Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

I crossed the Cotswolds to Bisley in Stroud, Laurie Lee country; wooded valleys keeping most of their secrets hidden from all but those who live there. I arrived at Marion's cottage late, with the brakes and gearbox overheating, the sun struggling to make its presence felt through a veil of mist. It was uncannily still when I switched off the engine. Other than the handful of parked cars, there wasn't much to suggest that the last hundred years had happened and it was beautiful.

Marion was in the kitchen making coffee. She's a cheese maker, an award-winner whose lifelong love affair with the stuff has led her to its ultimate source, the dairy cow. She's a cheese inventor, and has an expert's fascination in every facet of the process. She has a herd of Gloucester cattle and spends a lot of time with them. She really loves those cows. I've been meaning to come and see them for ages. We drank coffee and thought about cows. "What is it about Gloucester milk then, Marion? It's really creamy, right?'

"Well, it is, I suppose, but the fat globules are small which makes it easy to digest. The yield is nothing like you'd get from a Holstein, they're not competitive on quantity, but it's an excellent milk."

Charles Martell, who invented Stinking Bishop, was responsible for rescuing the Gloucester breed from extinction. The revival of interest in regional cheese has helped too – Single Gloucester has to be made with Gloucester milk, and now there are about 700 breeding cows, all owned by cheeseheads like Marion.

I'm thinking about getting a couple and building a herd. I had no idea how much these things cost, or how much space they take up. Marion suggested buying a pregnant cow and thought that would be around £1,400, and to allow an acre per cow. I don't think that's bad price for a cow that makes a golden cheese. The other great thing about them, is that they are dual-purpose. Gloucester beef is excellent, so any bull calves that are born don't have to be destroyed.

We jumped into Marion's jeep and went careering through the valleys. The cows were housed in a barn at the end of a rough track. I thought they were going to be brown, but they are dark with white flashes, curly horns and a lot of attitude. They weren't really up for being patted. The Gloucesters looked and acted like frisky racehorses. One of the bullocks was getting frisky with his mum and sister. Marion watched with pride as the young bull sprang around.

"There's an 11-year-old cow, called Trinity," she said, "She's pregnant. I can probably get her for you." I'm in.