Proper West-Country boys, James and Dave make sheep’s milk cheese on their farm near Shepton Mallet in Somerset. Dave worked for a local agricultural building contractor, whilst his brother James worked on a variety of local farms until the opportunity came up for them both of to return to work on their parents’ farm and start milking sheep in 2000.
More about the farm.
For about 45 years our family were mainly farming beef. They slowly built the farm up from about six acres to a viable size. When my brother and I returned to the farm we changed tack a little, brought in sheep and went organic. Nowadays we milk about 180-200 sheep. We decided to make cheese when we realised we couldn’t make a living from milk alone: we needed to increase the value of the milk by turning it into cheese and yoghurt.
A typical working day.
If it’s your turn to milk, it’s about a 3.30 am start! It takes about three hours to milk the sheep and then milk our small herd of Jersey cows. Next the milk has to be taken to Nathan in the cheese-room, who starts making the cheese. All the animals need to be fed and checked, the ‘milkers’ moved out to their daytime grazing, and then it’s breakfast for us. Once the morning routine is out of the way we can get on with whatever needs to be done that day. That might be going to a Farmers’ Market, making silage, fencing, paperwork, helping out in the cheese-room, or moving sheep or cows to new fields – the list is endless.
From the beginning of January until sometime in April we milk the sheep twice a day, so whoever milks has to do the afternoon milking too. If they start at 3.00 pm they are normally finished by about 6.00 pm. The person who isn’t milking will do their afternoon routine, topping-up feed and water for ewes in lambing pens, bottle-feeding lambs, and any other jobs they can squeeze in.
The best part of our job.
Lambing, fencing, and seeing people at the Farmers’ Market who are adamant they don’t like sheep cheese change their minds once they have tasted it. I still find it incredible how liquid milk turns to curds – like magic. No two days are the same: there’s lots of variety, everything changes with the seasons, and it is all entirely dependent on the weather.
My favourite way to eat our cheese.
Millstone melted on toast, Little Ryding unmelted on toast with jam. a
We have been lucky enough to win a few prizes at shows: the British Cheese Awards, cheese and yoghurt at Bath and West, cheese at Nantwich, the Soil Association, Taste of Somerset, Frome Show (Global Cheese Awards) and Mid-Somerset Show.