It has been a busy couple of weeks, so lots to report. Today, we are making the third of our four sheep cheese makes. January was predictably a quiet month and so far, February has picked up a fair bit – time will tell, I don’t want to get too excited!
The quest for transparent pots to put our goat curd in has finally come to fruition and we received a delivery yesterday, but my goodness, I had to pester the company I bought them from because despite the fact they were the only people to send out a sample, they didn’t appear to want to make the sale. The other ten or so pot makers I contacted just did not bother to reply to my inquiry for 1,500 pots: weird.
Snow! There is no 2014 winner of the snow book. It officially snowed here on Tuesday 11th Feb. I shall do a dedicated blog post about the 2014 snow book.
We had our annual visit from the bank manager, Wayne, who came and went. I read somewhere that Google was more trusted than banks. No surprise there. Personally, I think it is only a matter of time before our high street banks become obsolete or at least have to radically change their practices and start to compete (really??) and offer service and value for money. If you think about it, all a person or business really needs is a current account to receive money in and make payments out of. Why can’t we all shop around for current accounts, loans, mortgages, savings deals? I don’t see why anyone, be it Google, Amazon, Coca Cola et al couldn’t offer better, more competitive current accounts, taking into account better rates from different jurisdictions and associated financial products for individuals and businesses to pick and choose the best deal from, much like any other service or commodity we use; I do not go to the same supermarket all the time, why should I use the same bank for everything? UK supermarkets have made
a bit of an attempt, but I see it changing much more in terms of new more trusted entrants offering a more innovative and flexible range of financial products and a change in customer habit – consumers being encouraged to cherry pick the best deals (and switch) and having choice to use several ‘banks’. Here is hoping!
The award competition season seem to start earlier and earlier. This week, I received notification that we should enter our cheeses in to the Great Taste Awards – five months before judging – and have a 2 week window during which each cheese entry costs £31 + VAT as opposed to £41. I am in two minds about this – £31 to enter one cheese in a competition is to my mind, really expensive. We have been lucky enough to win awards in the past and whilst I would love to say it results in additional sales – it does not. It adds to our credibility, that we can and do make fabulous, award winning cheese, but if you are thinking of entering a few cheeses, it becomes really expensive and one wonders about the benefits. We usually enter three competitions: The Great Taste Awards, Nantwich and the British Cheese Awards. I have given up on the Yorkshire Show as I don’t think we stand a chance – say no more.
I am still no closer to working out how to program our new scales. I have left two messages now with Avery Berkel who show no sign of getting back to me. The manual is utterly incomprehensible. How stupid do I feel that we have scales that we do not know how to use? Very. Anyone who uses commercial scales that spit out weight tickets will know how frustrating programming scales can be. Talking of weight ticket labels, I have been having ongoing discussions with our label printing company who took over from Clearprint in Lancashire after it closed (we miss you, Elaine!) about 50,000 weight ticket labels that do not work in our scales. Eventually, I sent them all back and reached an amicable agreement with the printers who finally agreed to give us a refund, though come to think of it, that has not arrived either. Sometimes I feel that I spend a disproportionate amount of time chasing people up just to get something happening, like the customer who, according to Sage, take on average 153 days to pay us, so I sent a reminder e-mail (and have left two telephone messages) to the business owner and the accounts dept five days ago and have not heard a thing, let alone received payment.
The scales issue is becoming very irritating as it would solve receiving rude and unnecessary e-mails like the one I received on Sunday evening from a man who signed his name with an ‘F’ in between his first and last name and managed to use the word ‘disappointing’ about 8 times. He left an exceptionally rude tirade on this blog (I receive an e-mail copy) about how he bought some of our Superior Goat Gouda, as it was promoted as being a British made cheese, during British cheese week, which readers of this blog know we started to make ourselves about two years ago, making it not just British but Yorkshire! He left this message, saying that our Superior Goat Gouda was Dutch on the blog, but did not bother to search for it on the blog, if he had, he would have seen pictures of us making it. Because we cannot change our scales, unfortunately, the weight ticket says, in very small writing, that it is made in Holland. It was, but no longer is – we make this. And that is why we put a ‘we Make This’ sticker on the front of the pack, but this man seemed to be on a mission to be as unpleasant as possible on the blog. I trashed his blog comment and replied as graciously as I could muster at 11pm on Sunday evening and pointed out the truth and invited him to come and make Superior Goat Gouda with us. As is always the way, he did not have the courtesy to reply.
And still on the subject of labelling, I received an e-mail from a customer asking us to confirm that we complied with EU Regulation 1169/2011. I had to admit that we did not, but did not want to say only because I don’t know how to program the wretched scales and Avery Berkel sneer at me when I ask for help and don’t get back to me. I did send the tech spec document which contains all the data anyway; we have all the nutritional information that we need to disclose, courtesy of Rosie at York Uni. Hopefully I will sort out the scales before December 15th 2014 when this piece of legislation comes into force.
For the first time ever in the history of us making cheese, our regular Tuesday delivery of goat milk arrived but then had to be sucked back up again at the end of the day due to an antibiotic failure. Just goes to show that product recall systems really do work. It was a bit of a shock, but thank goodness we found out before Wednesday when we would have processed half of it. Antibiotics would have destroyed the starter which means the milk would not become acidified which in turn means we would not have been able to make cheese – in case anyone wondered. This really threw our week, last week and Stu and I could not get used to the days as we did not make goat cheese on Wednesday or Thursday, it was weird. Andrew came in on Wednesday and with Stu gave the three maturing rooms a complete deep clean over two days. Wow, they really look spotless now.
My working week is slowly starting to change. I mutter darkly from time to time about not being able to get out and about and see customers or develop new business because there is always too much to do, nearly all computer/ paperwork which I hate. That, combined with bloody annoying arthritis in my fingers which makes
waxing very painful and difficult and slow – I have lost my ability to grip – the fact that I drop keys, teaspoons, lids, pens, (cheese), can’t do up buttons finally made me decide to take on some help with our weekly Tuesday mad waxing sessions which relieves me of my waxing duties and frees me up one day a week which I hope to use to get out and about, which I enjoy! As a result, I have managed to see three new potential customers, two of whom have already placed orders which is far more satisfying than not being able to wax cheese.
I have applied for a grant to help us do some PR and marketing work with a mentor. We have chosen Yorkshire based Annie Stirk who is a bit of a food PR and marketing guru to help us and the grant is called the Growth Accelerator. Before anyone asks, no, you can’t use it for capex. It involves meeting up with a coordinator, answering 100 questions on-line and costs £600 plus a lot more VAT and can be used to employ a consultant to help you fill in gaps in your business knowledge and capabilities.
Another little initiative I have got going is that I am planning a bit of NPD and have been working with a very helpful chap called Ken who is very kindly going to let me have some starters for me to play with. We’ve even been talking lipase. I am hoping to trial about 4-5 new cheeses and if I can get one of them right, I shall be a happy bunny; it will take time. I am really looking forward to developing (making up!) some new recipes, I enjoy that. It will be um…interesting! I tend to think that making the cheese is the relatively straight forward part, it is the maturation and keeping the cheese that can be tricky. But we will see. My last bit of NPD was our goat curd back last summer and I am really pleased with the take up of that. Watch this space!
I think it is about time that we started to sell cheese on our website/blog. This is something I have wanted to do for a while, but as always, it is a question of time. I have started investigating making this blog into a proper website and adding an e-commerce platform. It is a fair bit of work but I have started investigating how to do it, so once again, we will see how it pans out.
I think I mentioned a while back that we had a media company come and do some filming with us. They have made a 90 second webtease for us and here it is. It shows me at the height of my podginess, Stu stirring the vat and Andrew polishing cheese but it is a really good bit of filming, even if I say it myself. Thank you to Simon and his team and also customer Country Harvest for letting us film there.
We had a great five person cheese making class two Mondays ago and everyone had a lot of fun, but more importantly, I am hoping that we have given enough knowledge and confidence to our attendees to make good and safe cheese at home. Two of our class were already fairly experienced and both said it was good for them to compare their makes with everyone else’s and our main big vat as it gave them the experience to be able to judge acidity development, which is really good.
We still have places left on Monday 17th one day course, if you are interested, please-mail Iona at: firstname.lastname@example.org and we have room on our first two day commercial cheese making class on Thursday and Friday 20th and 21st Feb.