Crying Over Spilt Milk

Posted on October 22, 2009

I did not really cry, except inside. But, I did spill a lot of milk: 100 gallons to be precise.

Yesterday started like any normal cheesemaking day; to the dairy and back, then pumping the milk into my vat. And then something abnormal happened.

I gently pasteurize my milk. By law, any cheese that goes to market before sixty days must be pasteurized. I use a “tankless” water heater to run very hot water through two “jackets” inside the vat, which brings the milk slowly to 145 degrees. Then the milk is held at this temperature for a minimum of 30 minutes. Viola, pasteurized milk.

The heater is a really cool machine. It heats water almost immediately to the desired temperature, and it is rigged up to recycle the water that flows through the vat. So, not only is it very energy efficient, it cuts down on water use.

Only, yesterday, I pressed the on button, and nothing happened. From my years in the baking business, I am used to equipment failure. I have also found that with the proper amount of determination and ingenuity, there is almost always a solution, a quick fix.

Almost always. I went through a routine of going through the troubleshooting guide in the equipment manual, then called in our electrician and ultimately, Jeremy, the plumber who installed the heater. We had power, and everything was operation except for the keypad.

Jeremy called technical support at the manufacturer, and after going through a set of instructions, was asked to take the keypad apart. As he did so, a few drops of water began to seep out. This, it turns out, is not normal.

What to do next? Tech man explained that you can bypass the display unit and keep the heater operational. Good news! I sealed the vat and began heating the milk. Jeremy left with my OK to order another display unit.

As I watched the vat, I could tell something was amiss. The milk was not heating as quickly as usual, and when I felt the intake water line, it was obvious that the water going in was not as hot as usual. So, I called back technical support, and learned that while it is possible to bypass the control unit as we had done, there is an internal wiring system that prevents the water from going above 140 degrees. It should come as no surprise that 140 degree water will not heat milk to 145 degrees.

I searched my mind for a solution. I called all the plumbing supply outfits within a 75 mile radius that might stock the part. I called a company in town that specializes in control units. I tried to tap my inner McGuyver, but nothing would come.

I obviously lost some money, but that was a minor irritant. It was truly heart-wrenching to drain the milk out of the vat. I had exhausted every option I could think of, and there was nothing I could do. I called my good friend Craig, and we had a laugh at the idea of me taking a bath in the vat. For the record, I did not take a bath in the vat.

All night last night, I had flashes of frustration welling up from inside. Where the hell had that water come from? Did I do everything I could? It was a pointless exercise, but knowing that made it no easier.

Jeremy came back today and installed the new control unit. He mounted it in a different spot, far from any source of water. Maybe I should get another unit for backup.

I hope writing this down will exorcise any lingering demons I may have, and, of course, this is a minor setback that will not affect much in the long run.

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