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
This is the end of the background section -I will keep you posted on developments.