If you want to catch up, here is part I and part II. My first days at Neal’s Yard Dairy were great. I got to a meet a whole new crew of co-workers and learn about a business that I had little knowledge of. I have always loved cheese, but to grasp more understanding of its production and nuisances was fascinating.
I quickly came to realize the quality of British cheese.
While Neal’s Yard Dairy does sell a few non-British cheeses, the main focus is on promoting the best small cheese producers in the British Isles, especially in areas where the art of cheese making is dying out. They are heavily involved with those producers, helping them to produce the best cheese possible and, at times, investing in them as well. The benefit for Neal’s Yard Dairy is that they get the first pick of every batch and certain producers even tailor make cheese for them, sticking to a recipe designed and preferred by Neal’s Yard Dairy for maximum quality.
This means that there are no bargains to be found in their shops. Neal’s Yard will usually be the most expensive option for a wholesale customer (or for a retail consumer for that matter), but it will also be the best possible product, even compared to the same cheese from a different wholesaler. If you want the best cheese, you head for Neal’s Yard.
My position was as a wholesale cheesemonger (best occupation title ever to put on immigration forms. Customs always did a double take). That meant that I, along with a team of six or seven, helped to select, cut and box cheese for wholesale customers, from small cheese shops dotted around London, to big hotels and food halls, like The Dorcester and Harrods. The sheer volume of cheese moving around the facility was amazing. Everyday, as we packaged cheese for shipping out, trucks pulled up, dropping off literally tons of cheese, to be hauled off and stored in the various cheese maturation rooms around the building.
The wholesale team was great, with a mixture of personalities and nationalities. Hungarians, Italians, Peruvian and British (plus me as the lone American on the team). We arranged ourselves along the wholesale line, which started at one end with receiving station, which printed the newest orders from the sales team, through to picking, wrapping, labeling and finally boxing.
The process was efficient and smooth. The company had a “improving everyday” motto to improve speed. If something was holding up the line, like the placement of a phone, or an extra key stroke to label a cheese, we would work on a solution to remove the problem. I give them props for addressing those small issues. Too often in my past, companies went out of their way to make my work less efficient and more time consuming. Neal’s Yard Dairy’s goal was to do the opposite.
There were two unique aspects to Neal’s Yard. The first were the lunches, provided for free everyday, with two people volunteering everyday to cook for the whole office, which numbered a little over thirty people. They had negotiated with produce vendors from the famous Borough Market down the road, so we got a delivery of beautiful produce every Monday. Most meals were vegetarian, but the staff took the time to make some delicious lunches, not to mention a great cheeseboard and fantastic country bread, which they had delivered every other morning. Access to quality food was not an issue.
The other part, which I found the most amusing, was our afternoon tea break. We actually had a tea break! I thought that only happened on British television shows, yet, every day around 4pm, we went to the break room for a tea break. Now, you did not have to drink tea. In fact, I usually had coffee, because Neal’s Yard was affiliated with Monmouth Coffee, one of the best coffee roasters in London, so we had an endless supple of great coffee. Of course, there was cheese, bread and a copious amount of butter if needed. I knew it was a dairy, but the sheer quantity of dairy products that most of the employees consumed in a day was stunning. Hunks of cheese, slabs of butter. Yogurt in the morning. Nothing but full fat milk. Not a place for the lactose intolerant.
All in all, things appeared to be going well. But after a few months, the freshness of the position began to wear off. While I enjoyed selected, cutting and tasting the cheese for customers, many days were spent boxing cheese for eight hours. While that may not seem that bad, doing it for a few days in a row was brutal. I have never had a job where I stood still, doing the same repetitive motion for hours. And while the managers did a good job with trying to rotate people around during the day, when things got busy there was not much time for shifting positions.
Things came to a head prior to the holidays. I was told that I would have to work through Christmas Eve, as December was by far the busiest month of the year. As I had planned to head home to Florida for the holiday, the thought of flying to the USA from London by myself on Christmas morning seemed particularly depressing. I spoke with my manager about the situation, letting him know that I needed a few days off in advance so I could make it home by Christmas Eve night, where my entire family was gathering for the first time in five or six years.
The longer this issue, dragged on, the more angry I became. I eventually just told my manager outright that if given a choice, I would leave Neal’s Yard so I could spent time with my family. He fully understood and appreciated my concern. A few weeks later, he told me that he worked it out with HR and that I could get the time off.
There was one problem though: this did not make me feel better. That’s when I knew that deep down I was using the holiday situation as a potential out. Rather than just quitting, I was hoping that I would be forced to show my hand when I didn’t get my requested time off. Unfortunately, they did grant my request and I felt stuck. Except, I wasn’t. I could just quit. But with the pressure I put on myself to get a job, quitting after six months seemed silly. Did I want to look for another job? Did I want to go on more interviews?
Ultimately, I realized that I needed to make a change. What was the point of continuing a job where I wasn’t happy? I had worked for too many years, spent too many hours not truly enjoying my restaurant life, but I pushed ahead because I had a good amount of success and was making good money. I was frankly afraid to leave. It’s hard to leave a career. I had just made that step a year earlier, leaving NYC to move to London. And here I was, doing it again. I felt good about the decision, but still maintained a level of guilt. Was I a quitter?
I wrapped up my time at Neal’s Yard, running their holiday mail order business with another wholesale team member. We did an insane amount of volume, pulling, cutting, weighing, wrapping, labeling and boxing cheese for over a 1,000 orders a day. I stepped away quietly, not wanting to make any noise about me leaving. I’m sure some people did not even know I was leaving. But it was the right decision for me. Did I have a long career at Neal’s Yard. Maybe. But I wasn’t convinced. I knew that a position like that did not work for me. I needed a position that required a little more thinking, a little more interaction. Just like I thought to myself when we moved to London, I did not want to work just to have a job and then regret missing out on opportunities to travel and do things while we were in the UK. I still hold out hope that I can find a job that I enjoy and find rewarding, both financially and mentally.
Since returning from the USA unemployed again (I find writing unemployed on the UK landing card depressing at airport customs), I have spent a lot of time working on Drive on the Left. We have put a bigger focus on social media, and I now find myself on Twitter for multiple hours a day. And I can see the growth and the potential in what we are doing. Maybe, just maybe, this funny little site, that started like so many others like it, simply as a tool to keep in touch with family and friends, could become a job. Who would of thought that? Certainly not me. I still dabble from time to time, looking for a position that stands out to me. I was in the final group for a position to assist in running the wine cellar at The Savoy last month, which would have been crazy, but alas, my ever shrinking time limit on my work visa was not helpful. Who knows what will happen, but for now, I guess, you can call me a travel blogger.