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Blog archive: November 2012

British goats cheese

I love goats, I love cheese, and I love Britain, so it’s only natural I headed for Neal’s Yard Dairy within minutes of landing back in London. Neal’s Yard have a well-stocked cheese cave in a disused railway arch in Bermondsey, which by happy coincidence is the area of London where my flat is.

Goats are usually raised pretty much organically in the UK, even if they’re not officially organic. This is because they’re hardy animals, and the cheapest, most efficient way to feed them in these green isles is simply to put them out to graze on fresh grass, and to supplement this with alfalfa, oats or barley, plus a little commercial animal feed in the winter. These feed crops are very low-input crops, meaning they’re not routinely sprayed with chemicals. They’re basically weeds, so there’s no benefit at all to be gained from adding expensive chemicals.

This means that any goats cheese hand-made in Britain is very low on chemical residues, whether it’s stamped with an organic logo or not. But there’s an additional benefit to buying organic British goats cheese, because the goats will definitely have been fed only organic animal feed in winter, reducing any low chemical residues in their milk to zero residues, and also they won’t have been given drugs as a first option if they get sick. So you and your family won’t risk eating any pharmaceutical residues from goat medicine in your cheese.

There are only three organic goat farmers in the UK who have gone that extra mile, seeking official organic certification for their excellent, exquisite, hand-crafted goats cheeses. These people are true organic heroes, and their dedication to high organic standards is guaranteed… it’s food you can trust, made with deepest respect for their goats, without any stuff sprayed on the land, or pharmaceuticals drugs given to their goats.

The resulting cheeses are delicious and well worth seeking out.

Here they are, in alphabetical order.

Abergavenny Fine Foods are an award-winning artisan food maker based in Wales. Founded by Tony Craske, the company is Soil Association certified, and offer one simple but lovely mild organic goats cheese, called Pant-Ysgawn. It’s available from their farm shop in the Brecon Beacons, as well as in many British high street supermarkets, including Tesco, Marks and Spencer, and Waitrose.

Tony used to only make cheese from organic goats milk from his own farm, but as the company grew, he began to source extra milk from local organic Welsh farms. In fact, the whole idea of making goats cheese started simply because Tony needed to find a way of preserving the milk his herd was making. It’s an old-fashioned farm kitchen story, but due to the success of the cheese, it’s grown organically into a much bigger production. Its made without any rennet, and is simply goats milk curds and salt.

Hollypark Organics make a luscious, creamy, raw and unpasteurised organic goats cheese. It’s the classic type, a round white cake of goats cheese, without any rind. It’s tangy and moist, and is definitely more of a cheese board cheese than something to use in a recipe. You can buy their cheese direct at the farm gate if you show up, or call them to enquire about delivery. It’s also available online from an organic site called Red23, which is the web link provided above.

Hollypark North Lane 
East Sussex 
TN35 4LX
Telephone: 01424 812229

Riverside Goats Cheese is produced by award-winning cheese maker Ann Pollard using milk from the small herd of goats she keeps on her small holding family farm in the village of Woolfardisworthy, mid-Devon.

The goats are mostly Anglo-Nubian goats with some Saanen and Toggenberg crosses, and all are looked after and milked by hand. There are rarely more than thirty animals; this is a very personal, sustainable small-holding.

Ann’s fifteen year old son, Rowan, looks after the evening feeding schedule for the herd, as well as mucking out the stable. The family are mostly self-reliant, with about 30% of their electricity from a wind turbine on their property, photo-voltaic panels on the roof of the goat barn, and a lush vegetable garden for their own table, grown with goats compost, of course! The family also keep chickens and pigs for their own larder, but don’t currently offer eggs or pork as a business.

Ann’s cheeses are only available from the farm shop, at local Devin farmers markets, by calling directly on 01363 866464, or by emailing her via the contact form on the farm’s website.

She offers five different varieties of goats cheese, all made from their own raw, unpasteurised milk, with vegetarian rennet for the hard cheeses, and simply salt for the soft ones.

There are two hard cheeses: a mature one with a complex lingering flavour and a milder, fresher one. There’s also a classic soft goats cheese, which is white and light with a tangy goaty flavour, and its also available with added fresh seasonal herbs, or with fresh crushed garlic.

October Garden, and BIG News!

It’s 80 degrees and sunny in Malibu. There are still summer crops in the garden: tomatoes, bell peppers, chile peppers, red noodle beans, blue jade corn, lemon cucumbers, green cucumbers, patty pans, emerald zucchini, butternut and delicata squash, sweet amber watermelons, and honeydew melons.

The greens are doing well, including every colour of chard, butter lettuces and speckled heirloom lettuces grown from Amish seeds. The greens are doing well considering, but they’re looking forward to cooler days.

The gourds are ripening beautifully, looking forward to their future lives as bowls, water bottles, vases, boxes and musical instruments!

Despite the unseasonal warm weather, the winter seeds are sprouting, their first pairs of leaves above the surface as their roots hungrily scour the earth for moisture, support and nutrition. I’ve seeded Siberian kale, kohl rabi, Romanesco cauliflowers, Pixie cabbages, turnips, carrots, beets, a selection of onions (including Alissa Craig and Walla Walla), and some beneficial and cutting flowers.

This garden grows with sunshine, soil, spirit, and love. The love is transmitted by the plants themselves, a veritable Green Nation of beautiful spirits, all connected by tendrils and leaves. The love is shared too by the myriad critters above, inside, around and below the surface, from the rabbits to the spiders, and from the snakes to the hummingbirds.

But the most easily tangible love in this beautiful garden is the extraordinary friendship that I share with Sue, who is the guardian of this little Eden. Our love is lovely, and it’s as obvious as a flower.

As garden-lovers, Sue and I see that a flower is above the soil, but that it’s also below it. The top of any plant is just half of the story, with an equally beautiful reflection just below the earth.

The roots that reach into this garden’s soil seek nutrients, captured and prepared by microbes and earthworms. My own roots reach even more deeply, beyond this Western land, back to the country of my birth; to England. It’s the source of my own nutrition in so many ways, and the country where I sowed my first edible crops.

So this current garden can be traced back to a small patch of Champagne rhubarb that I planted in London in the 1970′s. I can’t have been more than 5 years old, but my mum noticed I spent most of my time digging in the soil, and although I had declared I wanted to be an archeologist, my parents thought I might enjoy planting a patch in the garden at the back of our house and calling it my own.

I did. It was a source of great wonder and magic to me as I watched the rhubarb grow, and grow, and grow…. Rhubarb is superbly impressive in size, especially when you are 5. And soon, my little garden was taller than me.

I forget what else I planted there, except for violets and forget-me-nots. The velvety petals of the violets and the down on their leaves still enchants me, but the clear blue of forget-me-nots secures these tiny flowers as one of my favourite blooms to this day. Tiny and unassuming, but intense and exquisite in such a humble, quiet way.

So gentle readers, I’m exploring these roots again. For although I love Sue, and although I love the garden in Malibu, with its beauty and deliciousness and wildness and community, it’s time for me to go to England.

I miss its ancient Albion spirit, its lush greenness, its cold dampness and its smoky skies. I miss the people whom I love in the British Isles, and I miss the spiders and swallows and robins with their red breasts. I miss the foxes even though I’ll miss the howl of the Malibu coyotes, and I miss the crunch of autumn leaves despite the palm trees swaying in gentle breezes here by the beach. I miss the clear winter sun on a good day as it streams over the misty winter grass, and I miss the white frost as it crisps the grass underfoot.

It’s known as hiraeth in Welsh, and saudade in Portugese, and there’s only one known cure for it…

And so, my November blog will come to you via the UK, where I shall be eating my way through many fine organic food adventures and reporting back, as always, as always…

To England!

All photos courtesy of Cynthia Carlson, October 2012

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