At the recent Sydney Royal Show Dairy Awards, we were thrilled to win awards for two of our iconic Holy Goat cheeses, Brigid’s Well and Nectar cow/goat semi-hard.
Our Brigid’s Well, ash covered, with a wrinkly rind, creamy texture and amazing depth of flavour, is one of our earliest cheeses; we have been crafting her since 2007. But the cheese – and the award – means much more to us than a Silver Medal. Our Brigid’s Well cheese was named to honour and cherish our precious time spent with the Kent family.
The genesis of this cheese is from Ireland. The name came from the ages old well that sits on the road verge outside St Brigid’s Church in County Wexford, opposite the Kent family farm. The marker on the well signs that it was enclosed in 1862 but the well is much, much older in the context of Irish culture and spirituality. Brigid’s Wells are sacred sites found all over the country. People visit them to seek solace and healing from the waters and to make offerings. In Irish mythology, Brigid was the Celtic goddess of fire, poetry, unity, childbirth and healing. More recently, she is one of Irelands patron Saints – known as Mother of the Gael.
Our Brigid’s Well even looks like the Irish exemplar – the rough texture of the rind, ashen coating, its shape and proportions. And we do pay our dues and make our supplicants at/for the well every week!
In 1993 we turned up on the flagstep of a rural farmhouse in New Ross, Terrerath, County Wexford where Aine (pronounced “Onya” in Australian) her mother Mary and father Liam were running a small (by Australian standards) herd of 40 calves, a few goats and a flock of guinea fowl. Nothing remarkable about the farm at first sight, but there was something about it that really attracted us, something in the way that we wanted to farm.
Mary especially, had a way with animals and people and the land. She would say things like “did you notice the stillness of the air when you visited the cows?”, or, “when you feed the calves, stay a while with them and sure the one that feels poorly – you will see her”.
That first day, Aine and Mary had us sweeping the square (the farm is set up with buildings, dairy and house around a big courtyard square). Sizing us up. Seeing where we were at. Could we hold a broom and use it? Know how to be aware in our bodies? Complete a supposedly menial routine task? To Aine and Mary, our sweeping the courtyard told them volumes.
It was their way of sensing and observing that was so attractive, and formative, to us.
About the herd. The way that all the animals in the herd recognised each other and had a sense of connection; there were groups within groups. The way that the herd itself was a living thing, a sort of super organism – one brain, many bodies is how you might describe it. Within the herd, each calf had an independence and a strong sense of self, but their desire for the herd connection was very strong,
It was the rhythm of the days and the work.
Ireland was cold! We would work for a few hours and then come inside to warm up with a cup of tea and soda bread, always soda bread. Hand carting poo, cutting hedgerows, berry collecting, making jam, gardening, building and renovation projects. Goats were hand milked and the pails of milk delivered onto the bonnets of the cars parked outside St Brigid’s church whilst the occupants were attending Mass inside.
The life of the farm and the farmers was inseparable.
In the evenings, Mary would come up to our room, light the fire, knit and talk and drink tea with us, tell us stories.
Mary was unforgettable in her openness, her thoughtfulness, her knowledge, her way with animals and sense of the land and its secrets. She encouraged us, invited us into her seeing, hearing, feeling the land, animals and the life around us. We came to know her daughter Aine and see the special relationship they had, from and with the farm.
We embedded ourselves into the Terrarath farm and it into us. It was only three months, but they were significant life changing months. Look at us now, with a beautiful goat herd, our loved land, our team of workers and the cheese. All this was built on those solid foundations.
This blog, and our very special St Brigid’s Well cheese, are an ode to Mary who died last year and to Aine her daughter now finding a new way to live and be.
Postscript. Our Nectar Goat/Cow semi-hard cheese won a Gold Medal at the Sydney Royal.