Stu and I both agree that time passing quickly must be a sign of getting older. 2013 flashed by in what seems only a few months. It has been an up and down year with many high points and one or two lows.
Review of Ribblesdale Cheese in 2013
January and February were difficult production months as we had very little goat milk due to short supply as a result of the cold (snowy) weather conditions. We pretty much ran out of cheese, though we got away with it by the skin of our teeth. Otherwise, January 2013 passed by in a blink.
In February, I was featured on BBC’s Countryfile attempting to make sheep’s cheese at Jerveaux Abbey, which, without sounding like I am trying to bite the hand that feeds me, was not a great experience. For a start, they cut out every mention I made of Ribblesdale Cheese (because, being the BBC you are not ‘supposed’ to advertise, though the local vets that followed us were filmed with their name emblazoned on every piece of clothing and their reception signage was very visible) and secondly, filming for 6 hours in -6 oC led to my getting pneumonia for the second time in a year. I recognise the symptoms now and have grown up a little to realise how dangerous it can be. It was also a disappointment to discover that Countryfile is scripted and that John Craven is a prat.
The real low point in February was the death of cheese making friend Bob Kitchin which was tremendously sad;
he was only 61, a talented, multi award winning cheese maker and great character.
January and February are always low sales months, sales started to pick up again in March. Apart from our year end in March, nothing very exciting happened in March, other than Stu’s birthday.
April and May were busy months catching up on goat cheese production to replenish stocks. We were helped by the usual and expected low sales in January and February, exacerbated by awful weather, too much snow which I think hindered people going out shopping.
It continued to snow from January right through to the end of March in our neck of the woods. The ground was solid, tundra-like and the growing season did not really start until May. This is not good for farmers nor piglets who like to lie outside in the sun and eat grass.
We developed a new soft goat cheese: our Ribblesdale goat curd in June as a result of our friend Steve at Yellison Farm suggesting to his customer that we could make it too to supplement his volume as he did not have enough milk. We went on to win a Gold at Nantwich for our new goat curd, which we were pretty chuffed about and we owe a big thank you to Steve for his graciousness and generosity.
Remarkably and quite out of character, we had a bit of a summer and the dairy got very hot, as did our maturing rooms and my piglets.
Towards the end of the year, Stu’s mum became ill and a major low in our ‘personal year’ was her passing away. Condolences to Mike, Stu’s dad, his brother Mark and Stu of course.
We only usually enter three cheese making competitions as entry fees can be pretty high: Nantwich, The Great
Taste Awards (GTA) and the British Cheese Awards. These are held from the end of July to September. We won more prizes with our Ribblesdale Matured Goat cheese than any other cheese, which was really rewarding, it is a very nice cheese, though, ok, I am biased. Our Original Goat, Goat curd, Original Sheep and Matured Sheep also won awards from Gold through to Bronze and three gold stars and two sets of one gold stars at the GTA, one of only 250 three gold stars awarded out of 9,732 entries. As a result of this, Selfridges and Fortnum and Mason stocked our cheese.
We had unusually and quite unexpected good sales figures in October, in part due to the prodigious amount of pumpkins
we made, but we suffered in November. This was very worrying and we were not alone: when was Christmas going to happen to the cheese world? Well, it all happened at the last possible moment, but it did finally happen. The last three months are up on the same period in 2012, so in the end it all worked out well. A part of this was a new sales line of our goat curd to Bettys of Harrogate. We received wonderful support from the wholesaler (thank you Robert!) we work with to put our products in to Bettys and had to overcome some unnecessary and tricky technical hurdles placed in or path. Read into that what you like!
Also in November, Stu took his brand new shiny car and very smart it looks too.
We were really very busy in December and one day had an unexpected visitor from Sussex who was on holiday and dropped in to buy some cheese from us. He brought his wife and little girl. They were charming and the little girl went to play with Stu’s dog Pip. Shortly after they left, Pip managed to escape the compound Stu created for her – staked out chicken wire – that encompassed her kennel, drinking water and toys. He had to retrieve her from next door. This brief episode of liberty must have kindled a new sense of adventure and she escaped several times more until Stu dismantled her compound, leaving Pip safely secured to her insulated kennel and Pip blanket.
A big downer in December was the death of my friend, cheese maker Steve Akrigg of Yellison Farm near Skipton. Also in December, Val, my friend Kevin’s mum became critically ill. She has been allowed home and is hopefully on the mend and taking it easy, but it will be a long journey to full recovery.
On the 19th December, Andrew told us that he had been seeing his girlfriend for 19 months which seemed very auspicious. Congratulations, Andrew and Cath! One day I took Andrew home because his car had died, to his girlfriend’s parents’ farm and I had my hand licked by the most beautiful baby calves – that was a personal highlight! Other highlights include meeting some lovely and interesting people during cheese making courses and some very determined soon to be commercial cheese makers: Tracy, Debbie, Simon, Chris and Jeff to name but a few – I look forward to hearing about your cheesey successes.
It still hasn’t snowed enough (at work, it has at home) to qualify for the snow book, so the 2013 snow book is still open! And another positive – we have over 100,000 hits on this blog in three and a half years and 115 followers – thank you! In 2013, it was visited by people in 157 countries.
It is time to sign off and get scrubbed up, but before I do, there are several people I would like to thank for their help and support during 2013: Neil, our goat milk supplier, Yellison Farm Steve and Ronnie for introducing us to soft cheese making, Steve, our Parcelforce man for always turning up (unlike APC) and also being my Homeland and The Americans co-conspirator; our customers, for being our customers, in particular Robert, Ronnie and Michael; Brytec, our equipment providers, our ratty men and most of all Stu and Andrew, without whom, Ribblesdale Cheese would be a very different place.
Happy New Year and wishing everyone great success, health and happiness for 2014.