As Autumn drew to an end and the alpine winds confirmed the undeniable arrival of Winter – we found ourselves reflecting on the season just past. Autumn spoiled us with beautiful evenings and lingering light, allowing for little moments of peace. We ended the summer with peak pasture growth and managed to cut silage, which hadn’t occurred for a couple of years. Our cows were content, with healthy calves being born and beautiful rich milk being produced. But farmers don’t often have the luxury of enjoying even the most peaceful of seasons – always looking ahead at long range forecasts, hoping for the good and planning for bad. Add to that an overall sense of change and Autumn was never going to be a slow ease into the winter season. No, if I had to roll Autumn into one word for us, it would be ‘Decisive’.
We have made many decisions over the last 3 months. Some that came easily and were a natural conclusion of events. Others were harder, having being pondered for years, and felt more like a force of the hand. But however they came, the decisions were made and now is the time for action.
Our farm is changing. And change nearly always comes at a cost, financial or otherwise.
We have big plans – long, lofty and grandiose plans that have formed slowly and beautifully over the last 5 years. I guess you could call it our ‘long term forecast’, our list of goals, 50 year plan or whatever you will. I like to look it at as our declaration of love for the land. Because that is essentially what it boils down to. The long term sustainability of the land and desire to remain viable in an evolving industry.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, so lets recap.
March saw Kel taking a 10 day whirlwind visit to the UK to meet Jonny Crickmore at Fen Farm Dairy. This was all possible thanks to the Meet the Master competition run by RedZed Lending and I’ll link in more info once the content is live…….
Jonny and Dulcie Crickmore are generational farmers who have revolutionised their family dairy farm with market specific, value added product – put very simply they saw a gap in the market and filled it. With the most delicious raw milk Brie you’ll ever get your mouth around (along with their other beautiful dairy produce). They also introduced the UK to raw milk vending machines, have won UK Diversification Farmer of the Year and now International Entrepreneur of the Year. Plus they’re lovely people to boot. They very generously opened their production room, home and minds to Kel and allowed him to learn, not only their fascinating, hands on, cheese production – but also their outlook on business in general. What an opportunity! He was also introduced to some of the top cheesemongers and buyers in London, with private tours, tasting and discussions on all things cheese. I was only a tiny bit jealous.
The thing about farming and running a small business it can be wonderfully rewarding and at the same time, completely draining. You live it – 24/7. Every. Single. Day. It’s something you can’t just switch off. So meeting other people who know the same life – talking to them about their experiences, being related to, seeing how they have succeeded and stayed relevant and passionate – I’m not sure I can put into words how valuable that is.
Kel came home fully charged. Exhausted – mentally and physically – but with ideas and information literally spilling out of him. We talked and talked – then we sat down with our agri-business manager and talked some more. Decisions were made and actions were set in motion. Our future is cheese. And regenerative farming but thats’ a post for another day……..
We’re not expanding, in fact we’re shutting down. Just briefly. We need to upgrade our cheese rooms, create a packing room and invest in new cheesemaking equipment. This will improve the consistency of a few cheese we currently make and also allow us the space to make new cheeses. It also signals the demise of a few favourites……
Some of you may have already noticed that we have ceased production of Halloumi and Labne. I know. Horrifying. As the number one Halloumi eater in our house (and the person people call to complain to) let me just say – I HEAR YOU. But something had to go and fresh cheese was it. Why? Because we really want to make something WE enjoy making. A cheese that speaks to us. One we can affinage and care for. One that allows the seasonal variations of our pasture, animal health, and milk compositions to shine through. Cheese that tells a story.
Whilst we’ve learnt a lot from our experience of making fresh cheese, Kel came home with a very true sense of what kind of cheese he wanted to make. And we need the milk allocated to Halloumi and Labne to go towards this cheese production. And in that vein – Have you met Marilla?
A semi-soft, washed rind cheese based on an old Irish recipe. With a vibrant rind and milk notes of butter and nuts – it’s already building a solid fan base!
Even with the sacrifice of Fresh cheeses, we STILL need more milk. And no, we don’t just want to milk more cows. So, instead we’ll be winding back bottled milk sales so we can allocate that milk for cheese making.
Our bottled milk will be transitioned into re-usable glass bottles, which will only be available in limited supply to the Kiama Municipality and at Carriageworks Farmers’ Market. I know that will make some people very happy and others not so. And that’s just the way it goes.
Autumn has been full on for us. A whirlwind of growth with moments of peace and some difficult decisions. And now Winter is here and it will be hard. With its cold winds and financial instability as we move through this transition. There will be less product sales and limited cash flow. There will be early starts and late nights, more trial and error, days where nothing makes sense and moments of great frustration.
But there will also be quiet determination, endless cups of coffee, triumphs and growing excitement. And cheese – there will always be cheese.
We’ve begun the process of actioning many exciting plans on farm and we look forward to sharing them with you. Your support, as always, is noted and appreciated. But for now – Here’s to Winter – and all that it may bring.