Eating on the job: Kristen Schnepp from Gringa Dairy

By
Eve O'Sullivan
Added
24 June, 2015

Each week, Cooked speaks to a professional from the food industry to find out what it’s really like to be behind the scenes of the things we all love to eat. This week it's Kristen Schnepp, the cheesemaker and founder of Peckham’s Gringa Dairy.

Gringa Dairy

 

I started Gringa Dairy, a company that makes artisan, Mexican-style cheeses in Peckham, London, using organic cows’ milk from a single herd in Kent, in 2012, but before then, I worked in the corporate world, first in technology and then financial services in a variety of roles focussed on marketing, business development and strategy. But cheese has always been my passion – my father was a gourmet food broker in San Francisco, California – and after living in the UK for few years, I realised I could actually just make cheese myself! After this breakthrough thought, there was no stopping me from making the leap.

 

I was comfortable with the business side of things from the start, but what I needed to tackle was learning how to actually make the cheese. I’d been making it at home for a while, and had done a whole lot of reading, but then also decided to take courses at The School of Artisan Food, and spend time in a few dairies trying to get a sense of what commercial production required. In retrospect, I had no practical experience – a bit insane really! I make three cheeses; queso fresco, queso Chihuahua and queso Oaxaca, and do have a parental love for them. The community of people making Mexican products in the UK is small and rather wonderful. We are big fans of companies such as the Cool Chile Company (who both produces in the UK and imports), KANKUN sauces and Gran Luchito chilli paste.


gringa dairy

 

When we started, I was up at 4am to collect milk, produced all day, then dropped into bed at 9pm four days a week. I then spent the other three days of the week working on the business non-stop. We just hit our second anniversary and I (thankfully) have a bit more help now, but the hours are still quite long. I’m up at 6am and try to get a run in three days a week (the cardio is good for stress and it balances out all the heavy lifting in the dairy). Otherwise, I start work right away dealing with orders and emails and then get to the dairy by 8am. We produce Monday to Thursday, and I bounce between making cheese and all the other parts of running a business. There is a pretty heavy regulatory burden, so record keeping is time consuming. Friday is jam packed with ‘everything else’, but I do try to set aside some time for forward planning. I get to call it a day sometime between 7–9pm during the week and now manage to have at least one, and sometimes both, days off at the weekend.

 

What’s the hardest part of running Gringa Dairy? Pulling back and working ‘on’ the business instead of ‘in’ the business. It is also a challenge to set your own goals and measures of success. And I think I’d say the most surprising thing about cheesemaking is how incredibly physical it is. I had to learn far more than I expected about electricity, plumbing and machinery. It is now really satisfying to be able to fix so many things myself, but it was incredibly daunting when I first started out.

 

My advice to anyone wanting to start their own food business is that you’ll never be ready to make a big career change, so really think hard about what you want and do the work to determine if your idea is viable. If the plan is good and you really want to do whatever it is more than you don’t want to change your life, then just go for it. Fear will come up with as many barriers to change as you let it come up with. The alternative is to always wonder ‘what if’. If you want to start a food business in the UK, I recommend Monique Borst’s Food Business Start-up Bootcamp, a weekend course that will explore your idea as well as your personal readiness to become an entrepreneur.


GET BEHIND THE SCENES, EAT ON THE JOB:

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