Mary Quicke, award winning farmer and cheese maker from Newton St Cyres spoke at the event about farming and cheese making.
Mary opened her talk on the topic about the paths all of us have in creating the world that we want, from the decisions that we make when we go shopping, and what we eat.
‘Shopping and eating is a political act, and if you want food that’s produced locally if you want local farms, if you want small-scale landscapes, if you want to see green grass fields and hedges then actually the responsibility that you can have in that world is to actually buy the products that come from that those farms.’
‘You buy, we exist. That’s how all those wildlife outcomes get produced.’
Mary calls this ‘ecogastronomy’.
She continued with the perception that ‘eco’ is boring, even if it’s not and that it doesn’t thrill the world in general. ‘We know it’s a good thing, we know it’s worthy, we know it’s what we should be doing but potentially it doesn’t thrill, excite nor inspire people, not everybody anyway.’
‘If we can say that gastronomy which is the enjoyment of food, and all the wonderful foods that are produced, and I’m aiming to produce a world of wonderful cheese world-class cheese. Gastronomy on its own is greed, eating regardless of the moral, ethical, political or environmental consequences.’
Mary mentioned the ‘slow food’ movement started by Carlo Petrini at what he proposes eco-gastronomy which is enjoyment of food in with regards to the ecology and the environment that that food produces. And that, then puts the kind of planet that that you want in your hands.
Mary invited the audience to answer ‘what is it in the future that you would like to see in five, ten or twenty years time?’ Responses included – more people directly engaged on the land, and a countryside with increased diversity rather than reduced.
She farms at a 1500 acre farm that’s been in her family for 14 generations with a woodland of about the same size of 800 acres which her brother manages. They have 500 dairy cows and some crops, the dairy cows are to produce milk for their cheese and that the exact cow and how they feed them is what she want for her cheese.
The cheese is produced from milk from their own cows, and the cows are grass fed for about 10 or 11 months of the year. They hand make the cheese, they make them into cylindrical cheeses, cloth bound. Mary remarked that there are not very many of mature traditional cheese makers like them left in the world, and only about four left in the UK. There and there are others around the world producing but they often do things slightly differently, with Mary remarking they mainly they put their cheeses in plastic bags but Mary feels that method gives a distinctive flavour.
They mature cheese for the mature cheddar for about 12 months and her aim is to have long complex balanced flavours.
Marys interest is in producing world-class cheese that is sold around the world. They export about 30% overall.
Mary commented on when she went to California, it was really interesting because they’re very interested in having cheese, knowing the food is produced in those local landscapes, and their buying the cheese helps fund those landscapes and thereby making that relationship with the landscape and the environment is produced by those foods completely iconic.
She talked about nature on the farm which has one of the largest environmental stewardship schemes around.
Although quite a lot of the stewardship supports in the protection of grasslands and archaeological remains, and it and they do also for hedges, hedge banks, margins and orchards Mary shared about some of the enhancements they do that isn’t supported by stewardship, for instance in their woodland which has got an abundance of invertebrate life including the Pearl bordered fritillary. Mary joyfully remarked that this managing the ideal habitat for this butterfly incessantly requires clearing because it only likes to eat violets.
The approach to their farming and business is that they produce extraordinary wonderful iconic food, delicious food that they farm in a way that they are really proud of including grazed grass and also producing wildlife that that’s amazing.
Mary went on to talk further about grazed grass. ‘What a grazed grass does to an animal system, the animals are eating non-human edible food and that’s creating a lot of carbon underneath and creating an enormous ecosystem underneath, so grazed grass is something that we do in a really amazing way in this country.
In America people are really keen and are willing to pay more, and willing to support and promote grass fed foods. In this country we kind of haven’t quite woken up to that but I think it’s one of the most interesting things.’
‘If I have arable ground my organic matters go down to about one and a half percent, if I have permanent pasture they go to about three and a half percent of organic matter, and that’s a lot of nitrogen that we can sequester under grazed grass. Can we stop being weird about animals and we just get interested in the way that those animals are farmed to create amazing food, amazing landscape and farming that we can all feel really proud of.‘
Listen to the talk by Mary at the event:
Listen to the questions and answers after Marys talk: