Written and conducted by Elizabeth Chubbuck, Murray’s SVP of Sales & Marketing
For the last decade, Mary Quicke has been an iconic and inspirational figure in my life and my career in cheese. I distinctly remember the first time a cheesemonger in our Bleecker shop gave me a taste of Quicke’s Cheddar. My palate was flooded with intense flavors of fresh cut grass, notes of horseradish, and hints of stone, all laid over a rich, savory, umami foundation. The flavors and aromas were all familiar to me in precise and meaningful ways, yet the combination of them together in one bite was blissful and disarming. When the scruffy-faced cheesemonger on the other side of the counter described Mary as a bad-ass cheesemaker who surfed the cold waters of the Cornwall coast, I was hooked.
Three years later, I had the pleasure of meeting Mary at a cheese festival in Italy. In person she was warm, generous, courageous and spirited – everything I had imagined her to be, and more. This past spring, more than a decade after my first taste of Quicke’s Cheddar, I had the distinct pleasure of spending a few days with Mary at Home Farm, her family’s epic estate in Newton-St-Cyres, Devon, England. The memories from that trip will be something I carry with me forever. It is a privilege for me to share some of her story with all of you.
Home Farm is such a special place. Can you tell us a little bit about your family’s history with the land?
14 generations ago, my ancestor Andrew Quicke married an heiress whose father had received the monastic land that Henry VIII was handing out to persuade the English to agree to his marriage plans. Our family has held the land since then with Home Farm at its heart.
How does that history impact your sense of stewardship for this land?
My father used to say, ‘Live as if you will die tomorrow, farm as if you will live forever.’ We are stewards, not owners, of the natural world. It’s precious, and we must hand it on in a better state than we found it.
How long have you lived on Home Farm? What are some of your favorite memories there?
I was born here. I spent 10 years away as a young adult, confirming for me that I wanted to spend my life here. I love the notion of a ‘beloved landscape,’ full of layers of personal and family memory. My favorite? Walking with my father, tramping up hill and down dale, into the woods and him telling me his memories. My wedding day on the farm. Riding with my children and husband across the farm.
Why is the grass in Devon so well suited for cheesemaking?
Our climate is mild and damp, grass grows every month of the year. Our 3 main soil types grow grass through the year, each one giving something slightly different: the clay is more drought-resistant, the red soil is easier when it’s wet, and the valley land of Home Farm is deep and fertile and grows grass as well as anywhere in the country.
What do you love most about being a farmhouse cheesemaker? How does it impact the quality of the cheese?
I love the cycle of soil grows grass to feed to cows, they make the milk, and their manure and the whey goes back onto the land to grow the grass. The more we grow grass and graze it, the more carbon we sequester. I’m inspired that our cows and our soils are doing their bit to put the carbon back where it belongs, in the soil, growing delicious food that is good for you. I love the process of cheesemaking, each vat needing something slightly different to find the perfect cheese. I love that we can taste when the seasons change in the cheese. I love our heritage starters, collected from the best cheese dairies in the 1960’s and 1970’s, giving complex flavors. I love the mold garden that grows on the rinds of the cheese. I love the way our cheese tells the story of all that unknowable complexity, and there we are as human beings thinking we are doing it.
What is your favorite cheese related task each week and why?
I love the quiet time when I go around to all the cellars on a Saturday, when there aren’t many people around. I get to see all the cheese, feel their rinds, smell the air, and think about how they are maturing.
How does Quicke’s Farmhouse Cheese support the community in Devon?
We employ a lot of people directly or as suppliers: our village would be a dormitory for our local town without us rural businesses. Many rural businesses like ours wouldn’t have any hope of being successful without financial support. Living in USDA eligible areas makes getting the right financial assistance that little bit easier. We host school visits to show children how farming food and wildlife all hang together. We provide donations to local charities that work in farming and education. I’ve been the chair of governors or our local primary and secondary schools. I chair the Council of our Devon County Show, which shows off the best of farming to farmers and the community. We are welcoming local businesses onto the farm to use our redundant farm buildings: we have a children’s nursery and a cheese distributor here as well as our cheese shop so far.
My memories of traipsing through the garden behind your estate, picking herbs and flowers and greens, piling them into a flavorful, colorful, unruly heap of salad, and eating it with a hunk of cheese is one of my favorite meals of all time. Can you tell us a little bit about the wild mystery and beauty of your garden? What does it mean to you?
It’s my sanity. I love thinking about the soil as I work it. I love the way it so generously provides me with a multitude of different flavors when asked. I love it doing a lot of its own thing, and picking delicious wild plants as well as the invited ones. I love eating things that come from this place.
How do you eat and enjoy cheese at home?
We eat a little cheese as we prepare supper. I love a cheese plate before the meal, while you are chatting and waiting for everything to be ready. I love adding cheese to salads, adding an umami, rich and bread flavor to all the different flavors in my salad. I add cheese to a lot of dishes: potatoes are made for cheese; if a stew is lacking a heart to the flavor, a little bit of cheese rind grated in gives it what it needs. Some of the best comfort foods are cheese: grilled cheese sandwiches, mac and cheese…
The cheese industry today very much feels like an international community. Some of my greatest friends and inspirations are people I have met through cheese. Can you talk a bit about how you have seen that community grow and evolve?
I saw the British cheese community develop through the 80’s and 90’s. I’ve then had the privilege of seeing the American cheese community develop in the 00’s and 10’s. What a wild ride. What great people.
Has cheese changed you? In what ways?
Getting that you can have a life that is about joy and pleasure, which is good for you and legal.
America is full or orange and yellow cheeses. What does America need to know about Devonshire Red? Why is it special?
We started making it because people asked us to. We wanted our own Devon take on a Red Leicester and I like the chunky mouth feel, the buttery melt from grass-fed, delicate citric notes and our characteristic horseradish flavors from the rind.