Wednesday, April 9, 2014

PART 3 - The Cheese Queen's Story: The Early 1980's

Phenomenal Growth!

This is the third in a comprehensive series about the history of New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.  We hope you will enjoy reading about our challenges and our triumphs.   If you haven't read them already, check out Part 1 and Part 2.

By 1981, making cheese was still a big part of Ricki and Bob's lives.  They acquired a Jersey cow, Nellie, while still milking their 3 Alpine goats.

Their refrigerator "cave"

In the early days of the business magazine ads were used for advertising and the business continued this way until the internet came along.  

1979 ad in Countryside Magazine

1982 ad

In 1981, they began selling their products to artisanal cheesemakers as well as home cheesemakers.

Ricki and Bob were teaching workshops both in Ashfield and around the country.

Bob and their friend, Margo Potter who Ricki worked with laying out the 'Ashfield News'  worked together on "The Little Home Cheesemaking Workbook" (19 p., illustrated by their neighbor Linda Taylor).  Covered in the workbook: equipment needed, how to make and use cheese starter culture, and step-by-step recipes for lactic cheese, small curd cottage cheese, Coulommiers and Caerphilly, Gouda, ricotta and Mysost.

That year, they sent their 20 page catalog to a mailing list of 10,000.  As soon as their last workshop of the season was finished Ricki gave birth to their first daughter Jennifer and the next day they hired Kate Spencer, a friend who worked with Ricki at the Co-op, their first full-time employee.

Bob stopped teaching special education at Mohawk Trail Regional High School to work on the business full time.  Ricki was still helping at the Grange, running the Ashfield Food Co-op, and organizing art classes for young people, along with shipping orders and taking care of Jennifer.

Ricki and Bob sent out a questionnaire to 200 workshop participants asking if they thought a newsletter was a good idea.  The response was overwhelmingly positive, so they published their first issue in Mar/April 1981.

It featured stories about cheese makers, recipes, letters from customers, and updates on new products.  At one point, for a few years, it was the newsletter for the American Cheese Society.

The first issue.

In 1981, Annie Proulx came to one of Bob and Ricki's workshops and suggested to Garden Way publishing that they should write a book for them on cheese making.  They called, Ricki and Bob wrote it and to this day still sell an updated version of this same book.

In 1982, the book was published and Bob and Ricki made an appearance on the NBC today show promoting home cheese making.  The first issue included a diagram for making an effective cheese press from a coffee can, broomstick, plywood board and bricks!

From the 1st edition of Cheesemaking Made Easy

In 1982, they published "Making Cheeses at Home" by Susan Ogilvy, under the aegis of the Cheese Press.

They also published a little booklet - "Recipes for Cheese" with illustrations by Linda Taylor.  The first outside book they published was the English version of  "Goat Cheese: Small Scale Production" by the Benedictine nuns of Mont-Laurier, Canada.

During all this time, the growth of the business was nothing less than amazing.  To summarize, Ricki and Bob were doing workshops all over the country, publishing the Cheesemakers Journal, traveling to visit cheese makers in Europe, Canada and all over the US, publishing out of print cheese making books, and doing whatever they could to support artisan cheese makers.

In 1983, they attended the first meeting of the ACS and soon Bob became the Executive Secretary.  Their mission was to increase the membership and they did this by sending out registration forms to their mailing list and advertising every meeting in the Cheesemakers' Journal.

Third meeting of the American Cheese Society (Ricki and Bob are front center).

By the end of their fifth year in business, they had been featured in the NY Times, the Boston Globe, Business Week and they had demonstrated cheese making on the Today Show.

They were sending out a 20 page color catalog 4 times/ year. 

By now, sales were over $400,000 and they were receiving 100 orders per day.  Of course, they were still doing all this in their home:

In the Union News, 1984 - "...As a result, their home turned into a warehouse of equipment and supplies.  "We were importing 400 gallon cheese vats from Holland."  Ricki says, "There were times when we would have 4 or 5 in our living room and a shipment of milking machines on the porch."

Unfortunately, as many of you know, rapid growth and actual profit do not always go hand-in-hand.  By 1985, it became clear that their expenses were way too high.  Stay tuned for the next phase of the business when Ricki and Bob faced some financial realities.

Stay tuned for the next phase of the business...

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