The Last Two Weeks at Ribblesdale Cheese

The first of the last two weeks I was at work alone as Stu had a weeks’ holiday, no cheese making, just a good catch up.  Day 1 of being at work alone for a week  I was (predictably) greeted by a waiting driver picking up our first order of the day.  I arrived a little after 8am because I went to check on Penny Pig and Snouter whose trotters are hurting and then dropped by the Spar for milk, ironic, really, given that we are a dairy; not that I am predicting much coffee drinking….no!  Note to self: better check the chocolate biscuit supplies and phone the vet for more piggie pain medicine.

Advice notes signed, a discussion with the driver on whether he should go to Masham or Richmond first; I am so rubbish at the geography around Hawes because I do not live here, I live 14 miles away in the next Dale travelling west from here so I should not be relied on to give directions going further east, but for once I got it right as I guiltily checked on Google after he left.  Phew!

Then on to the twice daily recording of temperatures, first of the week, then cup of coffee – yay, first of the day!  Radio 4 on, cup of coffee in hand, checked the bank and did the bank rec.  Best to keep on top of these things.  Then download the last set of lab results that went in last week.  All good, then update the batch book and the lab book to show that the results have come back ok, otherwise the batches the tests refer to would remain in ‘quarantine’ as we practice positive release.  This always takes a good ten minutes or so just to make sure that everything is up to date.  I always check even though it is me who prepares the lab samples for testing.  The reported enteros were less than 10 which is good as they were a little high on the last test.  Looks like we have got that back in check.

Two sets of Parcelforce delivery notes printed out and a conundrum: do I enclose a copy of the sales invoice in one of the parcels, marked up, ‘documentation enclosed’ as usual or do I stick it in the post because this customer has a habit of saying that there was no sales invoice with the cheese so the time it takes to send multiple hard copies when the amount is due just delays payment.  Most of our customers pay on time, especially the larger ones, for which I am extremely grateful.  Some, however, some string it out for as long as possible and just ignore polite requests for money until I get less polite and really start chasing.  This takes time and I dislike doing it, because in some cases some customers get really affronted by being asked to pay what they owe and this does not make for a good customer/supplier relationship.  Some tell me that they will pay us on their terms which needless to say is a lot longer than our 30 days.  This is a red rag to a bull to me and makes me even more determined.  The ‘small two and a half person cheese makers who cannot afford to finance our customer’s overdraft’ is another well worn phrase.  I spend a lot of time chasing money that is due to us.

A quick scan of e-mails reveals a customer order which I must prepare later today and an invoice for a pallet of wax that I had forgotten is going to arrive today.  That is going to be interesting to put away by myself for I have a very dodgy left arm.  Think I may abandon it until some later time.  The wax was duly abandoned for a couple of days – it is heavy: each box weighs 26kgs and as I gave each a batch code, I attempted to stack it 6 high in age order combined with older wax.

Tuesday and Wednesday I spent preparing our year end accounts.  On Thursday, I prepared the orders for the day as we have several customer pick ups on Thursdays and Friday was unexpectedly busy as I took and prepared pretty much a week’s worth of orders in one day.  This is a good sign, I thought, long may it continue…but it hasn’t…so far!  The collateral damage for the week was two packets of biscuits, half a jar of coffee and a semi rested arm.

The week ended with a discussion with one of our Yorkshire based wholesalers who had been busy pre-selling our little pumpkin cheeses.  By Friday, they had pre-sold

A fully dressed pumpkin cheese

A fully dressed pumpkin cheese

400.  This would be our task for the next two weeks.  Haha, little did we know!

Last Week…was eventful…

Stu came back on Monday, revitalised, full of vim and vigour.  Monday was a good day, where we had a cheese making class with Janet and John and we made a Wensleydale whilst Stu worked on a Tasty Yorkshire make.  The pumpkin count went up to 500.

On Tuesday, the pumpkin count went up to 600.  At about 8.10 am, we had a delivery of cheese that we buy in specially for one customer land on our doorstep.  The suppliers’ haulier had mistakenly sent them direct to us instead of direct to our customer.  The driver was slightly stressed, but very good natured, as the longer he spent with us whilst I was trying to sort the whole thing out with our supplier who was really good about it all, the shorter his remaining hours and he was worried that he would not make it in time to his depot, let alone home, in Somerset.  This took about two hours to sort out (his boss was not exactly what you might call helpful) which was jolly annoying as Tuesdays are usually our mad waxing days.

Jaap and Vincent

Vincent (left) and Jaap (right) 

Vincent

We had just got stuck into waxing when our friend Jaap (of Jaap de Jong and Jongiac fame) and his mate Vincent from an equipment supplier dropped by to kill time as they were early for their appointment with our friends up the road, so the kettle went on.  It is always nice to see Jaap and we discussed our cheese making courses and general goings on in the world of cheese.  He says he will add our courses to his website, which is nice of him.  And then, when the day was over,  after having taken Stu’s dog Pip for a quick 5 minute walk, I locked my keys in my car which was not a clever thing to do.  Thankfully, the Taylors ATV lads were still at work, for it was about 5.30pm by this time and with the aid of a crow bar, a piece of welding rod bent into a hook, they managed to fish my keys off the front passenger seat and through the side of the door which was prised open whilst I cringed with my hands over my eyes feeling like a complete idiot.  Tuesday was not a good day.

On Wednesday,  the pumpkin count went up to 700 – all pre-sold by our customer.  Stu and I nervously wondered how we were going to do this.  This week, our part timer Andrew was on holiday and I was helping Stu make our Superior Goat Gouda on Wednesday and Thursday.  I did a quick count of the cheese that we use to make the pumpkins and worked out that we probably did not have enough to make 700.  We make the pumpkins out of a coloured cheese we make specially for this one customer, so I gave them a quick ring and asked for 10 back!  Before I helped with cheese making at midday, I prepared Thursday’s orders, we usually have a fair bit going out on Thursdays.  Together, Stu and I made 1,700 litres of Superior Goat Gouda and 300 litres of our new mystery cheese.  During our make, I received a call from the technical person at a posh place we are trying to get our cheese into.  She asked ‘what measures do you take to reduce the risk of Chlostridium Botulinum?’

On Thursday, we received ten of our cheeses back as emergency pumpkin reserves and made a 1,900 litre vat of Superior Goat Gouda which just about finished off my left arm that was still pulsating wildly from Wednesday.  Just before we were about to wash the curd, I received a phone call from my local pub, from the landlady Jo, who was hosting  what I think was Australia’s under 18s rugby team, to ask if they could visit and could we show them how cheese was made.  A horde of 20 or so young Ozzie rugby players around the vat was a step too far so I limited them to four plus their minder.  As it happens, we received six plus their minder whose first words to me were ‘G’day’.

The young rugby players were actually fine and a couple did show some interest as Stu and I made our vat.  Just as we had finished cheese making and Stu was preparing to leave, as he gets in earlier than me and I stay later than him, Phil and Amanda, our landlords arrived.  So kettle on and a quick catch up with life in the outside world.  We don’t get out much.

Then, later as it was a long day, I received an e-mail from a friend of mine, Pip Seymour, an accomplished artist in his own right, teacher and entrepreneur, about one of his friends, Christian Furr, who is championing Pip’s new paint range.  I will get to the point, honest.  Christian, amongst painting the Queen, also paints cheese.  Click here for a look at some of Christian’s work.  This lead to phoning Christian to talk to him about painting one of our cheeses (which one!) and I agreed, after sending some photos of the cheeses that we make, we would send him one of our award winning Matured Naturally Rinded Goat cheeses.  In return, Christian said he would let us have a giclee print, which is very nice of him.  I hope he gets to eat some the cheese.

On Friday, we vac packed Wednesday’s make, only the vac packer stopped working properly.  One chamber sucked and vac packed, (very technical, I know,) the the other did not.  So, with a call to the supplier, I took the back off and between me and the very patient engineer on the other end of the phone, we located the contact switches and managed to get it going again.  We reckon one of the contact switches came loose – this can happen if you bang the lid down too hard or move the vac packer too roughly or bump it, apparently.  I was a little worried as I had my head deep in the bowels of the vac packer – there is surprisingly very little to them – with it on – and told the engineer that my mother always said, ‘don’t accept sweets from strangers and don’t fiddle with anything electrical that hasn’t been switched off.’  Well, there I was, with the vac packer on, pushing up contact switches.  I admit, I am a scaredy cat when it comes to electrical things, especially three phase equipment, but I think my mother’s saying gave the engineer a good chuckle and out of the two of us, he definitely sounded like he knew what he was doing, so I trusted him.

We then decanted the new mystery cheese, cleaned the dairy down and then in the afternoon set about round one of pumpkin making.  It is interesting to see the difference between Stu and I: after making, forming and waxing some 158 pumpkins, I turned to Stu and said ‘oh well, 158 down’ and he said ‘yes, only 542 to go’, which made us laugh as we realised that I am a glass half full person and Stu is a glass half empty kind of person!  We had to come in on Saturday for a couple of hours to vac pack the Superior Goat Gouda that was draining off overnight and clean down the dairy.  This is why we try not to make goat gouda on a Wednesday as it involves a Saturday jaunt.  Stu’s dad had a bit of a turn on the Friday night so Stu had spent the night at his parents place, making sure his mum was ok and drove down from Sedgefield on Saturday morning, so that was decidedly not good.  Here are some good vibes to both of them.

We decided to lure Andrew back from his holiday to help us make pumpkins today and he is here today after spending the week in and around Matlock and Buxton, visiting blue john mines, seeing old spas and taking an 8 mile bike ride, to which we both asked – why?

An eventful week!

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