My passion for dairy finds its roots in a journey I made some twenty years ago. I had been commissioned to go to Normandy to interview the chef John Christophe-Novelli who had recently converted an old water-mill into a restaurant. Co-incidentally my upstairs neighbour Max Jourdan had been booked as the accompanying photographer.
One morning we squeezed ourselves into his small car along with all the camera cases and tripods and set off. Aside from plenty of lively conversation that saw our journey speed by, my abiding memory is of stepping off the kerb of a dusty West London pavement into the car, and out again onto the soft tread of long grasses on arrival. I had never encountered grass that luscious, every blade had the semblance of a cartoon image, long and straight with neatly tapered ends, that looked as though it had been groomed with a wire brush. And the scent that accompanied it was overwhelmingly heady and sweet.
If you fast forward to today, I have lost count of the number of times I have made that journey to our farmhouse there. And those first few steps on the soft Norman turf when we arrive continue to enchant me as much now as they did then. This is the raw ingredient that underpins Normandy’s extraordinary tradition in milk, butter, cream and cheese. Our farmhouse lies deep within the dairy country of the ‘bocage’, a mishmash of medieval fields traced by hedgerows that looks like a patchwork quilt in disarray on an unmade bed. No mechanisation here, hooves and feet are the only means of negotiating the uneven clods. My cooking when I am there, revolves around the seasonal dairy treats to be found locally in the shops and markets.
All too often we find quality and health pulling in different directions, where one is at the expense of the other. It is both rare, and special, that diary offers us the best and the healthiest in a single package. If we look to grass-fed cattle and artisanal production instead of grain-fed stock and industrial products. Back at home in the UK, we can all take advantage of herds reared in a traditional fashion by looking for the Pasture Promise Label, a mark of pride for Free Range Dairy Farmers who have committed to grazing their cattle in fields for 6 months or 180 days of the year.
The renaissance of this kind of traditional dairy farming is one that we should cling on to and celebrate. I hope with my cookery book The Modern Dairy it will show you a way to combine nutrition and dairy for good health, as well as inspire you with a love of food and cooking, to bring a little in the way of harmony to this remarkable foodstuff.
Thank you to Annie Bell for sharing some recipes from The Modern Dairy, we hope you will seek out Pasture Promise free range milk and dairy when making this delicious food. Tomorrow, we’ll share the recipe for Comte Fondue with Dippers, a favourite of Neil Darwent. Montbeliarde cows produce Comte cheese and Neil used to manage a herd of Montbeliarde cows for many years in Somerset.