On a recent trip to Devon we dropped into Quickes where Joseph Farrow gave us a personal guided tour of the farm.
For over 450 years the Quicke family has owned and cared for the farm at Newton St. Cyres in Devon, (the estate was inherited from Henry VIII). It was only in the 1970’s that Sir John Quicke and his wife Prue, the 13th generation of Quickes to farm at Home Farm, went back into cheese making and built the dairy where their daughter Mary continues to produce outstanding artisan cheddar.
The Quicke’s Estate is made up of 1500 acres of farmland and 1500 acres of woodland. 800 acres of the woodland are managed with Douglas Fir, Chestnut and a range of other species, planted mainly in the 1960s – 70s.
Their herd of 500 Friesian x Monthéliardes and Swedish Reds, are free to graze on 285 acres of pasture. The lush Devonshire grass, fresh air and odd spot of rain helps their girls produce around 5,500 litres of milk per cow every year!
The milk is then crafted, by hand, into Cheddar by their four skilled cheese makers. Each Cheddar is wrapped in muslin and matures from 3 – 24 months. Each vat begins the transformation of milk to cheese with traditional starters, which were collected from the best cheese dairies in the mid 20th Century. Each day’s starter delivers its own spectrum of savoury flavour.
When ready, the cheeses are placed carefully into traditional wooden racks in the ripening room and turned weekly, to give a uniform texture throughout the cheese.
We were lucky enough to go into the rippening room, it was like a cathedral of cheeses. When full, this ripening room can hold up to 13,000 cheeses – we might need a few more crackers!
Whilst maturing, the cheese can sometimes get cheese mites (an age-old enemy, sometimes burrowing deep into the rind, eating their way through dry, aged cheese). Several years ago cheddar makers used to fumigate once or twice a year to kill them all, but EU regulations banned Methyl Bromide. Quicke’s came up with a solution to ward off this little pest. They bring the crates out the rippening room and drive them into a blowing booth – it looks like a car port with two holes at the back, the vacuum. The cheeses are individually blown by hand using a high-pressure air-jet hose. The vacuum at the back of the blowing booth extracts the dust and mites from the air, the cheese is then returned to the rippening room and their label marked “Blown – Yes”.
The cheese is graded every 3 and 12 months by hand. Obviously the cheeses are ready at different times; Mild is ready after 3 – 4 months, Mature after 12 – 15 months, Extra Mature after 18 – 21 months with Vintage ready after 24 months.
Quicke’s smoked cheese is cold smoked for around 18 hours with oak chips from trees on the Quicke Estate.
After the tour we dropped into the Farm Shop for a cheese tasting. It was clear that we at Farmer’s Choice prefer Quicke’s Vintage Cheddar, but I also really enjoyed the Ewes Milk cheese. Just have to make space on that cheese board for more!
Despite common misconceptions, most people who are lactose intolerant are in fact able to eat most hard cheeses. This is because most of the lactose in the milk used to make hard cheeses is removed in the whey as part of the cheese-making process, making them virtually lactose free.
The lactose content of most cheeses can be checked by looking at the nutritional facts on the label – any carbohydrate in natural cheese (excluding cheese blended with fruits or some processed cheese) comes from the milk sugar or lactose. Most hard cheeses, such as Cheddar, contain as little as 0.1 grams per 100 grams, which makes them suitable for most of those who are lactose intolerant.
Cheeses with higher levels of lactose include some processed cheeses, soft white spreadable cheese and cottage cheese and some of these may be inappropriate for the lactose intolerant. Always check the nutritional information on cheese packaging for information before consuming and check the carbohydrate content.
In some rare cases of lactose intolerance it might be necessary to completely avoid dairy foods. Speak to a state registered dietician for advice on reducing or avoiding lactose and to avoid any nutritional imbalance.