The Farming Social Hub - a voice for the farming community

Fen Farm: The big cheese

It was just 10 years ago that Jonny Crickmore decided to swap the hard slog of producing milk for the supermarkets for the hard slog of producing raw milk to sell at the farm gate. While Jonny and his team are still working 14 hour days, the outcome is worth it.

“We went from producing milk that was selling for next to nothing, to producing milk that was selling for a £1 a bottle at our farm shop and kiosk,” says Jonny, as he looks some time out of a busy day to speak to the Farming Social Hub. The full interview can be heard on Episode 21 of the podcast.

Part of the Archer’s storyline

Award-winning cheese that graces the tables of royalty; a farm shop that is thriving; a raw milk brie that rivals the bries of France; and a place in the history of the BBC Radio Show The Archers – it has been a whirlwind of a decade for Jonny and his family.

The Crickmores have been farming at Fen Farm, in the Waveney River Valley for three generations. They have always runs dairy herd, although these days it is the beautiful Montbeliarde cattle that are grazing the marshlands and lush pastures rather than the more recognisable Holsteins.

Baron Bigod: royalty among cheeses

Currently, the show-stopping product that is earning Fen Farm an international reputation is Baron Bigod. Chosen by Megan and Harry for their wedding; used in the final of the Great British Menu; included in the Harrods deluxe Christmas hamper – this is a cheese that is making waves.

The Brie-de-Meaux style cheese is the only one of its kind produced in the UK using raw milk. It is a creamy, white bloomy-rind cheese handmade on the farm. It has a smooth silky texture and a golden curd, with long lasting warm earth, farmyard and mushroom flavours.

In fact, the cheese is also one of only a handful of its type in the world to be made by the farmer on the farm and can genuinely be called a true farmhouse Brie. Using a traditional recipe passed on to Fen Farm by a French cheese maker, the team have turned the recipe into something very special.

But the Baron Bigod is only one part of the story. Raw milk has been a regular at the farm shop ever since the 24-hour kiosk opened and it has a dedicated following. 

Raw Milk proves a real winner

“The most regular feedback we get is that it tastes incredible,” says Jonny. “It has health benefits too – with every process that milk goes through more of the goodness is lost, so ours is as fresh as it is possible to get – but it is the taste that people talk about.”

There is also raw butter on the menu and the team has also expanded now into producing Skyr – a natural yoghurt made from skimmed cows milk and nothing artificial at all. 

And just when you think that the Fen Farm Dairy story can’t get any better, you learn that they are also great custodians of the land. In Episode 21 of the Farming Social Hub podcast, Jonny explains that over time, he has learnt that the less you do to the land, the more nature rewards you. His cattle graze extensively on grass and meadowlands that are packed with different varieties of grasses, herbs and flowers. The soil gets the goodness of pure cattle manure and benefits from a complete lack of chemicals. 

In addition, the team are working hard on their ‘cowbon footprint’. From their website, here are some of the ways they are reducing their impact on the environment: 

  • 100kw solar panel system on the roofs of the barns which, on a sunny day, can produce enough energy to power the whole farm.
  • Natural heat extracted from the fresh warm cows milk as it goes through the cooling system is used to help heat the water used for washing down the milking parlour. 
  • Free range cows have a much lower carbon footprint. The more grass they eat, the less fodder has to be grown for them and the fewer tractors are involved. The Montbeliardes graze outside for as long as possible. When the herd are inside for the winter, they are fed as much of a home-grown diet as possible, to greatly reduce the food miles associated with buying in lorry loads of feed stuffs from across the globe.
  • It is not yet possible to process all of the milk on the farm, but the team are working on it and hope to be able to soon. Beef animals are slaughtered and sold locally where possible and the raw drinking milk only travels a few metres from milking parlour to cow-print-shed, to consumer.

For more information visit the website.