• Helen Ferguson

Melinda - The Truffet Emporium

Melinda - Cheese Queen



Melinda is 49 - ‘I’ll be 50 in a minute and a half!’ , she announces within the first few moments of our video call!



Melinda is energy; she crackles with personality and appeal over Messenger video link.

That’s quite an achievement.

Most people learn to be content with pixelated and laggy.


I’ve never seen or met Melinda before tonight.

She emails me advance warning that as she’s been ‘cheesing’ all day, she’ll be wearing her cheesing hat,

which she deems unattractive.

She beams with amusement as the link connects and I see her for the first time.

I decide it’s more of a cheesing scarf or cheesing turban.

Melinda gleefully shares that her beloved husband calls it a ‘penis inverter’, because of its lack of allure!


What a cracking start to an interview. I couldn’t really ask for anything better could I?


Melinda and I first crossed paths on-line.

We were both enrolled in ‘The Lady Start Up Activation Plan’;

www.ladystartup.com

a business course aimed at helping women take the plunge and finally launch that business idea that has been ticking away in their heads.


We were all coming at the world of business launch from a myriad of angles; an astonishing range of ideas, goals and experiences, all taking shape during the Covid Lock Downs, Isolations and Work from Homes.

We were corralled into a Facebook Group to form a connected cohort, and some wonderful support networks, information hubs and sounding boards began to emerge.


Melinda was always upbeat and open when sharing information or asking questions.

Eventually, as we all began to burrow deeper into our own projects, she messaged me privately via the

Her Middle Age Instagram, (@hermiddleage) to give me an encouraging word and to let me know that she was enjoying what I had produced so far.

Seizing the day, I asked if she’d be open to being interviewed for Her Middle Age, and she generously didn’t take long to agree.


When we video meet, Melinda is in her purpose-built Cheese Studio, having been in full creative flow all day.

She has recently been granted her ‘Dairy Victoria Manufacturing License’, so now she is in full

‘let’s get this show on the road’ mindset.

It’s time to stack the produce shelves.


www.thetruffetemporium.com.au



We jump straight into the interview:


Where were you born and raised?


I was born at the Mercy Hospital, Melbourne.


A born and bred Glen Waverley girl.

Mum and Dad still live in Glen Waverley.


What was your family structure?


We were very typical for the time, for the Melbourne suburbs.

I have an older brother and a younger sister.

Mum and Dad are still together, and both worked.

We were quite fortunate.

We were by no means wealthy, yet we all went to private schools!

My parents must have been managing their finances incredibly well to be able to achieve that.

They did exceptionally well for us.


Who were the Women Leaders at the forefront of your upbringing?


I did give this some thought.

As most people would probably say, My Mother.

She worked incredibly hard.

I don’t remember there ever being a minute when she wasn’t doing something.

On top of working Full Time, our house was always kept immaculately clean, even with 3 kids living there.

I recall the lamps only went on at 5pm when the house was perfect, after she had spent all day cleaning, scrubbing skirting boards….

That is why I can’t have lamps in my house!

I cannot have them mocking me!!


Apart from Mum, there was her sister, my Aunty Marie.

She had been a Catholic Nun, but then she had left to be married.

She was the personality type that I felt never really fitted in with the grown-ups,

but always fitted in with the kids.

When my own boys were little, she would turn up at my house on a motorbike, dressed as a clown and spend the day blowing bubbles and balloons.




So, we were very lucky; we had the structure of perfection and ‘this is everything that you’re supposed to be’ versus ‘Wow, we had fun!’


Were there expectations in your wider community around Middle Aged women?


We all had a similar structure.

Dads worked Full Time.

Mums worked Part time or Full Time, but the cooking and the cleaning were still important.

If you didn’t prioritise the home, on top of your job, I sensed that you might be considered lazy.

Now I know just how hard that juggle is.


Did you have any female role models, outside of your immediate environment?


Not especially. I do remember reading about Goldie Hawn and her partner Kurt Russell. They are together, without being married, and that was a deliberate choice for them.

I thought that was cool, I liked that it was a choice.



When you were in your late teens and early 20’s, what were your ambitions?


I didn’t try particularly hard at school.

If I had applied myself, I could have done rather well.

I had a bit of a hang up, that because I hadn’t tried, I wasn’t really entitled to expect anything amazing.

I didn’t go to Uni, I only just fell over the line of my HSC (Higher School Certificate)

I didn’t ever make a decision about anything to do with my direction until last year when I started my own business.


I just drifted to be honest:

Should I get married? Sure.

Kids: I was always going to want kids.

I never had a plan of what I wanted to do as a grownup.

I just left everything to the universe to see what turned up.

I put no expectations on myself or my abilities.


What was your early career?


I joined my Dad at the Commonwealth Bank.

I was there for 10 years, until I left to have my eldest son.

I didn’t want to go back after having him, as I couldn’t understand how Part Time was 4 days, and Full Time was 5 days…. how is that ‘part’ time?

So, we bought a tiny little house in the suburbs that we could afford on my ex-husband's wage.


I stayed home to be Mum to 3 beautiful boys.

I also studied to qualify to become a Book-Keeper, actually it was really to be an Accountant. I had read somewhere that in 5 years’ time there was going to be a shortage of Accountants, and I thought “sure, I could do that’.

I did my Cert 3 and Cert 4 in Business, effectively Book-Keeping.

I did part time Book-Keeping jobs after my youngest started school.

That led onto Office Management roles, then onto Project Administration roles, which took me back into a corporate environment.

Ultimately that takes me right up to the 30th June 2020, when my project contract role was cancelled, along with everybody else's, because of Covid.


How did that impact you?


What will I do?

What should I do?

I kept thinking “I’m going to be 50 in a minute and a half, and I feel invisible.”

I look invisible.

I thought ‘I may actually not work again’.


Was that a nice feeling, or a worry?


Financially, we were always going to be ok.

I considered retirement, tried that on for a bit, but my Husband repeatedly said, ‘you’re not retiring’.


Back up...Is this your second husband that you’re telling me about?


Yes! Shane!


Second husband,

slash love of my life,

slash partner,

slash everything beautiful.


He’s gorgeous. (giggling)




So, back to you; what next?


So, by this time, thanks to Covid, everyone is home.

My house was filled with adult children.

Nobody was doing anything physical, so nobody was really eating the usual big family meals.


I cook, always cook.

Shane and I plan meals on Saturday and we cook all day Sunday.

Cook, cook, cook, cook…...and nobody was eating, but for my mental health I still needed to be in the kitchen.

I just thought, OK, I will cook anything I want.



Much to my husband's delight I woke up one morning planning to make pizzas from scratch:

Base from scratch, sauce from scratch, and I said

“How hard do you think Mozzarella will be to make?”


We actually did make mozzarella that day and it’s not easy.

It’s definitely not a beginner’s cheese, but it was as though a bomb had gone off in my head, it was instantly addictive.

I loved it.


Your first ever attempt at making cheese was a Mozzarella?


No, I’d done the easy Paneers and the basic cheeses and yoghurts over the years, because I’d thought it would be a great thing to try.

I bought a book and just went for it.

Across all of July 2020 I think I made 19 different types of cheese.

I was in a cheesing haze!


At this point we were doing all of this in the family kitchen, and then someone would want to come in and make toast!


Melinda begins to joyfully act out her role of frustrated genius….

“Are you kidding me?

Get out of here with your contaminants!!!!

Your scheduled access is at 4am to make toast, if you're not hungry or awake at 4am, that’s not my problem!”


To sell cheese you need a commercial kitchen license, and you can’t get one of those for a domestic kitchen because there will always be contaminants.


How daunting was it to decide to make a real start?


I didn’t really overthink it.

All we needed was a Commercial Kitchen.

How hard could that be?

I’m lucky that my 22 year old Son is a Plumber and my Niece is an Electrician.

We talked about it one night and he made a rough sketch of what I’d need, out in our garden.

It was just going to be the basic requirements.

(It’s turned into the Taj Mahal of over-engineering now of course!)


This was happening in September, it’s a shed that is up to code for Council Regulations.

I applied to Dairy Safe Victoria, they came out and approved it, and after much paperwork I got my manufacturing license!


On the first day there was a little feeling of “Oh Wow! Now I actually have to do this”.

There were no excuses of waiting for a roof or the tiler or a license, but once I got in here…

‘Happy as a Lark’.


How many hours a day are you making cheese?


6 or 7. It depends on the day, or the cheese.

Today I did a batch of Edam: That is 20 litres of milk for 2 wheels of Edam.

Some cheeses need 2 days, some need 1.


Are you at the selling stage yet?


I’m now producing stock under the license, which is for sale.

Anything made prior to the license is for family consumption….they’ve benefited from a lot of platters!




What has the reaction to your enterprise been?


Shane is absolutely mad for it, he’s in here as much as he can be and would love to quit his job and join me in the trenches.

The boys just went “oh yeah, another wacky Mum moment!”

My Mum would ring me and say “Tell me again. What are you doing? Explain it again.”

Of course, now she’s been putting in orders.


The neighbours are all over it too!

During Melbourne's original Covid restrictions, I sent a flyer out for people to have community coffee standing out in the street.

I passed out tasting selections to do market research, but then we got our second wave which shut all of that down.

I don’t have customers coming to my house, there’s no signage or increased traffic, so I’m not impacting on anyone at all whilst I’m creating.


What comes next, is there a natural progression and scope to add things to your business?


That’s why we called the business

The Truffet Emporium

So that we can add a variety of items to the product list, like Chutneys and beautiful treats, a food emporium.


I remember when you first told our group the name of your business was

‘The Truffet Emporium’

and I loved it straight away. It instantly took my mind to the Harrods Food Hall, and to Fortnum and Mason’s with all it’s gorgeous little packs of goodies, and the sausages wrapped in cloth. It’s a brilliant name.


Well there is a story behind that name!

We were sitting in the kitchen, trying to work on a name.

We were attempting to go with “Tuffet” because of curds and whey, and Miss Muffet on her Tuffet.


I kept saying it with an ‘R’ and writing it with an ‘R’.

I filled out all of the ASIC forms to register the name, and it came back as

‘Truffet Emporium’.


My husband said “oh those idiots have spelt it wrong!’

I had to say ‘erhm, that might actually be me’.


We decided it was just meant to be, and to go with it.

It sounds a bit like Truffle too!


What is the business format? All on-line or will there be some physical outlets?


I have agreements to sell to some restaurants once my stock is up.

I’m also going to be producing a range through one of the dairies that supply some of my milk.

We’ve got a few options developing.

We’re looking at packaging to build individual cheese platters, because of the Covid twist and people not wanting to share things, this will give you your individual selection to enjoy safely with your glass of wine.

We’ll be selling online too; we’re bringing our website up to scratch at the moment.


www.thetruffetemporium.com.au


Is this reality that you are living anything like how you imagined your Middle Age?


I always saw food in my future, but not necessarily for work.

I had always cooked, I always created.

Now that I am working in the Emporium, I’ve become interested in cooking family food again.

At the beginning of the cheese making, the family could all just eat toast, I did not care!


Interestingly, while the commercial kitchen was being built, I was feeding the boys, and they were asking for me to make Feta so I started creating different varieties of Feta for them,

so that has had an influence on my range.

I have a Lemon Myrtle Fetta that was developed for the construction team.




Have there been any amazing highs or worrying lows with this process?


I do find it hard to regulate my emotions at times. We are all invested and committed to success and I’m really passionate, so while I love the ‘highs’, I’m getting better at dealing with the ‘lows’ or anxious moments.


My brother taught me years ago to consider any problem a today problem or tomorrow problem.

He is a very wise man.



What are you looking forward to in the near or middle future, business or more broadly?


I would love to get a few more contracts up and running and have the stock ready to supply them. That’s do-able, just a matter of knuckling down and doing the work.

I’m really fortunate that I have a husband who will go and get dinner organised, even though he’s working full time from home too. He doesn’t just lie on the couch.

We are a team.


What has surprised you about starting your business in your Middle Age?


How physical it is!

It’s really odd to go from ‘Corporate Sitting’ all day every day, to suddenly lifting big wheels of cheese, and baskets of product. It’s extremely physical and can be exhausting.


What are you glad is now in your past?


The fear.

That little thing that you feel in your gut, when you’re doing a job that you don’t want to do,

working in a company that you don’t want to be at, and one day the inner voice says

“Is this it, is this the box that I’ve got to fit into?”


To not have that feeling now, makes me so grateful.

I can be whatever version of me that I want to be.

I’ve gone from the corporate black to feeling that I am getting more and more hippie by the day.

And that is OK.

I wish I’d had that confidence or gumption years ago.


What age were you when you realised that you were middle aged?


Covid. When Covid hit.

I just didn’t want to get on a train, I didn’t want to be near people.

I felt invisible and yukky and that I was just plain old.

I was in a rut.

It took me about a month out of the corporate job to snap into feeling that I was who I really am.


At this point Melinda plants her tongue firmly in her cheek and with a twinkle, tells me:


I’ve got a new line that I’m trying out on my husband, but to be honest it doesn’t work!

I say that I am the creative talent, and I can’t possibly go to the supermarket or do things that I don’t want to do, because, you know, I’m the talent.

He pretends to humour me ‘yes dear, you’re the talent, but could you just empty the mailbox?’


As you progress through your Middle Age, what are you hoping for?


Honestly, to take the time to have the conversations, have the belly laughs, have those moments that I didn’t take the time to have in the kids younger years, when your overriding thought is

“oh I’ve got so much to do!”

If someone rings, to have the time to get on that call.

To be cranky if I’m cranky.

To be happy if I am happy.

Whatever it is, whatever I am, to just own it.


You’ve done a huge about face in your life; has that challenged people’s assumptions of you, or are people looking at you now and saying ‘oh yes, we always thought that was what she should be doing?


A bit of both.

I have been so busy, and obviously with the lock-downs, there are some people that I haven’t had a chance to update.

Most people are excited for me, and that is everything that they feel about it.

Some people are a bit “oh, ok…...well you can always get a real job.”

What I have noticed; jealousy might be the wrong word; not jealous of what I am doing, but envious because for whatever reason they are not doing something that they wished they could do.


I am not looking for anybody's validation, I’m doing the hard work and taking the chance, if it works out for me, I’ve achieved my goal.

If people don’t have positive things to say, we can talk about something else.


The year before Covid happened, I had experienced a year when I had about 3 months with no work between contracts. I had more concerns for my well-being and mental health in that situation, worried about not finding work, than I have had about launching my own business.


If I need to consider getting another job, at least now I can tinker with The Truffet Emporium at the same time. I’m still building my own world.


Fun Fact…… I’m Lactose intolerant!

My sister could not believe it when I told her what I was making!


Is there such a thing as Lactose Free Cheese?


Actually yes, and the more mature the cheese, the better.

For me, the process is just as enjoyable as the end product.


To be able to create a cheese platter for my Dad’s birthday, and then have a conversation with people about what they were tasting and experiencing, it’s indescribable.

To see them trying my cheese right in front of me.

I love it.


What do you wish people understood about a woman in Her Middle Age?


Middle Aged Women are the powerhouses of the world.

A Middle Aged Woman can get stuff done like no-one else.

If she’s got 2 hours to do 25 things, she’ll get it done and power through.

Men are incredible and can do amazing things, but a middle aged woman is like nothing else.

A woman on a mission is a force of nature.


What do you wish people understood about you specifically?


I think I’ve finally found my spot now.

I was always that quirky kid who probably should conform but didn’t fit.

I was quite quick witted, but the self-edit button was off!

At 50 I’m getting a handle on how to read the room!

Now if I say something, I’m probably choosing to say it.

I feel free to be me.


What is your Superpower?


Trusting my own decisiveness now.

If I have a vision of doing something, it’s getting done.


Calling off camera to Shane… “What’s my Superpower?”

“Your relentlessness.”


Is there anything about being a Middle Aged woman that frustrates you?


My physicality.

I don’t think I respected my back when I was 20, sitting in my little office chair, thinking ‘ooh this is lovely’.

The physicality of being 50 and lifting 20 litres of milk, I have to work harder now.


When we were younger, we worked out because we didn’t want to be fat.

Now it’s all about strength, now I need my body to be able to do what I’m asking it to do.


7 hours of cheesing every day is my gym.

Trying to walk every day is for my mental health. Even if it’s for 20 minutes, and if it’s on a beach it’s even better.



What advice would you give 20 year old Melinda?


Trust yourself.

But at 20, I don’t know if that’s possible.

Even if I could tell my 20 year old self something, it would probably make no difference.

Like any other 20 year old, I wouldn’t listen and I would just do whatever I wanted.


When did you actually feel able to start trusting yourself?


About 6 years ago, when I met Shane.


Nobody has given me permission to be me, I just feel safe to be myself and explore my ideas without worrying about being judged.


We got married 3 years ago. Initially we weren't going to get married at all, but then we did.

We decided we only wanted to get married on the anniversary of when we met, we didn’t want two different dates.

We just didn’t want to conform with what the norm was, and from that point onwards, we’ve just backed each other and supported each other's decisions.


The Truffet Emporium has added a new layer to our marriage, we love it.

We talk about it; we dance around in the little kitchen quite happily together.


When you’re in your cheese making flow, mentally are you off in your happy place or are you intent on the process?


I have a lot of music while I’m working.

I talk myself through the process as though I am explaining it to the cheeses.

I detail out loud if they are going to be Edams or Goudas, and how I hope they turn out.

Then I have a little dance along with my playlist.


I’m not going mad; it’s just verbalizing the process in the moment.


Newbie question: If you’re in the process of making Edams or Goudas is there something that you can do to change direction on that? Or is this just a check list out loud?


It starts from the beginning. But I will talk about what starter culture is being used, when the Calcium Chloride is being added, and when the rennet is coming and when the mixture is going to become jelly...it’s exciting.

And then we put Beyonce on!



www.thetruffetemporium.com.au



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