Oh My God – We’ve actually got a floor!

Anyone who’s spoken to me recently will know that the floor of our Dairy has proved a major problem and a huge source of frustration all round.
Today, finally, we have the beginnings of our resin floor.
Hallelujah!

The green really ties the rooms together.
The green really ties the rooms together.

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A Change of Scene

I have swapped the Peak District for the Chilterns.  View from Nettlebed Creamery.
I have swapped the Peak District for the Chilterns. View from Nettlebed Creamery.

At the beginning of August, I finally moved to Nettlebed. At the time, it seemed that we’d have 6 weeks of build left and at the beginning of October we’d be making cheese. Then it moved to mid October and now it looks a bit longer than that too. Building projects huh?

It’s not that things haven’t been happening though. In fact lots of things have been happening.

The paneling for our internal walls arriving in Nettlebed on a massive lorry.
The paneling for our internal walls arriving in Nettlebed on a massive lorry.

We have internal walls now which is very satisfying to see the building really take shape. From what will be our make room, I can look down the building through what will become the salting and hastening room, warm aging room, cold aging room and ginormous cold room. I can walk through our entrance way and hygiene barrier system and be satisfied that it works. There are scribblings all over the walls showing where the power points are going to be and where our wash down points and hand wash stations are going to be.

Our milk reception room.  This is where we'll back the truck in to hook up the milk tank to its pump and deliver the milk in to the vat.
Our milk reception room. This is where we’ll back the truck in to hook up the milk tank to its pump and deliver the milk in to the vat.
View from the make room
Looking from the make room down through the salting / hastening room, then warm aging, cold aging and, right at the back, the cold room.
The cheese lab.
The cheese lab. This is where I’ll be making starter cultures, ricotta, doing lactofermentations and all kinds of milk related experiments.

We have drains in place and like the big geek I am, I am so happy with them. We have lovely stainless steel trench drains which are going to be so blissfully easy to clean. There are 2 different types of concrete on the floor: regular concrete and a different mix with a higher sand content that Lee, the man who laid the floor at Trethowans’ Dairy had to specify and order in especially. It was laid down beautifully with the right rises and falls etc and then John Lord who will lay the final resin layer of flooring came to do their work. Unfortunately at this point, things slowed. John Lord were concerned the concrete hadn’t set hard enough and queried if the correct mix had been delivered.  Since then many opinions have been given from other flooring firms and concrete suppliers, hammer tests have been done several times and unfortunately our worst fears were confirmed.  It wasn’t good enough and needed to be done again.

Meanwhile, Alan Hayes has been shifting the schedule around in order to do as much as possible while we wait for the floor and so the delay can be as minimal as possible. We have electrics going in next week, a phone line and broadband as well. Given that we can’t finish the downstairs until we have a floor, we’ve put more attention on the mezzanine floor, designing an open plan office space but also working out how our changing room plus shower block will work and where our hygiene barrier fits in. We also have a nice big space at the back of the building where we’ll have storage space for filing but also a space for cheese tastings with our customers but also possibly if there’s interest locally, at some point in the future, tastings for the general public.

And I have been practising cheesemaking in the kitchen as my Facebook friends can attest. I’ve also found the enforced wait to be quite useful getting to understand the pace of our starter cultures. We’ve bought cultures from Standa in Normandy on the advice of Ivan Larcher and after much deliberation, we’ve bought 2 different yoghurt cultures and a mesophilic culture which are supplied as freeze dried powder but that we need to bulk as a levain culture before use. One of the yoghurt cultures acidifies a lot quicker than the other, making it quite nice and easy to use but actually the slower culture tastes nicer. Today I have been making cheese in the kitchen again and having made up starter cultures a couple of days ago, I have left the yoghurt cultures straining in cheese cloth. I intend to have them for breakfast tomorrow. I’ll report back. There’s more to be said on the subject of kitchen cheesemaking than one paragraph in a general update post. That’s a topic for next time.

Draining cheeses that were made in the kitchen and are left to drain in the bathroom.
Draining cheeses that were made in the kitchen and are left to drain in the bathroom.

It’s getting real!

 

We have windows and doors in!
We have windows and doors in!

Lots of bits and pieces have been happening recently.  Building work has slowed down a bit since the heady days when the walls went up.  The thing holding us up is that the concrete laid as foundations for our floor has cracks and although it’s quite likely that these are just cracks caused by the concrete drying, we need to be sure they aren’t a sign of something more serious like subsidence.  So we wait for someone with structural engineering knowledge to assess them and sign them off.

Once that is done we can put in the framework for the first floor and with that in place, we can start to put in the panelling that forms the interior walls.  In other words, we’ll have rooms.

Meanwhile I have been working on paperwork still – the end is in sight finally.  Actually, I hope it is, every time I say that to myself, I remember some other record sheet or schedule that I’ll need and it goes on the job list.  We’ve ordered and paid for our industrial dishwasher, the final payment on the equipment from Avedemil has been made and 4 pallets including vat, racks, wash tubs, multimoulds and stainless steel tables should soon be on their way to us.  The pipework to divert our milk out of the main milkline before it can be cooled or can get into the bulk tank is on order and we’re pushing for it to be in by 11th August.

Why 11th August did you ask?  Well because officially I have a date to move south.  7th August.  And come what may, I will be on the payroll as of the 11th as with Rose on holiday in Greece, I’ll be managing the build and using our warm milk, I’ll be making trial cheeses in the kitchen of my house and then maturing them in a wine fridge.  It will be good to get my hands on some curds again – just have to remember to order a few key bits of gear: starters, a tub to make cheese in, an electric blanket and indeed the wine fridge.

The trial cheesemaking came about on a visit from Jason Hinds, David Lockwood and Bronwen Percival from Neal’s Yard Dairy.  They came for an informal morning chat to look at progress, talk about the quality of cheese they are looking for and its implications for milk quality, sales and advice on our financials.  All three of them felt that as soon as the milk was in place, making some kitchen trials would be well worth the exercise in understanding where the milk quality is at this year (it’s bound to be rather different to February when we last did any testing and again to last summer when I was making trial cheeses at SAF) as well as hopefully having something to taste and start to comment on. We’re going to go down to London for a big cheese tasting with Bronwen at the end of August which will be a useful calibration exercise.  In theory I know what their cheeses are like but it’s a few years now since I’ve been tasting them regularly and I’ll need a refresher to check out our washed rind competition.  For Rose, seeing how Bronwen tastes, assesses flavour and quality and understanding what she is looking for will be invaluable.  It’s her job to look after sales when we’re up and running so a bit of calibration with one of our customers (we hope) can only be a good thing.

So it’s a mixed bag as I’m sure will be familiar to anyone who’s been involved in building work: some progress, some delays and on not too many occasions the odd step backwards.  Overall though we’re getting there and with a confirmed date in the diary for me to start work, it’s getting real.

New things are a-happening!

So it has been over a month since I last wrote but buildings are being built, logos are being designed, websites created and as you know from my visit to Avedemil, equipment is being bought.

So, as we left it, we had steels and the best part of a roof.  After that, the builders had to dig drainage channels which meant that progress wasn’t hugely visible but was made.  Finally however we have concrete on the floors and bits of walls up  – brick at the bottom and wooden frames which are going to support traditional dark wood cladding.

The floor is down.  Concrete baby.
The floor is down. Concrete baby.

 

The view that I will be gazing on from my make room as I make St Bartholomew
The view that I will be gazing on from my make room as I make St Bartholomew

 

As you know I already blogged about visiting Avedemil which was an experience for definite but in a good way. While we wait for our equipment to be delivered, we have also been putting our bursary money to good use by commissioning a website.  It’s just a holding page at the moment but with Harry Darby (NYD’s design guru) on our side, we’re hoping for some great things in the future.  So far we’ve just decided on our house fonts and incorporated them into the holding site and business cards.  Photos are to follow!

In the meantime, I’ve been doing a lot of HACCP.  Which, if you’ve done it before, will explain why it’s been a bit quiet on the blog.  My head hurts.

A visit to Nettlebed

Yesterday, on a gloriously sunny day, my parents and I went to visit Nettlebed.  They were curious about where I was going to be living, having never seen it.  I needed to look around the house I’ll probably be living in with a view to things like furniture and curtains.  I also, of course, wanted to have a look at the building site.

Frankly, yesterday, the place could not have looked prettier and we had a productive time measuring windows in the house etc.  Then, we moved on to look at the site.

Progress has been made, my friends.  Progress has been made.

Drainage channels have been dug (that’s why there are piles of earth everywhere at floor level in the photo).  Timbers to provide a framework for wall cladding are up.  The brickwork of the walls at the bottom will be being done next week according to the two charmingly polite lads on the site.

In about a week’s time it’s going to look properly like a building which is very exciting indeed.

Bits of walls.  Piles of rubble.  All good progress.
Bits of walls. Piles of rubble. All good progress.

 

And the house?  Very nice indeed.  I’m already making plans for the garden which, I think, is a good sign.

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Digging and Delays

Manor Farm old photo
Manor Farm as it used to be. This land is now the house and garden of our neighbours.

It takes the working world a while to get going again after its Christmas break.  Having felt like we were making progress on the build just before Christmas, January proved to be a very slow month of chasing up people who had said they would do something to see if they had done what they said they would.

Our first delay was waiting for straw to be moved from inside our barn which we thought needed to happen before any assessment of the existing structure could take place.  As it was slow going, Rose tried to organise a site meeting and a digger to look at the foundations of the steel framework holding up the roof around the straw and did manage to find out a few basics.  The aim, having agreed on an interior layout was to check how stable the existing barn structure was and what would need repairing.  A cherry picker ensured that she was able to assess the existing roof and that it would need repairing extensively – in other words a new roof.   The digger revealed that the concrete bases to our steel stanchions were a bit hit and miss.  Some of them were in place and working fine but others had eroded away and as a result water had accumulated at the base of the steel, weakening the structure.  More repairs would be necessary.

Rose also held talks with our neighbours with whom we share a party wall and who are also installing a wood chip boiler that we are going to be able to use for our hot water and heating requirements.  Negotiations over the wall and any ramifications from our building were carried out amicably and they were able to show Rose a picture of how Manor Farm had looked in the early 1900s when it had been a working dairy farm (above – the photo shows what is now their house and garden and our dairy will run to the south of that).  Building a cheesemaking dairy on the site of a dairy farm feels very appropriate somehow.

When the straw was finally removed and the site boundaries marked with metal gates, further information could be gleaned.  The concrete floor was revealed showing sections with a herringbone pattern which we believe is the floor of the milking parlour of the original dairy at Manor Farm.  Drains have been discovered.  Although the existing drain onion that they would have fed into isn’t usable any more, it is still handy to know there are channels there for us to start from.  A long deceased and dessicated stoat has also been discovered – not a feature we intend to preserve.

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Our barn, ready for construction to begin.
Our concrete floor.  The herringbone bits are apparently from the original dairy at Manor Farm.
Our concrete floor. The herringbone bits are apparently from the original dairy at Manor Farm.

A local structural engineer undertook to take on our structural drawings so that the builder who will be carrying out our external cladding and roof repairs could get going.  He seemed to move rather slowly getting a quote out for the work.  Unfortunately after a further fortnight of chasing and reminding, he admitted to being swamped with other work and had to give up.  Alan Tucket to the rescue (the builder) as he has a structural team who have taken that over.  As a result, work should start very soon.

In short, a funny period of meetings and activity for Rose and not so much for me.  A lot of chasing, hassling, reminding and getting bits and pieces ready so that the build can start.  Progress is being made.  We are getting closer to the day that building begins but as yet the earth hasn’t moved (quite literally).  It’s a bit like that stage before you go on holiday where you’re doing the packing and trying to remember everything you might need; a little nerve wracking and tense as you hope you’ve planned everything as well as possible and still too early to have set off and be able to say to yourself

‘Sod it, if I haven’t thought of it by now, I’ll just have to deal with it when it happens.’

Looking west from our barn - note the metal barriers that indicate the site boundaries.  This is our land!
Looking west from our barn – note the metal barriers that indicate the site boundaries. This is our land!