Hello, my friends! For this week’s blog post, I am SO excited to bring you a conversation I had with Mary Quicke of Quicke’s in England. Before our scheduled Skype call, I was really nervous! What do you say to such a prolific cheesemaker? She’s practically a living legend! Not only that, she writes the most beautiful blog about her farm and the cheeses.
I didn’t have too much time to worry about things, though, because the camera turned on, and suddenly, there was Mary talking about the baby calves arriving on the farm. She thought of “taking me” out to see them, but sadly, the Wi-Fi wasn’t strong enough for a farm visit.
First off, a little background. Mary is a 14th (!!) generation farmer. Her family has been on the same land since the 1540s. Back then, her family did have a little more land than they do today, but a relative from the 18th century decided to break up the property to leave a nice pension for his many children. Not only was the family land used for farming, including cheesemaking, it was used to mine manganese during the 17th and 18th centuries (Does anyone have the Poldark opening sequence running through their minds right now?).
Traditional cheesemaking on the farm, and all throughout Britain, ceased during the Second World War. Instead, all milk was made into “National cheese,” a young and wet creation meant to reduce food waste by not allowing the separation of curds and whey.
Mary’s parents, especially her mother, only set up the dairy again in 1973, after having 6 children and studying at the Royal College of Art. Mary left home to pursue her studies, but returned to the dairy with her husband in 1984. They began selling the cheese under the name Quicke, which was a first for the company.
Quicke’s is now known for its traditional cheddar cheeses, but did you know that this tradition could only be carried on through an act of rebellion? In the ’60s and ’70s, heritage starter cultures had been collected from the natural flowering of milk. They were kept collectively, and used by famed cheesemakers like Montgomery, Keen, Barber—and Quicke. Eventually, the starters were sold to a company abroad, who, in relatively short time, decided they weren’t profitable. The starters were slated for destruction. One brave British microbiologist secretly hustled the doomed starters back to England, where they are now kept by a British cheesemaker, and are still used by British cheesemakers, much to our bellies’ delight.
When asked about the new great projects for 2017, she gleefully pointed out her new milking parlor. Mary takes great pride in her specially bred cows, which combine all her favorite breeds: Holstein, Friesian, Swedish Red, Montbeliard, Brown Swiss, and Jersey. Since it takes about 4 years before she can taste the milk from a new breed of cow, it’s a long process. Mary admitted that she is never done with it. As for the new milking parlor, it will allow the cows to graze more! A large road cuts her farm in two, and it had never made sense to take the cows to the other side of the road to graze and then back to milk them. Now, with a milking parlor on each side of the road, the cows can graze on both sides of the road, and more pasture is available to them. Hopefully this leads to more delicious cheese for us!
Another great project in the works that we can all look out for is the Academy Of Cheese. Inspired by the US’s CCP (Certified Cheese Professional) program, Quicke’s is working with folks from Paxton & Whitfield, the Guild of Fine Food, Charlie Turnbull of Turnbulls, Harvey & Brockless, and Appleby’s Cheshire to create certification for cheese professionals at 4 levels in the UK. If you are interested in learning more about the Academy of Cheese, visit their website.
Mary is constantly on a quest for the ideal cheese. I asked her what that means to her, and she said that it’s a cheese that’s “round, nutty, grassy, with really lingering, complex flavors and aroma.” It’s a cheese whose flavor unfolds, and whose layers unfold at different stages. It tells the story of the place it comes from and the values of the people who make it. As Michelangelo famously stated, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Mary likens her cheese whispering to that kind of process. In every vat, she sees the perfect finished cheese of whatever style she is making, and does her damnedest to set it free.
In the end, Mary says, her work is about providing joy and pleasure. She loves being able to “roll around in that world all the time.” She experiments with her work, always in pursuit of world-class cheese, world-class people, and excellence in farming. “A life spent in the service of what you’re inspired by is really fulfilling,” she mused.
THANK YOU, Mary, for taking time to chat with me! I feel inspired to find that high level of dedication in my own projects, not to mention hungry for Quicke’s cheese!
You can find Quicke’s cheeses in the United States at specialty food and cheese stores.
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