We have just come back from a lovely week in Suffolk
It’s not often that we manage to take a whole week off from the shop but this week we managed it! Neither of us have ever spent any time in Suffolk so we decided to book a cottage on the east coast and go exploring.
For us a holiday is only really complete if we can take our two Red Fox Labradors with us and this one was no different. We packed up the car (my running trainers went in before anything else…) the dogs jumped in the back and off we went on the 170 mile journey.
It has to be said that Suffolk is a very beautiful county. We were staying right on the coast in a little village called Bawdsey (famous for having the World’s first radar station). In fact we went to a talk at the radar site which was totally fascinating. My Great Uncle was in the Royal Canadian Airforce and flew Spitfires in World War II so I am always keen to find out more about his experiences. It was well worth a visit (especially as it was our one damp day!)
Bawdsey also appeared to have more fields full of onions alongside acres of turf being grown to sell than you could imagine. It is lovely and flat (which suited my 12k runs each morning) and right on the coast. There were also a multitude of glorious walks to do around the area so the dogs were happy – they didn’t even seem too put out by having to do a lead walk around Sutton Hoo to see the burial site of various Anglo-Saxon Kings as well as the area where the famous helmet was discovered.
History lessons aside, no self-respecting cheesemonger can go on holiday without visiting either another cheesemonger or a dairy farm and we are no different. Fen Farm is situated in Bungay which was about an hour from where we were staying. We headed over to meet up with Iona and to hear a bit more about the farm, the cows and obviously the cheese – Baron Bigod (pronounced by-god). For those that don’t know Baron Bigod is an unpasteurised, artisan, traditional farmhouse cheese. It is similar in taste, style and look to the classic French Brie de Meaux PDO but it also very different. We find that it is often creamier and more tasty than the Brie (also when our customers try both they usually decide to buy the Baron…). We sell more of it than any other soft cheese in our counter.
But who was Baron Bigod? Originally from Normandy, Baron Bigod was (back in the 12th Century) the Earl of Norfolk. He owned the land on the Norfolk/Suffolk borders where Fen Farm is located. However he fell foul of King Stephen when he built a castle in Bungay and started to run riot in the area. He was subsequently stripped of his title and sent to fight in Syria where he died in 1178. The Montbeliarde cows whose milk goes into the cheese now graze around the castle ruins.
The farm itself has been owned by the Crickmore family for three generations with Jonny and Dulcie being the current custodians. When other local dairy farms started closing their doors, Jonny needed to find a way to ensure the future of the farm. He set about buying up some of the neighbouring land and pondered what to do to generate income. Milk revenues were at a low with big supermarkets trying to negotiate cheaper prices with dairy farmers and so Jonny started selling milk direct to customers from the farm gate. He started off by filling 30 litre bottles and leaving them in a fridge with an honesty box for customers to help themselves. When these were being purchased on a daily basis he filled 60 bottles and when these were disappearing he invested in an Italian vending machine for customers to be able to fill their own bottles.
Whilst the milk sales were consistently bringing in some much needed income, Jonny’s cows were still producing a lot more milk than his local customers could buy. It was then that he decided to start making cheese. He quickly established that whilst there were many hard cheeses being produced in the UK there wasn’t a British cheese that was similar to the Brie de Meaux. This was soon to change and after a few experimental makings Baron Bigod was born. It is now considered one of the finest soft cheeses in the world and is one of only a handful made by the farmer on the farm.
As well as the Baron Bigod, Jonny and his team now produce and sell butter, mascarpone, skyr yoghurt and milk (of course!) all through their milk shed on the farm.