Watching the dairy herd amble into the milking parlour at Goodwood Home Farm, it’s clear that these are no ordinary cows. Unlike the usual “black-and-whites” (farmer-speak for the high-yielding Holstein Friesian cattle or the smaller, more robust British Friesians) these dairy shorthorns have auburn coats as glossy as the chestnut horses in the Stubbs paintings at Goodwood House.
But more significantly, the animals have small, comfortable-looking udders, not the huge, distended milk sacs that I’m used to seeing when I visit dairy farms. Nor, says farm manager Tim Hassell, are these cows milking machines designed to make “white water”, the low-nutrient commodity milk commonly produced to meet the prices demanded by large retailers. “We aren’t looking for 10,000 litres a year each like you would off a Holstein,” he says. Instead their yield is just over half that, but with higher protein and butterfat content.
Goodwood is no ordinary farm. The West Sussex estate has a reputation that is more Bertie Wooster than Brian Aldridge, based on fast horses, flashy cars and fine living. At the end of July, the home of the Duke and Duchess of Richmond and their son the Earl of March, who runs the estate, hosts Glorious Goodwood, a highlight of the flat racing season. The Festival of Speed earlier this month attracted more than 100,000 visitors to watch supercharged sports cars negotiate the hill course, while Goodwood Revival in September is all about classic motors and vintage style.
In fact, Goodwood Home Farm is the one of the largest lowland organic farms in the country. Although it achieved full organic status only in 2004, the Duchess of Richmond, now 83, joined the Soil Association 50 years ago, inspired by Silent Spring, written by conservationist Rachel Carson and published in 1962.
“Both the duke and duchess are remarkable,” says Patrick Holden, chairman of the Sustainable Food Trust. “Their work was pioneering.” Now the farm includes beef cattle, sheep and pigs as well as the dairy herd.
Leaving the cows strolling into the milking parlour, I head to the nearby cheesemaking rooms. Bruce Rowan, the burly Philadelphia-born cheesemaker, started out behind the counter at London’s Neal’s Yard cheese shop before moving from selling to making cheese at Quicke’s farm in Devon. He has been at Goodwood for four years and makes the three cheeses (see box) single-handedly, bar a bit of help on Fridays to produce the 20lb Charlton truckles.
The hallmark of the Goodwood cheese, according to Rowan, is the mild flavour. “Because the milk is so lovely, I want it to taste of that. If it’s a strong, sharp cheddar you want, Charlton is not for you.”
Milk is a passion of the cheesemakers. Unlike a standardised product, says Rowan, the Goodwood milk varies throughout the year. “I love how in summer the cheese is really yellow, but in winter it is much more pale.”
And the variation goes beyond the seasonal. “The acidity changes as the cows move from pasture to pasture. It keeps me on my toes,” he says.
All the cheese is made with pasteurised milk, somewhat to Rowan’s chagrin, as the changes needed to process unpasteurised milk at Goodwood are not feasible at present.
But the duchess is a fan of unpasteurised “raw” milk, which legally can be bought only direct from a producer, and it can be ordered in advance from the Goodwood wholesale farm shop.
Is drinking unpasteurised milk worth the risk? Advocates say there are nutritional benefits, while detractors point to the reduction in tuberculosis and other milk-borne infections that result from pasteurisation. As for the flavour, I drank a glassful and can report that it has a clean, grassy flavour and rich creaminess, unlike the faint cooked flavour of ordinary milk. However, the unhomogenised, but pasteurised, Goodwood milk was almost as good.
Not that the milk is the only factor in the cheese. As we admire the velvet-soft white rinds of the Levin Down cheese in the ripening room, Rowan points to a bucket of whey in the corner.
“That’s to help us build up the flora, the natural yeasts in the air. Environment is so important to the flavour of the cheese,” he says.
Outside, the cows are ambling back to their field, only a short roll of a Charlton truckle away. Fast cars and slow cows seem to be a happy combination.
To order Goodwood Farm produce, call 01243 755153 or email [email protected] with initial inquiries. Orders must be placed 24 hours in advance for all dairy, meat and ales. Orders of raw milk must be placed by noon on Tuesdays for collection after 11am on Thursdays and Fridays.