If anybody reads this, I do hope they’ll forgive any computer lapses on my part. I’m not particularly computer literate and I’ve still to find out how to add pictures and paste documents received from MPI and I do rather suffer from verbal diarrhoea at times…
Money to pay for the building of my little milking parlour and cheeseroom came from my retirement nest egg. The local Tararua District Council Environmental Health Officer came and made suggestions on how I should build the latter to make it suitable for producing food in and up to the standard of a commercial kitchen. He issued me with a licence that cost $100.00 a year and inspected the premises annually. We built both buildings against the side of Colin’s large Model Railway shed, dairy-farming neighbours helped with the concreting and gave good advice on the arrangement of the milking parlour.
Colin used to be the data administrator for TranzRail, but in 2003 they moved their head office from Wellington to Auckland and they wanted to ship Colin up there as well – computer nerds who actually know how railways work are fairly rare, but he and I knew we wouldn’t survive in a city environment after Eketahuna, so he took redundancy and we opened his vast model railway layout to the public in January 2004 instead. I set up a cheese counter at the entrance. Cheese & model railways would seem to be an unlikely partnership, but it works for us.
In 2009, TVNZ contacted us as the producers of the long running programme “Country Calendar” wanted to feature our operations. Filming took place over 4 days just before Easter. My son Peter brought out all the grandchildren, both his and his siblings so they could be part of the action as Colin has set up various layouts with buttons to press so visitors can drive trains themselves. The milking was filmed and a cheesemaking sequence and the programme went out in July 2009. The programme finished at 7.30 PM on a Saturday night and by 7.31 I had my first email from the then New Zealand Food Safety Authority pointing out that I didn’t have a Risk Management Programme for either my cheese making or the farm operation. “But I have a licence from our local EHO” I squawked, “Not worth the paper it’s written on” they replied. “Dairy products are Dangerous”. Three inspectors arrived to check me out and, although they said my little cheese room was the cleanest they’d ever seen, as I didn’t have the right paperwork, I’d obviously be a grave danger to the cheese eating public of NZ. They gave me 2 months grace to get the paperwork sorted out. My $100.00 licence fee shot up to $5,500.00!
The Food Safety officials were only doing their job and the regulations were written assuming (as Dairy Products are one of the main exports of NZ) that you were either a large cheese factory producing tons of the stuff or an equally large farm with hundreds of cows producing vast quantities of milk. I reckoned the politicians needed to re-write the regulations to recognise small production Artisan Cheesemakers, Luckily the NZ parliamentary Primary Products Select Committee were taking submissions at the time and I sent one in with pictures of my lovely cows (I’d collected a few more since Gwendolyn). I asked to speak to the committee and they graciously invited me to speak to them. As a result of my submission, the Food Safety Authority (which has since morphed into MPI) was asked to produce a template for people like me. It was decided that provided you had six or less cows, 10 buffalo or 24 sheep or 24 goats and your total weekly milk volume was less than 1000 litres per week, and you only made hard aged cheese from Heat treated milk, which had to conform to less than 39% moisture, have a Salt-in-moisture content of not less than 4%, and a pH of 5.6 or less and the entire process from adding the commercially produced cheese culture in the milk to draining the whey did not exceed 5 and a half hours you could make cheese to sell. Your processes still had to be audited by a recognised agency, so the process still cost in excess of $5,500.00, so I hadn’t achieved anything much with my parliamentary squawking……
I haven’t yet quite worked out to put pictures on this site, but readers can go to our website http://www.modelrailway.co.nz or http://www.cwmglyn.co.nz and find pictures of the cows and my entire cheesemaking process. What follows in italics is the text of my opening salvo in my raw cheese campaign to MPI
Good afternoon Sheryl Tuck & Tony Rumney,
I am enquiring about the protocol required for raw hard cheese making and I trust it has been amended since the first MPI one written in 2009 to reflect recent relevant research into raw cheese production, carried out in Europe. As you may know, from the presumably quite extensive file on me held by MPI, I first made an application for this around 2009. I gave up when it became apparent that the restrictions you had placed around this made it quite economically unfeasible.
The reason I am again pursuing this, is that as I am 74 next month, I am finding it increasingly difficult to lift large milk pans of up to 20 litres in and out of larger pans of boiling water & thence to ice cold water while thermising the milk prior to cheesemaking. I can see workplace Health & Safety law getting involved. We milk our own cows (only 3 in lactation at the moment, from a total of 5) and meticulously clean the udders and do a RMT daily on every cow. Consequently mastitis is not a problem. If we do have a test result that shows abnormal SCC, we plug that particular cup on the cluster and I hand milk the quarter and discard the milk. Dodgy or so-so milk never enters the cheese vat. The cows are milked individually and the milk is collected in a test bucket located in the cheeseroom. The milk travels no more that 5 metres through stainless steel tube. Over the last 12 years I have made 2,462 batches of cheese & only ever had one ‘blown’ cheese, that that was in the early days when I was using a small 7 litre batch pasteuriser, & some of the water from the exterior jacket contaminated the curd. My batch sizes are usually restricted to one or two cheeses, and you can imagine the cheese would be quite unsalable given the number of tests required at the moment to check whether it is safe to eat.
During 2013 when I was working with MPI developing the template for small holder farm cheese, some 157 cheeses were tested (every single cheese made during the year) NONE were ever found to have any pathogens, although some of the composition parameters were not always met. These truckles included a number of Raw Cheeses made for our own consumption. My last AsureQuality Audit (in January by Jude Dooley) was deemed to be, in her words, “a very good audit”.
Since 2012-13 there has never been a problem with composition results with the mandatory tests. My thermised cheese is only sold from the farm gate or high end restaurants and cheesemongers, and because of the very small amount of cheese made, the Risk factor is very low. I intend to work with the technical committee of the UK SCA (of which I am a member & have been for a number of years) and I also want to record the entire accreditation process with a blog I am setting up as there seems to be considerable interest in the bureaucracy involved with very small production artisan cheesemakers such as myself. My cheese won a silver award at the 2013 World Cheese Awards held in the UK and a Super Gold Award at the 2014-15 World Cheese Awards – there were some 2700 entries from 33 countries and in the latter event my cheese was one of the top 62. This would seem to indicate that I now know how to make good cheese.
One of the difficulties I have is that Eketahuna is fairly isolated as far as courier traffic is concerned & it is impossible for me to meet the testing delivery standards required by the 2009 protocol, with the MPI recognised laboratories all based in Auckland. Given that the only milk used for our cheese is produced on the farm, & is tested daily and I ONLY make hard cheese which is an intrinsically safe ready-to-eat product, I hope that some flexibility will be allowed in the MPI testing regime and protocol developed for Cwmglyn Farmhouse Cheese.
With all good wishes,
Cwmglyn Farmhouse Cheese
Unique MPI ID Cwmglyn1 242
This is the end of the background section -I will keep you posted on developments.