This year we are celebrating our 40th birthday! As part of our celebrations, we are of course highlighting the eclectic group of wonderful cheesemakers and farmers we work with. Reflecting on the past 40 years, we feel so privileged to be part of such an engaged and dedicated community.
This cheesemaker blog is from Amiee Lawn, who's been a friend of ours since her days making Stawley at Hill Farm Dairy. Together with her partner Joe, she now makes Innes Log, Innes Brick, Innes Burr, Fresh Curd and Highfields on their farm in Staffordshire.
Where it all started:
Innes cheese has been produced at Highfields Farm Dairy for over 32 years now. It all began with Joe’s mum Stella. Then about 15 years ago, Randolph Hodgson managed to convinced Joe that he was more than just a goat man and he too could make cheese. That is when Joe started delivering our cheese to Neal’s Yard Dairy every Friday, where we sit, drink coffee and importantly taste through the batches we have delivered and what is still being matured. These Friday deliveries were instrumental to Joe’s relationship with Neal’s Yard Dairy. Having tasted our cheese as much as we have means the team at Neal’s Yard Dairy can pick out slight changes in salt, flavour or texture that you might expect only the cheesemaker to notice.
Joe and I met at Bronwen Percival’s Science of Artisan Cheese Conference (so much to answer for!). How many goat farming cheesemakers are there really? Joe and I realised we had the same passions for life, and I moved up to Staffordshire in early 2017. We have now started our own Innes clan, Nye our son was born a year ago today! Happy Birthday Spud!
Joe and I, give or take a few tasks, share the farming and cheesemaking alongside our fantastic team on the farm. Since the beginning we have always made lactic cheese from our own raw milk. The cheeses have been through many evolutions over the years. We now produce the Innes Log, Innes Brick, Innes Burr, Fresh Curd and Highfields which are all made with our own continuous whey starter culture.
Highfields is the first territorial/Caerphilly style made on the farm. It came about from our shared desire to make a hard goats cheese that complimented our lactic cheese and a cheese that helped soak up the glut of summer milk. Neal’s Yard Dairy have helped us develop this cheese. They have been maturing it for us until we have built a maturation store on the farm. They invest in their cheesemakers and in return we entrust them with our cheese!
Today on the farm:
Almost the end of the July and we have a handful of goats left to kid. We kid from February to July, which uses the goats natural breeding season. This ensures we have milk all year round. Most importantly we have cheese over Christmas, our busiest time. This does mean we have kids to look after for half the year, but we find this staggered kidding allows us to give attention to rearing small groups of kids. All our male kids are sold on to people who rear them for meat. We have a couple left for ourselves for our own meat supply. The hay is in the barn after some fine weather and we are waiting on the wheat next for our year’s straw supply.
The billy goats and goatlings (teenagers – before they go to the billy) are out browsing on the fields and hedges soaking up the sun. As these goats are not producing milk they do not require the same protein rich diet as the milking goats so they are able to effectively live off the pasture in this warm summer period.
There doesn’t feel like enough time in the day this time of year, despite the heavenly long light evenings. As we are at our peak milk, ladling, turning, salting every cheese by hand takes many hours. We are rewarded by the cool temperatures in the drying/ripening room. Turning a batch of Bricks feels like a real release from the days heat. In the summer we make more curd and of course now Highfields which nicely balances cheesemaking. The heat often brings problems, equipment that works hard gives up, tractors, dishwashers and the milking parlour. That was all last week! Neal’s Yard Dairy were there to offer support and advice as always to help get us back on track.
Now to future:
We have just submitted our application to put the whole farm into the countryside stewardship scheme which will hopefully support our vision to encourage a wildlife rich farm here at Highfields. For instance we are planning on sowing a sward mixture which promotes biodiversity, creates habitats, produces pollen and nectar and is also a superb soil conditioner and top quality forage for our goats. Other plans include laying hedges and taking areas out of production which creates year-round habitat and food for a range of wildlife.
Alongside our land projects for the farm, we are planning a small extension of the dairy which will provide a new Highfields make-room and store. Plenty to keep us busy!