Courage, Culture and Cheese
MY "YUMMY" LIFE BY HERMINA RUETZ
It could hardly have been further away from my thoughts as well as my life style till the timeI came to live on the “Paradise” island of Bali, East of Java. At the age of almost 50 and after eight years of demanding and exciting office working life in the modern business world of the city of Jakarta, my (then) husband and I set out for a “new” life in Bali. We felt strongly that we needed to create an open space away from the restraints of life in the big city and the comfort of — as well as the strings attached to — company employment in this big city in order to create a situation which would enable us to stand on our own feet again. Bali was our choice as the island had become quite familiar to us by then through previous holiday visits and several former working engagements of my husband.
It was after Bapak’s 40-day selamatan that we packed our household and drove East, accompanied by Hayden’s “Four Seasons” and cold blasting air conditioning all the way through beautiful Java to lovely Bali.
It took us one year of test and trial in various fields during which our savings gradually reached a rather critical level when one day I decided to bake a cheesecake and found that there was no cheese nor was there any fresh milk available in the whole of Bali. Well, “if you can’t find it, make it” was our conclusion.
With this rather determined yet seemingly paradoxical decision, my “Yummy” life started. Reconstituted dry milk was naturally thickened and my first cheesecake was a surprise success — especially among our expatriate friends. In 1988 caviar or oysters would not have created a surprise as a fresh lemon cheesecake in an environment totally starved of dairy products! Encouraged by the enthusiastic response from our friends, I gathered all my courage and finally offered some kilos of fresh white cheese to the American Executive Chef and his Austrian Pastry Chef of the five star “Grand Hyatt” Hotel in Sanur. To my surprise I was given my first order then and there, and many more would follow from then on!
Little did I know what adventure I had set in motion! And good I did not know, because, for sure, I would never have started! But, thankfully, it all just happened one thing at a time, yet pretty steadily gaining in speed as we went along.
Nearby busy Denpasar’s endless rows of small stores and traditional market stalls offered cotton sarongs for “cheese cloths." different sized plastic bowls, buckets, and containers, sieves and wooden spoons and the supermarket offered cans of dry milk for Bali’s gorgeous babies. Not exactly a state-of-the-art range of equipment for setting up a commercial dairy production! We quickly realised that whatever was lacking had to be replaced or complemented by imaginative creativity, technical skill, and diligence, in other words hard work and trust in our inner guidance.
Looking back I can only remember one occasion in which we tested in regard to business decisions. And the receiving was clear and turned out a real blessing. Most of daily business was carried out without hesitation while feeling accompanied by the latihan inside. I often became aware that the business pulled me forward further and further, “it” knew which way to turn when I myself would not know. I often became aware that although it was our business, our doing, the business never felt that we were “owning” it. It felt much more as if we were acting on a kind of stage – most actively involved and yet very detatched - the “master” was someone else but seemed to accompany us closely Guidance came in very practical ways, like meeting the right people at the right time, who gave good advice, who worked with us, who carried bags of freeze dried cultures, bottles of rennet and other ingredients, books on cheese making and even pieces of equipment in their holiday suitcases from Europe. Unfortunately there was never any information on how to make cheese in the tropics! So we had to create our own experience and learn from it. Test and trial but also amazing success stories became well known friends on the way. The number of customers kept growing: hotels, restaurants, bakeries individuals galore all over Bali – word spread quickly and our efforts paid off.
We quickly added new products: Next to Cream Cheese, came Feta Cheese, fresh creamy cheeses with either black or green pepper corn, garlic, chilli, vanilla — Bali’s own range of spices from the surrounding volcanoes — Ricotta Cheese, Mascarpone, Sour Cream etc. Much later goat cheeses and different kinds of yoghurts were added. We did not have to worry about our limited cold storage space. Deliveries had already left the house before the next production run began!
After about one and half years we decided to move back to Jakarta which would allow the business access to fresh milk and an even bigger market. From Jakarta we kept providing the Bali market via regular airlifted supplies to a distributor there. (Over the years the trade with Bali has developed into weekly truck loads of tons of our products.)
Now it was time to conquer the Jakarta market. We successfully approached the big international hotels and restaurants as well as all the huge international supermarket chains. Our Jakarta debut happened just at the right time, when people’s food awareness had begun to turn its attention to Western food and society was transforming its rather traditional way of life into a modern and open minded metropolitan life style. And we — PT YUMMY FOOD UTAMA , by now a registered limited liability company — were the first company in this vast and fifth most populated country in the world to produce dairy products! A dairy laboratory was established, daily supplies of several thousand liters of fresh milk arrived, a pasteurizer was put in place, the workforce grew and had to be trained on hygiene and detailed and precise production procedures etc. etc.
In those days the so called “big players” in the world of dairy production only exported their goods to the supermarket shelves in Indonesia but “YUMMY” had all the advantages in those days of being the only local producer. We were truly lucky. Meanwhile, several years later, some of the “big players” eventually opened production facilities in the country. Yet “YUMMY” went on from strength to strength. In order to be able to recover their high investment cost for their humongous facilities these big companies from abroad could only survive by catering mainly for the low-income mass market whereas PT YUMMY FOOD UTAMA continued to cater with its higher quality products for the higher end of the market. So everybody could live.
After the initial years in Jakarta “YUMMY” products found their way into many of the big cities on the main islands. Since recently also the Hypermarket in Palangkaraya offers the whole range of around 30 different YUMMY products, and the people living in Central Kalimantan don’t have to carry the YUMMY yoghurts and cheeses anymore in their cool boxes on to the plane from Jakarta!
I built up and managed the business till 2007 when I moved back to Germany for family reasons. But the business, now belonging to an Indonesian family, continued to grow, and I am happy when during my annual visits to Indonesia I see all the colourfully packaged yummy goodies on the supermarket shelves.
The lessons I learned during these hard working and creative years were countless. Perhaps the main one was that I found the reality of the saving grace only after I had left the so called safe ground of well paid employment.
So in the end “the proof was in the cheese”!
Post Script from the YUMMY website: "YUMMY was founded by a strong business woman with a dream. . . . Today, YUMMY employs more than 300 qualified men and women, who maintain the high standards and homemade taste that, were the hallmark of Hermina’s first cheeses all those year ago."
Editor's Note: Our dear sister, Hermina Ruetz, passed away April 29, 2013, shortly after she had written and sent her "Yummy story" on to me. She was buried in Suka Mulia in Indonesia. An old friend and colleague of hers, Leonard Regnier, wrote a lovely memorial tribute to her that was published in Subud World News.You can download that here. LT