Anyone who has hired Ivan Larcher as a consultant will at some time or other, buy equipment from Avedemil. It’s a mystical destination in the Poitou Charentes region of France that is regarded as a cheese Aladdin’s Cave.
Of course, when it came to buying our equipment too, we planned it into the budget to buy from Avedemil as well. It needed a leap of faith but it was a leap worth taking
Their website is very basic and actually about 2 days before I left, just as I was trying to work out their address, it went offline. I know from previous experience at Neal’s Yard that when it comes to communications, in France the phone is still king. Email is used but particularly in retail or in agricultural sections of business, nothing replaces just talking to someone. This is actually a pretty healthy way of going about things. I am increasingly aware that as stiff-assed Brits, we rely too much on firing off an email, status update or tweet about something, because it’s easier than having to engage with someone in real time. Talking is still the best way to get a repsonse, sale or communicate information.
However if it’s talking in a language you last studied over 20 years ago when you were at school, then thank God for the full arsenal of communication technology. Emailing and running a sections of text through Google Translate before you insert them into the text of your email, allowed me to first contact Mr Yannick Le Blanc of Avedemil and to his credit, although not always all that speedily, he replied to the extent that before even visiting I had been able to buy a vat and send him a list of other things I was looking for. For the latter, I found going through Coquard‘s online catalogue and making a list of technical equipment-based french vocabulary was also pretty damn useful. The trusty Collins French English Dictionary that saw me through A levels would have sadly let me down there, I fear.
So with little idea of where I was going, recommendations from everyone I knew but only a belief that surely they would have the things we needed, I committed Nettlebed Creamery’s money to buying me a flight, hotel rooms, car hire and set off, fervently hoping I wouldn’t find out later I could have ordered it all cheaper in the UK. On that point, I was at least relatively sure as long as they had the things we needed that they’d have them at a better price. I’d been trawling around looking for vats before we arranged the trip and for the sort of thing I wanted, I only found two options: 1,000 litre cheese vat on the goat nutrition website which is too big for what we want and cost a hefty £25,000 or buy something new from Jongia which would also be into the tens of thousands. Avedemil’s website had a blue cheese, tilting vat and on enquiring about the price we heard the very welcome news that they wanted 3,500 Euros + VAT. That price difference alone justified my trip.
Having now been there in person, I can report back that yes, you just have to make the leap of faith and go there. I flew out of Stansted into Poitiers which is a charmingly tiny airport. We then drove an hour south in more or less a perfect straight line to Chaunay about a quarter of an hour out of Ruffec the town in which Avedemil is based. The following morning at 10.30am we met Mr Le Blanc and having already heard something about us from Ivan who unfortunately couldn’t join us as a listeria emergency called him away to another client, he began to formulate the list of equipment that we needed.
Mr Le Blanc has been doing this job for a long time and he knows a lot about what you need for each type of cheese. With a basic working knowledge of Taleggio and taking into account that we didn’t want to use square moulds because it would make the cheese look very like St James, he set about showing us the various combinations of bits of kit we might need: plateaux (draining trays), block moulds, racks, a clever pallet truck thingy to move the racks about so they don’t have to be on wheeled bases and then roll all over the floor you’ve specially had laid to slope for ease of drainage. We looked at the vat, discussed the neccessity of a raised platform to stand on because of my lack of height. We looked at soaking tubs that will fit our racks for ease of washing and the wheeled bases they can go on. And so much more. It was like going round a supermarket sweep. Whereas in the UK we’d have had to get inventive or make do with things that didn’t quite fit what we needed them to do, here was a warehouse filled to the roof, in the style of the hangar at the end of Indiana Jones where they put the Ark of the Covenant, with things that just worked.
We spent a couple of hours there, made up a list which would form the basis for a quote he’d send us later and left. Job done nicely. The quote came in a few days later when I’d returned to the UK. 14,000 Euros for the lot. I am still unsure about the block moulds. I want to use individual ones and cloth lined at that. I am also not sure that the ones he showed me would allow the cheeses to drain adequately as they didn’t seem to me to have quite enough holes and we may need to get a bit Heath Robinson where that’s concerned.
The only point, however is, you need to do your homework. I had my list of technical vocab and I brought with me a pretty fluent French speaker in the form of my Dad for when my own stores of French ran out. I think my old teachers would be relatively pleased with what I did manage to remember and I could just about have managed on my own but Mr Le Blanc and the rest of his staff don’t speak any English so be warned.