Somewhere around February as we were delayed in our site planning permission by the Highways Agency and considering renting an industrial unit, Rose’s mother asked
‘Why don’t you just try and make a few cheeses?’
Although we had no site in which to make cheese, we both loved the idea and began to test out various options.
Option 1: Use a catering kitchen on the estate
Option 2: See if a friendly cheesemaker would like to rent us their space
And Option 3, which presented itself while booking in on a course for learning about Blue Cheese:
Rent the training dairy at the School of Artisan Food.
Option 1 was abondoned quite quickly as not only was the kitchen not available but we also had no maturing space for anything we made (although we did consider purchasing a few wine fridges for the purpose).
Option 2 was investigated but bringing non EHO approved milk into someone’s work space to make a completely different type of cheese which the cheesemaker had no HACCP for was a can of worms that the people we approached would rather wasn’t opened and, to be honest, that’s understandable. Option 3 however had legs.
Enter Lee Anna Rennie
Dairy co-cordinator for the School of Artisan Food, who loved the idea and researched us a price and set about working out what the School would need from us in order to make this idea reality.
At the same time, we also looked into the possibility of hiring the Little Cheesery
, a mobile cheesemaking unit which has been developed by a company in Derby. They actually specialise in stainless steel work and custom making as well as assembling food standard production lines. The Little Cheesery is something they knocked together to show what they can do in terms of cheese equipment and it has proved really quite popular for demonstrations and fairs as well as for people like us who want a home for some trial batches.
A visit to both was necessary so off I drove to the School of Artisan Food for a look around and then a few days later off I drove again to Derby to look over the Little Cheesery.
It was a tough choice to make, actually, in the end. The Little Cheesery is remarkably well equipped and fits a lot of stuff into a small space, actually rather more than we needed. The dairy at the School of Artisan Food also has a lot of equipment, far more than we need, but of course they run professional cheesemaking courses covering every type of cheese from hard, mountain-style cheese to soft lactic cheese so diverse equipment is required. It has many other attractions too, the possibility of a milk supply if we had wanted, their extensive research library, the waterbath for controlled lactofermentation tests and the cheese care services of Lee Anna as well.
The thing that really made the decision crystal clear in my mind, though, was just the fact it is a permanent building with its own functioning infrastructure. The basic things like not having to plug a trailer into three phase electricity or connect up to a water supply etc are taken care of meaning that when it comes to the problems you have to troubleshoot (because let’s not be so naïve as to think there won’t be any) they are related to the milk, the make and the cheese and not fixing the electrics.
With any decision, you choose what problems you’d rather be dealing with. We chose to focus on understanding the milk and the cheese. I’m glad we did.