Wow, August already. Where's the time gone? I thought after my release - there's that word again, it makes me feel like Ronnie Barker in Going Straight - there'd be a flow of news from Francis and Pam, maybe even a blog from one of them! Well, I suppose they'd say there's been no time for that, what with making cheese, attending farmers' markets, and doing their events; but I think it's because they've been flying by the seat of their pants and they don't want to report on all the turbulence. It's an apt simile, as they are on a plane right now, off on holiday for a break after three months of farmers' markets, so I'll bring you up to speed.
In the weeks before the first farmers' market, in Haslemere, the pair was more nervous than on their wedding day. The clock was ticking, and now it was time for the real thing, no more trial batches. This wasn't cheddar territory, where a long maturation time means cheese can be made before PR begins. They had to tell people about the market before the curd was set and the rind formed. The first batch went well, but then a call from their local supplying farm lamented a delay in the licence to sell raw milk destined for public consumption. That batch couldn't be sold. Then, approval met, it was the turn of their newly-laid maturation room floor to deny them stock for release - the rubberised, non-slip surface, beneficial to the health of cheesemakers, gave the rind a less-than-subtle aroma of Santa Pod drag race. Another batch was ditched and the floor replaced. There was no room for further error, time was running out; the good burghers, and even burgers, of Haslemere had been primed and there was now only time to mature one more batch.
The tension the next ‘make’ day, at levels akin to performing live bomb disposal, was such that the pair had to declare a stress amnesty. Either was allowed to snap at the other with impunity. In spite of this the day went to plan, and the cheeses turned out well, yet this still wasn't enough to settle the nerves. During the run-up to market day, Francis seemed to be surviving on three hours sleep a night, no doubt due to regular infusions of Arabica coffee. On the morning of the market he was so nervous that, even before he had stepped from the car to unload, he had reversed into, and broken off, a town sign directing people to the police station. As the station has been closed since 2013 he should have seen it as a public service, but his concern distracted him from the fact that they were just about to get their first feedback from an impartial audience, whose reaction could determine the viability of the whole project.
The next three and a half hours passed in a blur of blue-gloved conjuring; two pairs cutting tasting samples and wrapping purchases, and a third, lent by their daughter Alex, taking the cash. After three years of outgoings a little income was essential. 'We were just happy people liked it,' they said. If happiness is akin to relief, then they were certainly looked the part as they slumped into their garden chairs, glass in hand, when they arrived home.
The rest of the summer’s markets matched the first in sales, but Pam and Francis knew the project wouldn't be viable without scaling up for wholesale. The time it was taking to make, wash, and nurse the cheeses through the maturation period, and then man the market stall, meant that each one would need to be sold for an astronomical price that would make it the world's most expensive cheese, by a factor of three. Now, I admit I’ve a healthy ego, but I doubt they'd get away with it.
Anyway, wholesale is a project for autumn and, unless they start letting you know how things are going themselves, I'll take a few moments at Christmas to fill you in.