You might think that, having a connection to a farm dating back to 1540, there would be little left for a family to learn about their land.
||Holstein Friesian x Swedish Red x Montbeliarde x Jersey x Brown Swiss
Fourteen generations on, Mary Quicke is still thirsty for knowledge, and at a pace matched by few in the cheese world. A life-long surfer, trained writer, perennial gardener and seasoned arborist, she draws energy and experience from all she encounters to ensure her cheese business remains at the forefront of artisan practice as well as interacting positively with all it touches.
The cheese story at Quicke’s dates from 1973 when Mary’s parents, John and Prue, sought greater diversity on the farm due to arable surpluses. Bland, factory-produced cheddar had become the staple post-war, so the couple chose to re-invigorate the near-extinct tradition of handmade, cloth-bound, long-matured cheddar. They, as others, then had to sell their cheeses through the Milk Marketing Board, but by the late 70s a divergence of opinion led to a parting of ways. The Quickes wished their labour-intensive cheese to be sold on its value, but the MMB were only prepared to buy at the price they were offering, so the Quickes began to market their cheese directly instead. It was a success and others followed.
Mary, one of six siblings, was not the expected successor at the cheese vat. Part-way through a PhD in dramaturgy in London, while on a weekend back home, the cheese bug bit and she soon swapped the capital for the rippled greens of Devon to apprentice at a nearby farm. She then returned to assist her mother.
In 1987 Mary took over the running of the farm. Among the most valuable of her contributions to their cheesemaking progress has been the development and refinement of their herd of low-yielding hybrid cattle, the breeding of which is carefully controlled to ensure the best milk for their style of cheddar. Another has been her deep-rooted understanding that the soil is where quality is made. The farm’s 840 acres of pasture are grazed on a 24-hour rotation, the herd moving on every day to allow strong regrowth, thus encouraging deeper roots, more established plants and richer characters to find their way into the milk.
Quicke’s is one of the larger artisan cheddar producers, their uniquely mottled drums leaving Mary’s ‘cathedral of cheese’ for markets around the globe. But quality here is not fettered by scale; when put into context, their annual output still equates to less a day’s production at the largest commercial cheddar factories.