The story of two dairy farmers in the Peak District
PUBLISHED: 12:54 21 March 2019 | UPDATED: 12:54 21 March 2019
as supplied/Andrew McCloy
British dairy farmers have been struggling in the face of low milk prices, but two producers in the Derbyshire Peak District have gone back to basics in more ways than one.
At Home Farm on the historic Hassop Estate, near Bakewell, the Dilks family take great pride in their 130-strong herd of Fresians and Montbéliardes, which graze contentedly in the surrounding lush green fields. Theirs is an environmentally-friendly business and just this month they have completed the two-year conversion to a fully certified organic farm; but more than anything they believe in producing a high quality, local product that is 100 per cent natural – in their case, raw milk. ‘We produce and sell wholesome, untreated milk straight from our cows,’ explains Bob Dilks, who runs the farm with his wife Judy and their children. ‘Our business is called Simply Milk because this is milk as it should be – and it tastes good and does you good!’
Once upon a time milk came straight from the cow to the jug on the table, as it were, natural and untreated. But, as our understanding of health issues increased and technology advanced, a process of sterilisation was introduced to screen out any undesirable bacteria. This involves heating the milk to a high temperature for a short time and then cooling it down again rapidly (known as pasteurisation), which doesn’t just kill off bacteria but also extends the drinkable lifespan of the milk. Another process was introduced to emulsify the fat droplets in order to stop the cream from separating and sitting as a layer on top of the milk (called homogenisation).
‘Milk in its natural state has a wide range of health benefits that are lost in this sort of treatment,’ says Bob, ‘including numerous vitamins, fully digestible calcium and beneficial bacteria that’s good for the gut and fighting off infections. We need to understand what modern processing does to our food and drink.’
Simply Milk really is a family business. Bob milks the cows twice a day and keeps an eye on all aspects of their welfare, while Judy rears the calves and deals with the never-ending paperwork. Son Ross is an agronomist and manages the arable crops and grassland, while daughters Charlotte and Meg feed the calves, cover marketing, ordering and a whole host of other jobs. One of these is stocking the farm’s public vending machine – not with fizzy drinks or bottled water, but with fresh raw milk straight from the herd. Open every day from early morning, the specially-designed machine is re-filled with fresh milk each morning and kept chilled all day. You can fill up your own bottle or buy a re-usable glass bottle from the machine, which also sells a range of milkshakes. The self-service experience has proved a huge hit with the public, from curious holidaymakers and passing motorists to an increasing number of regular local customers who simply pull in and fill up.
‘We thought for a while we wanted to diversify,’ explains Bob, ‘and find a way to help children and young people, in particular, understand where their food and drink comes from. It’s important that people see our cows in the fields by the farm and know that these healthy, well-looked-after animals produce the milk that they are drinking. When you buy a bottle of milk in the supermarket it’s easy to forget where it come from.’
Rich and full of flavour
Less than ten miles away there is a similar passion for raw milk at Tagg Lane Dairy, but although you can buy bottled milk here as well, the white stuff has also been transformed into a range of delicious artisan ice creams. The secret to the mouth-watering Pistachio or Amaretto Cherry-flavour gelato can be found chewing the cud in the neighbouring fields – the herd of 120 gorgeous Jersey cows. ‘The Jerseys’ milk has a high butterfat content,’ explains Jack Boam, whose family runs the farm high up on the limestone plateau near Monyash, ‘and it makes for brilliant ice cream. In fact our best seller is what we call Jersey Gold, which is simply milk and cream. Because it’s so rich and naturally flavoursome we don’t have to use all the additives and stabilisers that other ice cream producers put in. This is luxury ice cream as it should be.’
For the more adventurous flavours like Banoffee and Ferrero Roche the family seek out the best ingredients available, from the freshest fruit to the highest quality cocoa, so that the artisan gelato packs the tastiest punch (check out the new Bakewell Pudding flavour!). Although Tagg Lane’s ice cream is on sale at a few outlets in the Peak District like Poole’s Cavern and several caravan sites, and even La Pizza in Derby, most lip-licking customers head for the farm itself where there is a specially-built ice cream parlour and café. In addition to the regular ice cream, in cornets or tubs, the mouth-watering menu also includes Belgian waffles, ice cream sundaes and American style milkshakes. Or, if you prefer something a little more traditional, there’s plenty of tea and home-made cake on offer, all supervised (and much of it baked) by Jack’s mum Karen, as well as panninis and toasted teacakes. No wonder that Tagg Lane is becoming a regular stop-off for Ashbourne–Buxton commuters, as well as weekend ramblers and cycling groups.
As with Home Farm, the cows (and calves) at Tagg Lane are fed on grass and kept outdoors for as much of the year as possible. Jack’s father Les manages the herd and is always willing to answer questions or introduce visitors to these genial creatures. They’re visible, healthy and well-cared-for; but the growing interest in raw milk is not just because of where it comes from. ‘Raw milk is increasingly popular among people with food intolerances,’ explains Jack. ‘Milk from a cow is a living product, but pasteurisation and homogenisation kills all the good bacteria, which means your body has to try harder to absorb it. Untreated milk is rich in nutrients and beneficial probiotic bacteria that is so important to our digestive processes.’
For raw milk producers like Home Farm and Tagg Lane the issue of hygiene and food safety is of paramount importance, of course, and they are inspected, tested and monitored on a regular basis. It’s recommended that raw milk should be kept chilled at all times and stored for no longer than three days before drinking. Because untreated raw milk carries a small health risk, NHS advice is to avoid it if you have a weakened immune system or if you are pregnant, very young or very elderly. Acknowledging this, Derbyshire’s raw milk producers firmly believe that any risk is far outweighed by the benefits of this tasty, natural and healthy product. For them, helping consumers make the journey from farm to fork, or in this case udder to bottle, is part of their mission.
Home Farm is located on Hassop Road in Hassop. Its vending machine is open daily (7am-7pm) and the raw milk costs £1.20 for 1 litre, www.hassopsimplymilk.com
Tagg Lane Dairy is off the A515 (Monyash turning). The ice cream parlour is open Mon-Tues (12-5pm), and Thurs-Sun (10.30am-5.30pm), farm shop open daily all year, www.tagglanedairy.com