Lessons from Kirsty and Dave’s cheese fac­tory project

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Feature -

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.

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