Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Saying goodbye

The merry men of Ticklemore. Robin Congdon, Ben Harris, and Nick Trant. They're nice when you get to know them.

The curtains are closing on the month long play. Time to turn the lights off and head for home.

Last day today. I'm very sad to be leaving. I've really had a wonderful time. These guys are great. I feel like the baby bird being tossed out of the nest. I don't want to leave the nest! It's comfortable. I like it here. I want to keep doing what I'm doing. It agrees with me. I didn't think I'd fall into such a good place. That lonely, windy spot on the side of the hill is where my dreams came to fruition. I've dreamed of making cheese. I asked if they'd let me learn how to make cheese with them. They said yes. I left my husband and my home for a month. I lived by myself and worked closely with Nick Trant and Ben Harris. They guided me patiently through the steps they take to produce some of the finest cheeses in the world. I was trusted with the knowledge and the cheese cutter. I feel like I really made a connection with these guys. I count them as my friends. I will forever be thankful to them for taking the time to show me the ropes and letting me into their lives. Especially Nick. He really made an effort to ensure that I was OK, invited me to his home, introduced me to his wife and kids, and even gave me fish and pheasant.

I was glad I worked at Ticklemore today. I had the option to not go in since Robin and Sarie have returned. The day began per usual for a Monday. I spiked 71 cheeses. Two batches of Devon Blue and one of Harbourne went into the cave. Nick banged out all cheese that needed salting. I get salt in my gloves when I salt a lot of cheese. Salt plus sweat in gloves equals a rash on my skin. I have very sensitive skin, not a good thing in this business.

Tea time was bittersweet for me. The dynamic changed. I was feeling sad and the guys were feeling on edge since the boss was home. Robin wasn't there as he had gone off to pick up the goat milk from Button Farm. Robin spent most of the day going through the mail and catching up on invoices. He never entered the dairy. We scraped a couple of batches of Devon Blue and Harbourne before and after lunch. They were wrapped in cling film and placed in the cold room to let them mature.

At lunch we were unusually quiet since Robin was at the table. Robin talked about his stay in Spain. I looked at photos, but I mostly just stared at my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Silly me forgot to grab an apple from my stash at my B & B. I did have some raspberries that I kept in their fridge. Light lunch.

I took even more photos and Nick let me cut and stir the Ticklemore Goat. The trick is not following the recipe to a T, but to get the timing right and learning how to read the curds. With Ticklemore Goat, if the curds are throwing off a lot of whey, they need less handling, stir them less. Stir more, if you need to firm them up, but not too firm. Devon Blue can be altered by adjusting how fine the curd is cut. The fat and protein content of the milk is always changing, so with experience the true knowledge is gained. Ben and Nick were happy I stayed an extra day to work with them. They appreciated the extra hands. Robin was happy I wanted to work in the dairy so he could weed through the pile of papers stacked on his desk.

I am leaving with small Baby Boyton, double wrapped and vacuum sealed. Sarie is cutting a quarter wheel of Harbourne Blue for me. Robin will wrap it and I'll carry it home in a cooler bag placed in my luggage. Hopefully it will make the journey safe and sound. I hope to share it with family and friends. Cheese party anyone?

Nick sent me inside to debrief with Robin while Ben and he cleaned up in the dairy. I went into the living room and Robin was on the phone. I went into the bathroom and changed. Sarie was at the cheeseshop. When I emerged in my street clothes, Robin was off the phone. He asked how it went. "Did I learn anything?" "Yeah. One or two things," I replied, smiling. I thanked him again for giving me this opportunity. "It worked out well for both of us," he said. They got a house sitter, and I got to immerse myself in the daily life of a cheesemaker in Totnes. It's a big win-win situation. Robin has been making cheese for so long that it is just second nature to him. He's quick to offer pearls of wisdom and suggestions. He said to email or call whenever I have any questions. I said to give me ring whenever they need a house sitter again! Maybe next time, Jim can join me. There is so much I want to share with him. Photos can't convey enough.

I kept a stiff upper lip when I hugged Ben and Nick and wished them farewell. They're a great couple of guys. I hope to see them again someday. I'd love to work with them again.

Liz agrees with me. It was good for me to stay at the Dairy and get my feet wet on a trial basis. I didn't have to start making my own cheese to see if I liked doing it. I got a trial run, living in a remote place, tending to the daily requirement of cheesemaking and, making friends with the house spiders and local farm cats. I really like this simpler way of living. The Devon country life is very attractive. Robin and Sarie live without a lot of excessive baggage. They don't have any clutter. Hell, they don't even have a frying pan.

Lessoned learned: I will not live in the same building where I make cheese. Walking distance is fine, thanks. My break room will not be my living room. I will have a clothes washer AND a dryer. I will have a pasteurizer that's not homemade; mine will be easier to clean. I will have a round vat for my version of Ticklemore Goat, but I might install a paddle with a timer to gently stir the curds. My making and draining tables will be of a good height for me. I will have room to walk all the way around the vats and tables. I will have two cheese caves if I am working with blue and white molded cheese. My cheese will be easy to reach in my cave. I will try to make the procedures as ergonomic as possible. I will turn my cling film wrapped cheese a couple of times while waiting for it to ripen. Use long gloves so salt does not get inside.

Tomorrow their day will go on as usual, but I'll be flying back to my life in the States. But my life is forever changed. I am a cheesemaker, I'm ready to continue my education, but I've got a better feel for what to expect. This path is leading me to a new adventure as a small business owner, as an artisan and as an alchemist turning milk (lead) into cheese (gold.)

This month has just flown by. I can't believe I left San Francisco a month ago. I am also thankful that I have a wonderful and dear husband who has been totally supportive of my wild and crazy ambitious dreams. It helps that we came here for a day in May, he met the people and saw the set up. We were both assured that this was a good idea. I'm sure that I could have found a someplace closer to home, but that wasn't the point. My goal was to work with people making a cheese I enjoy, and were willing to take me in hand and show me everything. Complete and total immersion. I got that and more. I have fallen in love. I'm in love with making cheese. I'm in love with a "lifestyle" career that is totally my choice, and of my creation. I hope Jim knows what he's in for.

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