Apologies to those who follow this blog and occasional readers too. I have been a little bogged (sic!) down with work, house and pig matters.
Well, where to start! It has been an interesting and varied couple of months. There is European legislation afoot to charge all food manufacturing businesses in the UK for their EHO visit. Previously, the proposed legislation contained a small business exemption, but Brussels were voting in April to get rid of this, so there has been an online petition to reinstate the small business exemption, which I signed. Personally, I cannot see British councils giving up on an opportunity to charge small businesses for their regulatory visits – we will see, talking of which, we are due a visit from Steve our EHO pretty soon.
It is competition entry season at the moment. It seems to come earlier and earlier. So far, I think I have completed the forms for the British Cheese Awards and the Great Taste Awards (I think) and I am struggling with the Nantwich forms which for the first year seem to be available on line but you cannot write in the document, so paper again. These are the only three competitions we enter. I will not be entering the Yorkshire Show this year as quite honestly, it is a waste of time and entry fees. Say no more, though I hear on the grapevine that the old cheese organising person has left. Nor do we enter the World Cheese Awards.
We have met some great and interesting people on our recent cheese making classes. I tell my cheese making class attendees that they could consider entering a competition as there are categories for newcomers and to win something would be fantastically validating. It would be fantastic to see a Ribblesdale Cheese alumni win something at say Nantwich! The competition is very tough and there are so many entrants in these things and there is some very good cheese out there, so we try not to get our hopes up. Even one minor win is brilliant news to us. Winning awards does not automatically translate into more sales, but it makes us feel better about life and hopefully means we are doing something along the right lines. We shall see!
A good thing that happened in March was that I hired a new part timer, Stacey to take over my waxing duties on Tuesdays which has meant that I can start to get out and about and do a bit of new business development. As a result of this, we have picked up some new customers and I have seen a couple of our existing customers with a view to persuade them to take a little bit more of our cheese. Stacey is a mum of two: Magggie and Sophie and lives locally. Unfortunately, almost as soon as we took her on, she became ill, ending up in hospital with suspected appendicitis, but she is a lot better and is now back with us. Stacey has worked for Wensleydale Dairy in the past, so she brings some good experience with her.
Our goat curd sales are looking up and if they continue, will account for a significant portion of our sales. So, hot on the heels of the introducing the goat curd, I have set about developing some new cheeses. I use the word developing very loosely as I make up the recipes, so they may turn out to be not very good. With the help of Ken, my new starter culture contact, I have started some soft cheese trials which is actually quite exciting to me, at least. We will see if any of them turn out to be edible; shall keep you posted. See the end of this post for details of a 5% discount offer on starter culture.
We had a lovely article about us in the April edition of the Dalesman, written by our journalist friend Betsy and the article about us in Flybe was also put into Portfolio magazine for Emirates Business Class passengers, which can’t be a bad thing! Thank you Andy and Betsy.
Last month, Wensleydale Dairy came and make cheese in our dairy one Monday, it was nice to see them again. Oh and we had a very memorable audit by the RPA. My back was up when the auditor made initial phone contact and ordered me around with zero nicety. We were audited because we have changed purchaser status so we no longer have to submit monthly returns. Things got considerably worse when she finally arrived an hour and a half late when I had deliberately planned my trial cheese making around her. I find it hard to deal with people who treat you as if everything you do is wrong and you are stupid which pretty much sums up the experience. She was horrified that we did not get our milk delivered by a tanker with a ticket and asked in accusatory tones, well how do you know how much you have got? I felt like damaged goods after her visit.
I am receiving loads of unsolicited e-mails from lab and label companies in preparation for the new food labelling EU Regulation 1169/2011 will come into force on the 13th December 2014, stipulating that any products sold on the market must have labels that are easily visible, legible, indelible and have a minimum font size of 1.2mm and have a nutritional declaration – that is going to be extremely onerous for many small businesses – it is dreadfully expensive to get your product analysed for its nutritional/chemical composition. We were lucky and managed to obtain a grant to help us do this last year. Allergens must be emphasised in the list of ingredients using a specific type set which clearly distinguishes them from the rest of the ingredients. Note to self: must get the wretched scales sorted. You know, the ones we do not know how to use. Before anyone seizes the opportunity to write in, industrial scales are not straight forward, easy to program with descriptions etc but the rest, Avery have the monopoly on being deviously, inscrutably incomprehensible.
Other than the RPA audit, the biggest trauma occurred when I had to put prices up on April 1st and even today I still get ripples from this. Putting up prices is the most awful thing to do for a small business owner and I cringe each time we have to do it, which is not often. I don’t put up prices on whim, I do it because our prices have gone up, specifically, we are paying 15p a litre more for goat milk than 2 years ago which equates to an additional £1.50 cost of producing just one kg. Our cow and ewe’s milk have gone up significantly too and we cannot afford to keep prices the same. It is basic business survival. Having said all that, the best news all year is that we had the best April in 5 years of my records and that is after the prices went up! All of our cheesey friends had a good April which is very encouraging, let’s see how it goes in May.
Poor old Snouter has been very poorly with his little trotters. He has an ongoing problem of split pads which get badly affected when his paddock is muddy and boggy. Usually, a couple of doses of pain medicine gets him back on his feet, but this time, it wasn’t that easy. I felt the rest of his little leg and it was hot, so I guessed he had an infection. I went to the vet. Was it the Big Fella or the other one? Big Fella. Ah. The vet will not inject him because he is so big and his tusks getting larger each year and may hurt them, accidentally. I asked if I could inject him, which I am happy to try to do, but they didn’t like that idea either. So I came away with a small bottle of antibiotic powder: 10g for 20 litres of water. It was interesting adding the antibiotic water to his food and also to his drinking water. When they were small piglets, I told them that they should not eat food or drink water that didn’t taste right and I think they remember that conversation. Initially, poor old Snoutychops was in so much pain he could scarcely get up, other than to do his ablutions, so he stayed in his piggie bed all day every day for about a week. This meant I had to feed him twice a day by hand in his pig bed. Dressed in my piggie suit with a hat and bin liners spread all over his bed, I hand fed him all over Easter and longer to make sure he got the antibiotics in him. I looked like a brown Jackson Pollock painting and needed an immediate shower and the pig bed, no matter how hard I tried to keep it clean needed many replenishments of straw. Eventually, with a combination of pain medicine and antibiotics, he started to get a little better and I tried to encourage him to leave his pig bed and eat by himself still in the pig house but outside his bed. This met with an exchange of wills until one day I caught him out of his bed and he immediately scuttled back in and from that point, I no longer hand feed him (he has me wrapped around his little trotters!) and he now, after 3 weeks, is starting to eat outside again with Penny Pig, who by the way has been a model of delightful piglet perfection all through Snouter’s illness, very out of character – no grumpiness or growling.
My next post will be about a new starter supplier. Well, he is not new but I have only just come across Ken who owns the company and is offering a 5% discount on starters if you use the discount code Iona23. Take a look at his website as he sells smaller sachet quantities which is far easier for smaller cheese makers. Also available are things like rennet, yoghurt making starter, lipase etc. Ken’s e-mail address is: Sales@JKM-Foods.com