Going Potty

Strawberries & Cream....a hard-working labour of Lovespoon.

Strawberries & Cream....a hard-working labour of Lovespoon.

Blimey,

another busy day.  Following yesterday’s pasteurisation the mix was left to mature overnight; allowing the ingredients to mingle & create a more subtle, sophisticated & stable gelato than one literally made ‘in the raw’.  Granted, if we had our own Gelateria (our ultimate aspiration) we would craft the batches for immediate, fresh sale; however at the moment we’re tied to pots, so in order to create the perfect artisan ice cream we need to treat it with a little more TLC than necessary for freshly-scooped sales.

And I must admit, you cannot beat freshly-prepared gelato.  Tony had missed his many months’ absence from the silky-smooth texture & sublime taste of the ‘real thing’; & from the first spoonful his delighted ‘Cheshire Cat’ grin said it all. 

After crafting some serious batches to repelenish our exhausted stock I must admit that I too, was starting to feel pretty jaded.  I’m not sure people realise just what sheer hard work this business involves:  every pot lid & label has to be applied by hand; & whilst in our temporary accommodation at Food Centre Wales I have to affix a tiny label over every single Carmarthenshire UK Approvals Number (the little oval symbol consisting a series of letters & numbers which is a unique designator for every individual producer working within a local authority’s area of jurisdiction). 

Then I have to erase ‘Gluten Free’ from each pot; because whilst all our products (with the exception of the seasonal speciality, Christmas Pudding) are assuredly gluten free, as we’re currently working in a multi-producer environment we cannot genuinely offer that guarantee unless for every single batch we make, we carry out some extremely expensive tests.   Once we’re set up on-farm however, one of first acts will be to seek gluten-free accreditation for all but the Xmas Pud (& we’re working on that one…!).

Next comes the craft itself.  If we’re concentrating on a fruit flavour I personally prepare all the fruit by hand, myself; having first selected the finest fruits in terms of quality, ripeness & variety (all of which are seasonally dependent & can radically affect the flavour of every batch of gelato) in the local area.  Citrus fruits have to be zested, squeezed & the juice painstakingly sifted for even the tiniest pips; poudre cacao carefully measured, mixed & melted into the milk; & just the right amount of honey drizzled, & tiny cinder toffee chips scattered, into the gelato to create the perfect pollen-scented subtlety for our ‘Honeycomb’ variety.

And once the gelato is ready to be potted, the fiddly-but-physical work begins.  Every pot – from the substantial 500mls to the individual 120mls – is filled entirely by hand: mine.  We dispense gelato into a metal Napoli pan & from there I take a ‘Mark One’ dessert spoon & scooping the gelato onto the back of the spoon, carefully fill the pots with it.  It’s hard, time-consuming labour & by the end of the day I inevitably have desperately sore feet, an aching back, & a big black bruise on the heel of my hand where the handle of the spoon constantly digs in. 

And filling several hundred pots in this way in rapid succession (believe me I’m extremely swift) means that by the time we’ve finished making & potting each batch (both of which are done simultaneously) my hand & wrist ache so much I can scarce move them. 

Thankfully whilst Tony’s at home we can get more done; plus I get the occasional break as he fills the Napoli pans we use for restaurants & our own market/festival sales whilst I clean, weigh, lid, metal-detect & date-label each pot. 

However as we can only use Food Centre Wales’ premises for two days per week – & as we’re only permitted to pasteurise during the afternoon, cutting our actual practical time to only one-&-a-half days, we’re pretty stretched & things get extremely intense when we’re actually freezing & potting the gelato.  Phew!

Funny, isn’t it, how your priorties in life change: once upon a time for us, the latest-technology mobile ‘phone would be the received gift of choice; nowadays I yearn for some comfortable food-grade wellies & a rubber-handled small specialist spatchelor to make potting-up even quicker & easier.

And as for the goats…?  Well, as ever, what they want is their supper – so I must fly (again).  As they’re so cheeky & naughty I cannot understand how it is that they always get a good night’s peaceful sleep when it’s no rest for Yours Truly, who has neither the time nor the energy these days, to slip her halo….!  😉

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About LittleFfarm Dairy

The LittleFfarm Dairy Team: Jo - Goat farmer & Gelatiere Artigianale, plus General Dogsbody; Tony - Airline Pilot & part-time Herd Manager, Product Taster, Accounts Secretary, Handyman etc!
This entry was posted in Animals, April 2009, Business, Dairy, Diary, Goats, Ice Cream, Smallholding. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Going Potty

  1. paula says:

    I didn’t know you had to transport the milk to process it. How do you manage that – and storing the milk from milking to transport? It must take a lot of organisation. Do you then bring the ice cream home or deliver it direct to your outlets…
    Though wonderful there are cooperative facilities, it still must be quite restricting.
    So many questions…

  2. LittleFfarm Dairy says:

    “Hello there Paula –

    yes; unfortunately we do have to transport the milk as at present we make the gelato at Food Centre Wales whilst we do all we can to get our on-farm premises up & running.

    After milking the milk is currently stored in churns in our temperature-controlled Cold Room; although we do have a fully commissioned bulk tank which will be utilised once we are crafting gelato on the farm (as the milk will travel straight from the goats, into the BMT & then through the wall & into the Batch Pasteuriser – food feet rather than food miles!).

    Next is the transport, which up until now hasn’t been the easiest thing to manage. Food Centre Wales is around half an hour away; & the milk has to arrive at below 5 degrees C. Whilst it’s stored in the Cold Room at just above freezing point until recently the milk churns had to be carried in an insulated chiller box in the back of the 4×4; which was limited in space & cumbersome to move in & out of the vehicle as required.

    Thankfully we now have our own dedicated delivery vehicle which can carry goods at anything from ambient to -30 degrees C: however this, inevitably, cost us dearly.

    As for transporting the gelato, when I receive sufficient orders I sort out the paperwork & then collect them from Food Centre Wales, delivering direct. The main disadvantage with this is that we’re tied to FCW’s hours – they’re only open from around 9am – 4.30pm on weekdays – which means none of the producers have access to their produce during weekends, Bank or Public Holidays, which is a real problem where emergency orders are concerned.

    So yes, whilst a great facility for product development it’s not really suitable for dedicated production; & as such is very restricting. Plus being communal premises there’s the inevitable set-up time on arrival; it’s not like walking into your own unit where you know exactly where everything is. In all it adds around an extra two hours to the day; not to mention the additional fuel costs etc.

    Needless to say we can’t wait to be operating here on the ffarm….”

  3. Hello Jo,

    I know I asked you about getting a Lovespoon apron before Xmas. Well, I’m finally organized enough to actually be able to get you a cheque and mail it off, if you let me know how much it will be including postage. You can email me directly if you like.

    thanks,

    HDR

  4. Dee Williams says:

    Crikey , Jo, what terribly hard work!

    You must be careful, though. I don’t like the sound of this big, black bruise on the heel of your palm; is there any way of protecting the site of the bruising? It is very brave of you to put up with this so uncomplainingly, but the constant trauma could end up causing very real problems, and you won’t be doing yourself any favours if you have a permanently-damaged hand…have you ever seen a sailmaker’s palm? Would an adaptation of same be any good?

    Don’t like the sound of your aching feet and back, either. Can you alter your posture or stand on something to give you better support? Again, it is not just a question of being brave: you could be storing up problems for the future. I am no great fan of the mollycoddling ‘elf and safety’ society that now surrounds us in the UK, but some of the ‘physical protection’ legislation is actually sensible where it seeks to protect against the real possibility of personal injury. And consider this – if you were an employee, it would be unacceptable for you to work in the present way that you are doing without some form of protection. Is there some form of agricultural safety consultant who would be familiar with protective equipment etc etc? Nursing, I know, is in one sense very different, but we do have some quite efficient safety officers who come round and make sure that we are not standing incorrectly, moving patients without hoists etc etc etc..

    I do hope that despite being ‘pressed for time and also working against the clock’ you have time to do a bit of stretching etc every now and then. Take care – all this repetitive work could lead to all sorts of unpleasantnesses: You don’t want to end up with bursitis etc. Quite apart from your own wellbeing, you have got to pace yourself, what with all those demanding caprines needing all that attention when you get back to the ffarm – it is, I suppose, one thing if you could just sink down gently on the sofa on your return home, but as you have to start all the feeding and milking cycles again when you get back…

    On a slightly different note, I, too, am puzzled by the hours of FCW: I would have expected that they would tailor their hours to more fully reflect [sorry, that is some split infinitive !!] the working practices of their users, but there again, I suppose funding must be at the core of things – it usually is nowadays…….

    Hope you can get your own set-up working really soon: and until then, DO take care….

    Deexx

    • LittleFfarm Dairy says:

      “Hi there Dee, & a warm welcome to you –

      great to see you on the Blog, me old matie! Thanks for your concern, it really is appreciated. Like you say funding is inevitably the significant problem at FCW as with everything which is Government-sponsored these days; as the pot of money is finite & stretched increasingly thin.

      It would be fantastic if FCW could purchase a potting machine or a blast freezer, for example; however I wouldn’t expect them to as they frequently stress the reason they exist is for product innovation & development – NOT as a place for producers to work long-term. The idea is that you find out what works for you & whether you have a viable product; & then establish your own premises as a result – & as such, the facility is fantastic & the envy of many of my colleagues over the border in England.

      Mind you, hire of the premises isn’t free nor is it by any means a cheap option – I really don’t think people realise quite how much it costs us to work there (around £1000 per month if hiring the premises for 1.5 days per week). Of course this is another ‘overhead’ we have to account for – but it also makes one realise that with a business loan, not only could we be working full-time from our own premises, but also employ an additional member of staff – for the same outlay. Food (literally) for thought….

      Unfortunately therefore, even basic equipment is often lacking; such as even the modesty of a suitable spatchelor for potting-up. But dig a little deeper, & you’ll find that because everyone has their own personal preferences they simply can’t provide a tailor-made solution for each & every one of us. We can purchase that type of equipment ourselves; but not only does it have to be approved for use by FCW it also cannot ever leave the premises (which means it’s open to use-&-abuse by other producers; & whilst you’d hope your own equipment – or that belonging to FCW – would be treated with respect by all & sundry, we know others who have, regrettably, discovered this is not necessarily the case).

      Even basic equipment is often hard to come by as it might be tied up with someone else on the premises in a different stage of production. For example the other week we were short of buckets in which to mature our mix & almost ended up having to pour some of it down the drain – an unforeseen nightmare. It’s bad enough having to pour unused milk away but even worse when it’s been mingled with extremely expensive ingredients such as poudre cacao, sugar & free-range egg yolk – a huge hit in our pockets, as you can imagine. We ended up having to go out & buy our own ’emergency’ buckets so that we don’t get caught in such a conundrum again.

      And this extends to the H&S element of things. For months I requested a pair of correctly-fitted wellies; as the smallest pair available in the Dairy Unit was a size 6 & I take a size 2.5 – 3 in food-grade wellies (for some reason the industry standard are gargantuan as they’re made for men rather than women, I suspect).

      Eventually I managed to obtain a pair from another department but was really not happy about it as they’d clearly been used in the meat cutting area – although of course I ensured they were cleaned & disinfected prior to using them in the Dairy. Even so, said wellies are still slightly too big; & extremely uncomfortable into the bargain, having (for a start) absolutely no arch support to the foot which is largely the cause of my aforementioned aching feet & back.

      The tables provided are generally at the wrong height for packing, hence another reason Tony & I suffer from aching backs & legs. We welcome your suggestion but are not permitted to stand on anything whilst working as it wouldn’t be allowed in the food environment – I can’t even supply those much-needed wellies as I’ve asked about that; & was told, ‘absolutely not’.

      Actually there are some fantastic boots on the market which would largely alleviate the problems I’m suffering; but the money simply is not available in the FCW coffers, to purchase them. And I am by no means the only one suffering in this way. Virtually all my colleagues there – especially the ladies – have similar complaints. Painstaking attention is paid to Food Hygiene but to a lesser extent it seems, to Health & Safety: again, after all, we are only really supposed to work there for a finite time & indeed, only for a maximum of 2 days per week; even if the premises aren’t being used by other clients & are standing idle.

      But that was another reason we purchased our own food-grade buckets: ours hold only 20kgs of mix whereas the ones provided by the FC hold 30+kgs; & often there aren’t enough there to do anything other than completely fill the only available buckets. If you’re working on your own that means you’re lifting over 25kgs in weight, unassisted; with all the associated H&S implications.

      I have managed to get myself a specialist spatchelor for the small pots though, & it’s transformed my life….ohhh, those simple but essential pleasures! Whilst it’s proved unsuitable for the 500ml pots at least it has made a big difference to my day with regard to the thorny problem of filling the more diminutive pots.

      And of course once we’re working ‘on ffarm’ I will seek & find exactly the
      equipment I need to make mine & my staff’s days comfortable – as we will be crafting gelato pretty much every day rather than just scrabbling desperately to get everything done, a couple of days per week (I envisage I’ll personally be working every single day, regardless; owing to the rapidly-increasing demand).

      As for the physical stretchy stuff…? Well, thankfully I’ve been doing yoga for (ooerr) more than 25 years, now; so apart from carefully observing a balanced-as-possible posture whilst working I frequently stretch to ease any tightening or overworked muscle groups. It’s also relaxing & calming – something you need when going flat-out, as you so rightly point out! I only wish I could persuade Tony to do the same….

      But you never know! Maybe in a couple of years’ time when we have an army of staff to help us….after finishing the morning milking & sharing a genial, communal breakfast we could do some group t’ai chi or yoga stretches just as you see office workers doing en masse in Japan, before getting on with the business of the day! I’m sure even the goats would be keen to join in – if onlyto either show off or to disrupt things. Hmmm, now this is starting to have echoes of the OMD Forum’s “Energy Suite – New Chapter” topic I posted; which included synchronised goats in LED suits leaping from high corners of the set behind Mr McC’s wild windmilling to ‘Maid of Orleans’…. (for other readers scratching their heads at such a bizarre description, please visit said Forum for an explanation or don’t even ask – it’s just far too complicated to detail, here!!).

      So; back to the thorny old issue of ‘time being money’. You rightly observed the restrictive opening hours of FCW which for producers is a potential cause of significant problems in terms of stock retrieval (let alone flexibility to make & store our stock) however again, the stress is that this is an R&D facility NOT a production unit – ergo the standard 9am-4.30/5pm working hours, Monday-Friday; with weekends, Bank & Public Holidays, firmly closed for business.

      Incidentally I must admit I’ve never seen a case of sailmaker’s palm….& judging by the implications I don’t think I want to now, either!

      Anyway; lovely that you’ve dropped by on the Forum – & do hope you + OH will soon drop by ‘in the flesh’ so to speak – don’t forget if you fancy a few days’ battery-recharging holiday here (coz you work extremely over-hard too, Madam – & YOU deserve a break as well!) then you’re always welcome.

      Meanwhile I can hear my assisitance is required in the latst incarnation of the Maternity Ward – I think another of our Silkie-X bantam chicks has just hatched, so I’d better check on the latest little yellow fluffy ‘bundle of joy’. Never a dull moment, eh?!

      Best wishes –

      Jo xx”

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