Rupert Cyster is the owner of Northiam Dairy. His cows produce extraordinary milk that is popular in the specialty coffee scene of London and Kent. His wonderful crossbred cows are reared, as he says, ‘twixt Kent and Sussex Downs’ in southeastern England. He was kind enough to share some of his extraordinary knowledge of dairy farming with us in this interview.
Many baristas believe that seasonal changes in a cow’s diet will affect milk quality. Have you found this to be the case with your milk?
Yes, especially in the spring when the cows go from eating silage (preserved grass) to fresh grass. With our own cows we try to reduce the impact by only letting them out slowly (for one hour on the first day, two hours on the second day, et cetera).
What sort of pasture is best for dairy cows?
All our swards are mixed, different grasses and clover. The target is for quality milk rather than quantity. We aim to have a mixed diet, as it is healthier, and a healthy animal is essential for quality milk.
Can you tell us more about the grass-pickling process used to make silage? Is there any technology in the making of silage that can add to its nutritional benefits? Is silage produced on more or less the same principle as sauerkraut—by lactic acid fermentation?
Silage is basically pickled grass, and although I have no experience of making sauerkraut, the process appears similar. As you say, both rely on lactic acid fermentation. We cut the grass, leave it in the field for 24 hours (depending on weather, the maturity of crop, et cetera), and then gather it into tight bales which are then wrapped as soon as they can be. The idea is to seal the grass away from the air; the sugars in the grass are then fermented into acids and pickle the grass.
Is your silage inoculated with any kind of flora?