Over the years the South African cheese market has grown considerably. Where previously South Africans mainly ate Cheddar and Gouda, these days there is a variety of international cheeses available on menus and in supermarkets. Due to this awakened awareness of cheese, South African cheesemakers are now able to create some truly special cheeses.
Kobus Mulder, who recently released the book Cheeses of South Africa, says that when his family immigrated to South Africa from Italy in the 60s, the one thing they really missed about Italy was the variety of cheese. Over the years he’s seen the cheese section grow, from a metre long shelf to aisles filled with exotic cheeses including French, Italian, English and Dutch varieties. Many of these cheeses were not imported, but made by local cheese producers.
Since 1995 the per capita consumption of cheese in South Africa has increased from 1 to 1.9 kg per year. Although this is good news for local manufacturers, South Africa is still far behind other countries. Top of the list of cheese consumers are the French who are at 25kg per year followed by Greece and Germany with 20kg and the Netherlands with 18kg. The English, Australians and New Zealanders are on 9kg and Japan is just a bit better than SA with 2kg.
South Africa currently produces about 82 000 metric ton of cheese per year from 800 million litres of milk. Approximately 51% of this is turned into Cheddar (31%) and Gouda (20%) with the bulk of the remaining milk going to Mozzarella, Feta and Cream cheese.
However, artisanal cheeses are slowly becoming more prominent. Delicatessens, specialist cheese distributors, gourmet farm stalls and morning markets are the best places to find out about local cheese producers and to taste the many varieties on offer. Here, we’ve chosen some of the best SA cheeses available, although this is just the tip of the iceberg as there are many delicious South African-produced cheeses out there!
Buffalo Ridge Mozzarella
Buffalo Ridge Mozzarella which won the Eat In DSTV Food Network Produce Award in 2012. The Mozzarella is made in the traditional Italian manner, using water buffalo milk. The man behind the cheese, Wayne Rademeyer, imported the water buffalo from Italy after quitting his previous job as a lawyer. The reason for this was that he saw a gap in the market, there was never enough imported buffalo mozzarella available in South African shops. He did some research and attended some seminars on the water buffalo in Italy. These days he produces a whole host of products on his farm outside Wellington, including ,old-fashioned Greek feta, a fromage blanc, a hard cheese called Rockwood, yoghurt and paneer to order as well as the mozzarella. Wayne recommends eating the mozzarella as soon as you buy it and says you must never cut mozzarella, but use your hands to tear it.
Made from sheep’s milk in the Karoo, Beaconsfield Haloumi is another must try. The Haloumi is mildly salty and wonderful when fried. It is available from The Real Cheese deli.
Belnori Feta can be purchased at the Irene Village Market in Pretoria, Uncle Tim’s Centre in Benoni and at the Real Cheese in Observatory, Cape Town. The cheese is produced near Bapsfontein in Gauteng. It won silver in the 2009 World Cheese Awards and the feta comes in plain, Greek herb, pepper and lavender. Other cheeses available from Belnori is the ash-covered Phantom Forest and the soft Highvelder cheese.
Cremalat in Johannesburg is a family owned business which specialises in Italian style cheeses. Their Gorgonzola is to die for and has been featured in several of South Africa’s restaurants, including Reuben’s.
The Klein River Gruyere, made near Stanford, is a slightly grainy, tangy cheese which goes particularly well with slow roasted onions, onion soup or even onion marmalade.