Lessons from Kirsty and Dave’s cheese factory project
NO AMOUNT OF LIFE EXPERIENCE
could have prepared Kirsty and Dave for the bureaucracy of setting up a cheese factory.
“The actual cost of everything is just so much higher than what I had estimated,” says Kirsty. “And it can be frustrating dealing with MPI (the Ministry of Primary Industries) – that’s our biggest hassle.
“Because we’ve done it all ourselves – we’ve written our RMP, we’ve built everything, we’ve bred our sheep – we’ve had some questions, and we have tried to get in touch with MPI to ask these questions. In one case, Dave was sent from the original person to seven other people before he ended up back at the person he first started with, and they still couldn’t answer his question.”
The MPI rules are written to apply to large scale factories. Kirsty quickly figured out it was best to go from there and scale down.
“It’s one of the things I’m really, really pleased with. I made it a mini factory rather than a flash commercial kitchen, so that means things like I can wash down the walls and its got a sloping floor.”
The sloping floor was meant to direct water into a drain at the lowest point. Getting the concrete poured and contoured was the only part of the entire project that Kirsty and Dave didn’t do themselves because they felt it warranted a professional approach. Unfortunately, the floor doesn’t slope to the drain.
“That’s one of the things I’d do differently! I’d not pay them before I checked it did slope to the drain.”
The wording of the regulations was also tricky. Kirsty used to be a teacher and she says that experience was useful when it came to the detail of official ‘speak’.
“When I read the regulations the first time, I looked at them as what you had to do and that was anything that said ‘must’. But there was a lot that said ‘should’ and initially I was trying to do all the things that you ‘should’ do as well. But then I realised ‘no, I don’t have to do all of these, I’ll do the ones I can’. It would be nice to do them all, but as long as I can show I’m meeting the requirements and I can do it some other way that’s less technological or cheaper to do, then I’m going to do that.”
One example is ventilation. The rules describe and point you towards an expensive air conditioning system.
“But it’s way over the top for what we do. We’ve only got 20 square metres or so, it’s tiny and it’s usually one person working in it. There’s windows on one side and a ranch slider on the other with screens. That’s my ventilation system – I open a window!”
The factory was built on the footprint of an old stable and the couple have made good use of the limited space. The main room can fit six to seven people in it if required. There’s also a small foyer where Kirsty changes into her cheesemaking clothes, sanitises her hands and puts on sanitised footwear.
Their small budget meant some creative problem solving for some of the more expensive aspects of the construction. The concrete floor had to be easy to keep clean, which meant it needed to be sealed with a 2-pot epoxy paint. It was an eye-watering experience says Kirsty.
“We got a guy to do a quote and it was $10,000 – he was quite apologetic about it and we said we couldn’t afford that. Then we did some research and found a guy in Hawkes Bay who had the 2-pot epoxy and we got it for $1500 and did it ourselves.”
The choice of cladding on the walls was also a happy, budget-friendly accident.
“We were going to use the stuff that you put in bathrooms – Seratone – but then we were talking to the guy who built our milking platform for us. He’s an engineer and he also builds horse floats and he said ‘there’s this aluminium sheet we use in the horse floats, you should use that’.
“It’s powder-coated white on one side and it comes in lengths of 3m, you can just wipe it down and everything comes off easily.”
Cumin seeds lend a warm, spicy flavour to the pecorino.