At Fen Farm Dairy in Bun­gay, Suf­folk, Jonny and Dul­cie Crick­more are us­ing an in­no­va­tive approach to re­vive the mar­ket town’s cen­turies-old but­ter-mak­ing her­itage

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - words by alex reece pho­to­graphs by clare winfield

A fam­ily dairy farm is help­ing to re­vive the cen­turies-old but­ter­mak­ing her­itage of the mar­ket town of Bun­gay

On warm spring days, Jonny and Dul­cie Crick­more make a pic­nic of bread, but­ter and cheese, and climb the steep grassy bank that over­looks their dairy farm on the edge of Bun­gay in ru­ral Suf­folk. With their two small chil­dren, Arthur and Ot­tilie, in tow, they beat a path to the top and take in the view of the farm and the flat marsh­land be­low, where the River Waveney un­du­lates through lush pad­docks, home to their 270-strong herd of mostly pure-bred red-and-white Mont­be­liardes.

Also vis­i­ble in the farm­yard is the tiny cow-print shed, where Fen Farm Dairy’s raw, ar­ti­sanal prod­ucts are sold, breath­ing life into a lo­cal dairy tradition that dates back hun­dreds of years. “Suf­folk used to be fa­mous for its but­ter,” says Jonny, whose fam­ily has been farm­ing on the same spot for three gen­er­a­tions, “but it had died out, and no one was even mak­ing it in East Anglia.” A tan­gi­ble re­minder of Bun­gay’s past sta­tus as the but­ter-mak­ing cap­i­tal of Eng­land is a 17th-cen­tury, lead-domed but­ter cross in the cen­tre of the mar­ket town, un­der which farm­ers used to trade their prime dairy pro­duce. So great was its rep­u­ta­tion, the but­ter was sold in Lon­don and shipped as far as the West Indies. It’s a story now echoed in Jonny and Dul­cie’s own suc­cess, as their Bun­gay Raw But­ter – which is sold in wooden con­tain­ers stamped with a but­ter cross in­signia – is avail­able in Neal’s Yard Dairy and Fort­num & Ma­son as well as on­line and through re­tail­ers across the UK.

Keen to pro­vide a prod­uct that re­quires as few steps as pos­si­ble be­tween field and ta­ble, Jonny and Dul­cie opted to cre­ate theirs us­ing milk in its ‘raw’ form, mean­ing that it has not been heat­treated to kill the mi­cro-or­gan­isms it con­tains. It’s an in­no­va­tive approach, which has been gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity among those who feel it leads to milk, cream, cheese and but­ter with greater depth of flavour, in­creased nu­tri­tional value – as vi­ta­mins aren’t de­stroyed in the heat­ing process – and that the en­zymes it con­tains can make it eas­ier to di­gest. How­ever, there are health con­cerns about raw milk specif­i­cally, as the lack of heat treat­ment in­creases the like­li­hood of the pres­ence of harm­ful bac­te­ria. “I be­lieve the ben­e­fits far out­weigh the risks,” Jonny says. “It’s im­por­tant for any­one sell­ing raw milk to know all the po­ten­tial dan­gers and how you com­bat them. But we’ve been sell­ing it for five years and have only ever had good com­ments.”

The pro­duce that Johnny and Dul­cie now sell is the cul­mi­na­tion of a di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion process that be­gan back in 2011. At that point, Jonny, who had been work­ing full-time along­side his fa­ther Gra­ham, had be­come dis­il­lu­sioned. “I wasn’t en­joy­ing the style of farm­ing we were do­ing; we had a high-yield­ing Hol­stein herd, and they were in sheds most of the year – be­cause they pro­duce so much milk, grass is not enough to feed them.” Fur­ther­more, Jonny was in­spired by a lo­cal chicken farmer who was sell­ing his free-range eggs, us­ing an hon­esty box, for twice as much as the big com­pa­nies were pay­ing. “I said to Dul­cie: ‘Why on earth don’t we do the same with our milk?’”

This led to their in­no­va­tive raw-milk vend­ing ma­chine, in­stalled by Jonny and Dul­cie in their lit­tle farm shop, and, be­fore long, cus­tomers were flock­ing to fill up their own retro-style glass bot­tles of Fen Farm Dairy milk. The Crick­mores were soon re­tail­ing up to 100 litres a day, a suc­cess that in­spired them to ex­pand their range.

In keep­ing with their de­sire for a less in­ten­sive style of farm­ing, the fam­ily sold off some Hol­stein cat­tle and re­placed them with 72 pure-bred Mont­be­liarde cows, sourced by Jonny from the Jura re­gion of France, known for its Comté cheese. Dul­cie, mean­while, who has a back­ground in cos­tume mak­ing for film and the­atre, put her mind to­wards their on­line pres­ence and brand­ing – work­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion with artist and de­signer friends to de­vise their dis­tinc­tive pack­ag­ing.

The Mont­be­liarde’s milk is ideal for but­ter and cheese mak­ing, as it is nat­u­rally higher in pro­teins and but­ter­fat, re­sult­ing in a

They are keen to pro­vide a prod­uct with the fewest steps be­tween field and ta­ble

Jonny puts the pub­lic’s en­thu­si­asm down to the milk’s su­pe­rior taste

richer flavour. The breed is also hap­pi­est be­ing fed on grass, and so grazes out­side in the pad­docks for most of the year. Fen Farm but­ter is made tra­di­tion­ally us­ing soured cream, as op­posed to whey – a waste prod­uct of cheese mak­ing – which is com­monly used by other farm­house brands. Once the but­ter has been churned, Jonny will sprin­kle over Mal­don Sea Salt, which lends the fin­ished prod­uct a sub­tle yet sat­is­fy­ing crunch. Fi­nally, they use Scotch hands, rather like wooden spat­u­las, to tap out any re­main­ing mois­ture. Then the but­ter is ready to be shaped, wrapped and boxed for sale.

Raw milk can only be bought di­rect from sup­pli­ers in the UK for health and safety rea­sons, and is banned in Scot­land (the rules for but­ter and cheese are more lib­eral due to the dif­fer­ent pro­cesses in­volved). With this in mind, as well as adding ben­e­fi­cial lac­tic bac­te­ria – “They get the up­per hand quickly, which means that other, po­ten­tially harm­ful, bac­te­ria don’t have the chance to get es­tab­lished” – the Crick­mores are rig­or­ous about an­i­mal health, along with clean­li­ness in the milk­ing par­lour, and cool­ing their milk quickly to the right tem­per­a­ture to pre­vent bac­te­rial growth dur­ing its shelf life. “We’re al­ways think­ing of ways to have a bet­terqual­ity prod­uct with a health­ier, hap­pier an­i­mal,” Jonny says.

Fol­low­ing the rap­tur­ous response to their milk vend­ing ma­chine, Jonny and Dul­cie be­gan sell­ing the de­vices them­selves – and so far 34 have been bought by farm­ers all over Eng­land, part of the en­gine of a newly resur­gent mar­ket for raw milk. “Some sell 200-300 litres a day,” Jonny says. He puts the pub­lic’s grow­ing en­thu­si­asm for the unadul­ter­ated white stuff down to two things – its su­pe­rior taste and an in­creas­ing in­ter­est in prove­nance: “Bit by bit, we’re re­al­is­ing that if we don’t sup­port lo­cal busi­nesses, our high streets are all go­ing to be full of the same shops.”

Of course, be­ing the driv­ing force be­hind a pioneer­ing dairy busi­ness doesn’t leave a huge amount of leisure time: “We have a few hours off on a Satur­day or Sun­day, when we might go to the coast for a walk,” says Dul­cie, who mostly works from home to fit in with the chil­dren. Hap­pily, Arthur and Ot­tilie, aged five and three, are equally de­lighted to get in­volved in life on the farm – par­tic­u­larly when it comes to join­ing in rides on the trac­tor or help­ing to care for the an­i­mals. But it’s clear the job sat­is­fac­tion that comes from be­ing in charge of the whole cy­cle of pro­duc­tion and in­spir­ing other raw milk pro­duc­ers to fol­low suit – while also restor­ing Bun­gay’s rep­u­ta­tion as a dairy prod­uct des­ti­na­tion – is well worth the ef­fort. “I can’t be­lieve what we’ve man­aged to do in the past year,” Jonny says, cit­ing their cheese be­ing served at As­cot and Wim­ble­don as a high­light. “I love our lit­tle town – I’ve lived here all my life and feel proud I’m do­ing my bit to raise its pro­file.”

Dul­cie and Ot­tilie climb the Suf­folk fields that pro­vide or­ganic feed for their herds and in­crease the qual­ity of their prod­ucts

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.