I first began the Birth of a Creamery blog on March 24th, 2011, optimistically calling the first chapter “Four Years and 364 Days” for the 4 years of planning that had gone into our creamery plan and the “less than a year” promise I was given for how soon we could complete construction. Well March 23rd 2012 has come and gone, but with all the hoops and hick-ups we went through in the planning process we should have foreseen that construction wouldn’t be without its own hurtles. Thankfully we are only a few weeks over our mid-March deadline. On Thursday May 10th Pennyroyal officially became California’s newest licensed creamery!
Monday I had flashbacks to every moving day I have gone through in my adult life. Forklift-full by forklift-full our garage was emptied of all the cheese making equipment that had filled it from wall to wall and floor to ceiling for the last 4 months (the garage being the most accessible and securable location available). I spent the better part of the day in the creamery directing equipment unpacking and placement, answering “Yes, I do need this many cheese molds,” scouring discarded cardboard for missing bits of stainless steel, and racking my brains trying to recall where we intended this or that shelf to go. Of course it is during this process that forgotten items become apparent, so there was also lots of darting back to my computer and my ever faithful Nelson Jameson catalog to add to the growing list of “Still to Buy.”
Only ten days since my last post, but as we approach completion the final work is adding up quickly. Ceiling panels and ceiling light fixtures were completed last week, though joints between the ceiling and walls still need to be sealed. The viewing light fixtures in the aging room walls still need to be installed as well. Unfortunately our crew framed them from the dimensions on the cut sheets without verifying the measurements of the actual fixtures, so the holes are too large and will require flashing for a clean finish. No construction project gets completed without a hitch, and this is one of the many (albeit one of the least daunting) we have faced over the last 12 months of building.
Last week a dramatic development occurred in the creamery, the final wall coating was applied. The doors and windows were taped up, and for three days layers of fiberglass and polyurethane were sprayed onto the walls by a company called Ironclad. With the door jams in place and the new glossy white walls the creamery looks cleaner and brighter. During the application of the walls our crew began work on projects outside the creamery, like putting up the walk-in refrigerator and welding frames for cheese aging racks.
In the last two and a half weeks there have been some major deliveries at Pennyroyal, and only some of them were stainless steel.
Since February 24th there have been 174 kids born and 21 lambs, of which 9 doe kids and all 11 ewe lambs were retained for the Pennyroyal herd (we are still increasing the size of the sheep flock, but only need enough doe kids to replace the geriatric goats). The remaining kids and the ram lambs have all been sold as meat animals, for browsing programs, to 4H youth for fair projects, for people wanting dairy animals, or as pets. There are still another 20 goats left to kid between now and the 24th of April, but the chaos of 10 or 12 due in a single day is behind us.
The first three weeks of February have been productive ones at the creamery. Both aging rooms received three coats of plaster. The first coat was very rough, and served the purpose of filling the gap between the radiant cooling tubing and the insulation of the walls. The second coat was another “rough” coat, intended to increase the thickness of the wall. The third coat is a “smooth” coat. The smooth coat ensures that all of the walls are level. The final wall finish, a polyurethane cement, will be applied over this smooth plaster. During the application and drying of the plaster coats, the radiant tubing was pressurized, thus any expansion or contraction of the tubing which may occur when chill water is being circulated will not damage the walls.
This morning our first delivery of cheese making equipment arrived from Fromagex in Quebec, much of it having first made the trip from France to Canada, before working its way through U.S. Customs. I also received a call from the company shipping the stainless steel draining tables we had fabricated by Custom Metalcraft to set-up a delivery date for later this week.The pasteurizer should be arriving at the port in southern California in a few weeks. In short, everything is starting to come together. Inside the creamery progress continues as well.
Despite early assurances that we had a shot at completing the creamery by the end of the year it was evident pretty early on that that wouldn’t be the case. Sadly, as 2011 comes to a close it looks like having the creamery ready to run by the time the goats start milking again at the beginning of March isn’t going to be attainable either. Thank you very much contractors.
While our construction crew has labored 6 days a week to complete the exterior siding, the electrical contractors were on site closer to 3 days a week (and have been completely off the job for the holidays for a solid 2 weeks), and they show up to work 2 hours later and leave 2 hours earlier. Mechanical contractors have passed on bidding on the project, most of them citing a lack of familiarity with the cold and humid aging facilities of a creamery. We finally have someone who put in a bid, but this late in the game we’re looking at several weeks before equipment is ordered and on site.
Operating off the grid is nothing new in the Anderson valley; it’s not unheard of for residents to illuminate their homes at night with candles or who get their drinking water from a spring. The three communities that make up the valley are rural and remote. Many of the roads into the flanking mountains are unpaved, and the nearest city is a 30 minute drive away, on a twisting two-lane mountain highway. Going off the grid with a commercial-scale dairy and creamery is a bit more challenging… as in 220 solar panels challenging.
I had a meeting with our architect, Steve, yesterday to discuss details of our raw milk cheese aging racks. At the end of the talk I asked where we were in terms of progress on the creamery. Our construction team, (members of Navarro’s vineyard crew), are very skilled in construction, concrete work, and welding, and have spent much of the last two years building the dairy rather than working in the vineyards. However they got pulled this week to aid with harvest as rains over the weekend made getting grapes off the vine the more immediate priority. The creamery site has been vacant all this week with Alvaro, Carlos, and Andres occupied with harvest and crush at Navarro. From what Steve told me, we would have been due for a lull anyway.