Dairy Day! A diary of our visit to Bradfields Farm

At The Saffron Ice Cream Company we love good quality ingredients…. The natural and local ones, the ones unique to the British countryside and those that are a little bit wonky which add to their character.

Being artisan ice cream producers, we use thousands of litres of fresh whole milk and thick double cream during the course of a season, and we were keen to learn a little bit more about the ‘white gold’ used. On Friday 19th January, we had a staff away day visiting Bradfields farm Dairy in Wickford, a dairy farm since 1922 and one of only a handful of family owned dairies still in operation in Essex.

Our day started in a barn with a warm cup of tea (naturally with a dash of milk!), where we were met by farm daughter Clare and her colleague Lynette. We were briefed on what we were going to be shown and learn during day and with that it was time to get our wellies on… we were on a muddy farm after all!

Clare’s father Nick (born on the dairy farm!), drove up on his tractor after preparing breakfast for ‘the 135 dairy girls’ and explained to us about what the cows were eating, the quantities they consume and how this changes throughout the calendar year. He also told us about the huge amount of water drank. Each cow needs in the region of 60kg of food and 60L of water per day and will produce in the region of 30L of milk!

Nick taught us all about the cows daily routine, how old the cows were, their yearly cycle and how the dairy industry had changed over the years. It was clear Nick loved being a dairy farmer, and all the hard work that went with it!

Clare and Lynette showed us the pasteurisation room, where the fresh milk and cream was initially stored before being heated, separated and cooled ready for bottling for customers. We learnt that lower temperatures were used to pasteurise (to minimise bacteria that may be in the milk and make it safe to drink) to keep the good qualities of the milk. We were shown how cream was skimmed from the milk using central frugal spinning which equated to about 10% of the milk – the key ingredients in ice cream production!

After a delicious lunch of (you guessed it!) cheese sandwiches, yoghurt and pies covered in thick cream, it was time to get hands on… making cheese with Clare and Lynette! Bradfields farm produce a range of delicious soft cheeses which are accompanied by a hard ‘manchego’ style cheese. Today we were helping produce the latter. Together we heated the milk, mixed in the rennet and cultures, before cutting the curds and separating the whey. We knew you needed a lot of milk to produce cheese, but didn’t realise the yield was as low as 10-15%!

The last part of our day, and probably the most exciting, was venturing into the milking parlour to learn about, and see, the girls being milked. This happens twice a day on the farm at 5am and 2pm. We were shown how the cows enter the parlour and how they are prepared for milking. It takes about 5 minutes to milk a cow, which gives about 15 litres per milking. Milking at Bradfields farm is a labour of love when there are 135 cows to be milked, and 12 cows per session. We were all surprised that the temperature of milk coming from the cow is 40 degrees!

We left Clare and Lynette, and the team at Bradfields farm with a much greater knowledge of liquid dairy and the huge amount of time and effort it takes for every litre…. It’s fair to say we will look at milk and cream in a very different light now!

We are looking forward to repaying the staff day out as we are arranging for them to see how ice cream makers turn milk and cream into freshly churned ice cream… (no doubt there will be ice cream for lunch!!)

Why not visit Bradfields farm for yourself and buy some of their milk, cheese or cream? www.bradfieldsfarm.co.uk

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