a trail that is so important for British farming. They are over-worked and harassed.
They need more outlets for their milk. They need a website. They need our support.
Ainley is perched high on the side of the precipitous C***, untouched by the entire twentieth century, and it looks as if they’re going to get away with it. The Sykes’s do what all dairy farmers did until recently. They supply their immediate neighbourhood with milk. Their Holstein Friesians graze their fields. They are milked on the farm. The milk is bottled on the farm, and the Sykes’s do a milk round and sell to shops in S***. Agro-industry has passed them by. The milk tanker would never make it to A***.
LYBURN CHEESE, HEMPTWORTH, HANTS. www.lyburncheese.co.uk (a very informative website which also gives the outsider an insight into growing organic vegetables.)
Judy Smales showed me their cows and their cheesemaking and I ate generous portions of all their cheeses. They milk about 230 pedigree Holstein-Friesians and their cheesemaking is expanding all the time. They also sell milk to WATSON’S independent dairy, who retail milk in London as well as locally.
The cheese is delicious. I specially liked Lyburn Mature, which is something like Oude Gouda, one of my very favourite cheeses. If matured still further, which they plan to do, it will be like Old Amsterdam, an all-time great cheese. Lyburn have now designed their own cheese presses, which are being made for them in France, so their cheese will be unique and easily recognisable. They are expanding their ripening rooms. In season, they sell their own organic veg. and rhubarb, which also go to Waitrose and Farmaround, a company distributing organic boxes in London.
Lyburn is a family business. When it was obvious that dairy farming was being squeezed out of existence, Mike and Judy Smales thought sideways, because their sons wanted to go into farming. Now, it is run very happily by the whole family. They have free-range dogs, which tells me a lot about a farm. I wonder how we can show housewives the world of Lyburn contrasted with industrial cheesemaking. I am still convinced that it is education that is lacking. The Prince of Wales is certainly doing his bit this week. We shouldn’t leave it all to him.
If I am leaving out interesting farms in your area, please let me know. I know this will never be a complete record, but I would like to include all I can.
NETHERTON FARM, UPTON CROSS, LISKEARD, CORNWALL.
Home of Cornish Yarg cheese. They also make soft cheeses and a yarg wrapped in wild garlic leaves. They do a cheese tour and show the prize herd of Holstein Friesians. They have a few pigs, sheep, and geese as well. There is a very good cafe and a shop.
Netherton Farm is interesting because they try hard to be in both worlds and, in Cornwall, you can. Their cows win prizes for their high yield. Their cheeses are made and sold on an industrial scale, in partnership with one other farm. They have modernised and intensified, and they ARE super-efficient. Yet they still make a farmhouse cheese. All the processes are done on the farm and the cows are very much part of the tour. They (the cows) drink all the whey.
The cheese tour makes much of the distinctive feature of Yarg, which is that it is matured in nettle leaves. These are hand-picked, painfully, by local people.
The finished cheese is bought by all supermarkets and most delicatessens. It is exported too.
Big business with a farmhouse face. That's a bit unfair. They are real farmers and it's a real farm. It's pleasing that they can be as successful as they are and still make the cheese on the farm and invite the public to watch it being made.
"Yarg" is the name of the man who invented the recipe, spelt backwards. They have been making the cheese for 20 years and they don't pretend it's an old Cornish recipe with an old Cornish name.
This is just one of many dairies in Cornwall that produce excellent and truly local delicacies. Only lack of time prevented me visiting them all.