I really like Grant Warren. I met him a few years ago when he grew organic vegetables (including fabulous fennel – my favourite) and kept a small dairy herd. I was fascinated when he told me that he grew 99% of what his cows ate. He is definitely one of the good guys, so I headed out to see for myself.
The milk is often still warm from the cows when it is tipped into the huge vat where the cheese making process begins at Preston Farm. “I use the milk as fresh as possible to get the very best flavour” Grant tells me, adding “this also saves a lot of energy by not cooling and reheating the milk.”
Grant treads as lightly as he possibly can on our planet – harvesting rainwater, turning cow manure into compost for his vegetables and growing all the grass his cows need to eat. The flavour of milk (and cheese) is affected by what the cows eat, so keeping them happy with plenty of their natural food – grass – all year round means that the cheeses that La Petite France hand-craft are a firm favourite in the Midlands.
Since the now famous Camembert was first created over 10 years ago using the secret recipe invented by Hubert Berbizer, Preston Farm has supplied the milk.
It was a natural extension of Grant’s business to ‘add value’ to the raw product and make the cheese himself. He didn’t realise just how much he would love it. “It is such a wonderful process,” he says up to his elbows in curds and whey. “It is like bread making – transforming a simple ingredient into something extraordinary. It’s alive and very sensual.” Nothing artificial is added to the 4000 litres of milk turned into cheese each week – just salt, culture and vegetable rennet.
Naturally, I did have to ask the difficult question – how do you handle unwanted boy calves? Grant sighs “There are so many moral issues with farming. I don’t think there is ever a right time to take away the calf, so we do it immediately before there is more bonding. I think the trauma gets bigger if they are left longer. ” As I have heard horror stories about tiny three day old calves tied behind shacks, my next question got a straight answer, thankfully. “We slaughter them right away.” Grant couldn’t bear to sell the babies off to uncertain futures. I have to agree, this is probably the best thing commercial farms can do. Eish.
Of course, I worry that the cows are unhappy for ages, but Grant reassures me. “After a day or so, they are happily back in the herd. You won’t get milk from an unhappy cow – they simply won’t let it down. Cow comfort is imperative, if you are harsh to your animals you will go out of business quickly.”
Growing up on this farm where his Dad kept just 20 cows and grew heaps of veggies, Grant was certain he wanted this lifestyle for his family too. His kids love milk and often the milk bottle in their fridge is empty! “My favourite afternoon is watching rugby with my boys with a slab of Hilton Blue, fresh apple, biltong and beer.” he laughs. The Hilton Blue tastes really special – a brown mould which is endemic to the midlands adds an interesting colour and nutty flavour.
A Cheese Café is in the pipeline, where you too will be able to indulge in the apple, biltong and cheese combination, or a farm fresh salad topped with tangy feta. It will be situated in the middle of the farm and offer you the opportunity to personally thank the cows grazing in the pastures right beside you for sharing this bounty. http://www.lapetitefrance.co.za