15 South African cheeses everyone should try

With the 12th annual South African Cheese Festival happening at Sandringham this weekend, we got thinking about great local cheeses – creamy, crumbly, salty, nutty and sweet. There are so many of them, after all. As Valerie Elder, from famed cheese haven The Real Cheese in Obs (winner of the 2011 Eat In Produce Award for best outlet), says, “SA cheeses are rising to such an exciting level, it becomes hard to choose.”

This coming week will also see the new winners of the South African Dairy Championships announced (now with an exciting new category for raw milk cheese), and cheese expert Kobus Mulder has just published a glossy book entitled Cheeses of South Africa that focuses on artisan producers, in collaboration with top food photographer Russel Wasserfall.

In the meantime, we bring you the 15 South African cheeses we think everyone should try, with some toothsome tips from Valerie, as well as Jo Dick of Joburg gem Cheese Gourmet.

Beaconsfield Halloumi
Made in the Karoo from sheep milk, this mildly salty halloumi is especially delicious when fried, or rolled up in aubergine slices with rocket and red peppers. Beaconsfield makes small volumes at this stage, which you can buy from The Real Cheese.

Belnori Feta
This boutique cheesery near Bapsfontein in Gauteng makes the highly regarded ash-covered Phantom Forest and the soft Highvelder, but it’s the goat’s milk feta that won silver in the 2009 World Cheese Awards. Firm and creamy, Belnori feta comes in plain, Greek herb, pepper and lavender rounds. Available at Irene Village Market in Pretoria; at the Country Faire at Uncle Tim’s Centre in Benoni; and at The Real Cheese in Observatory.

Buffalo Ridge Mozarella
Winner in the dairy (cheese) category at the 2012 Eat In DStv Food Network Produce Awards, this mozzarella has a delicate and creamy flavour. (Read more about the man behind the cheese and his farm outside Wellington.) Available at Wellness Warehouse, Raith Gourmet and the Neighbourgoods Market.

Cremalat Gorgonzola
A family business, Cremalat in Johannesburg produces a range of Italian-style cheeses, but this ultra-creamy blue is a firm favourite. It has been served on cheeseboards at restaurants including La Mouette, Reuben’s, and Cinnamon Café at 15 on Orange. Buy it from their shop in Edenvale or from The Real Cheese in Cape Town.

Dalewood Huguenot
Made using pastured milk from a sleek Jersey herd in the Cape Winelands, this semi-hard cheese with a brushed rind style is matured for at least six months to produce its golden colour and beautifully nutty character. We were lucky enough to taste a 24 month-matured Huguenot while visiting Dalewood last year. Worthy of its Gold Medal at the 2012 World Cheese Awards, indeed. Available from The Real Cheese, The Deli Factory in Plettenberg Bay, Deli Delights in Knysna, Cavalieri Cheese in Nelspruit, and La Marina Foods and Cheese Gourmet in Gauteng.

Fairview Blue Rock
This creamy blue-veined cheese with a strong salty flavour and smooth texture received a gold award and was named Best South African Cheese at the 2012 World Cheese Awards. (Hilariously, some of last year’s Blue Rock labels said ‘blue vain cheese’, but we figure conceitedness is excusable when something tastes this good!) Buy it at Fairview Cheese in Suider-Paarl, and at Pick n Pay, Checkers or Woolies stores.

Fairview Roydon Camembert
The cheesery’s flagship cheese, Roydon Camembert, is crafted from cow’s milk using a traditional French method, with a dash of goat’s milk. It was a first prize winner at the 2010 South African Dairy Championships and winner of a Qualité award in 2012. Buy it at Fairview Cheese in Suider-Paarl, and at Pick n Pay, Checkers or Woolies stores.

Klein River Gruyere
This slightly grainy and tangy cheese is made just outside Stanford, and comes in young (3 months) and mature (6 months) versions. It tastes great with onion marmalade, according to Jo of Cheese Gourmet . (Here’s how to make your own onion marmalade.) Available at Klein River Cheese, as well as Pick n Pay, Woolworths, Checkers, Spar, and Fruit & Veg City stores.

Pépé Buche by Pépé Charlot Cheese Maker 
All cheese makers are passionate by necessity, but this one nurses his cheeses as if they were ‘little birds’. Using raw goat’s milk in a cheesery in Craighall Park, Pépé Charlot Cheese Maker won the 2013 Eat Out DStv Food Network Produce Award in the dairy (cheese) category. (Read more about the products, suppliers and the impressive list of restaurants that serve Pépé Charlot cheese.)

Simonsberg Traditional Cream Cheese
A fridge staple, this cream cheese can be used for anything from decadent cheesecakes to smearing inside a sandwich before grilling. It also comes in flavours such as spring onion and chives, smoked ham, sweet Thai chilli, tangy nustard, lemon and black pepper and creamy blue cheese. Buy it at the Simonsberg shop in Stellenbosch, and at pretty much any supermarket.

Swissland Brie
Made in a quaint Swiss-style chalet in KwaZulu-Natal from goat’s milk, Swissland brie is a favourite of Jackie Cameron, chef at 2012 Top 10 restaurant Hartford House, as well as Valerie from Real Cheese. It makes a tasty starter if lightly crumbed, fried and accompanied with a sweet preserve or simply enjoyed with crackers and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Swissland won the 2011 Eat In Produce Award for Best Dairy. Buy it from The Real Cheese, Piggly Wiggly Farm Stall in Howick, or online from Tracy’s Artisan Cheese Products or at The Food Market (winner of 2013 Eat Out DStv Food Network Produce Award for Best Market in the east).

Parmalat Woolworths Vintage cheddar
Winner of a 2012 Qualité award this sharp and intense beauty is matured for 18 months. Nutty and complex with a creamy and slightly crumbly texture, its calcium lactate crystals give that pleasantly tingling sensation in the mouth. Delicious on its own, it’s also a killer sandwich topping. Available at Woolworths stores.

Puglia Burrata
This handmade mozzarella ball is filled with ripped mozzarella soaked in double cream. Jo from Cheese Gourmet recommends serving it shredded on a bed of fresh baby leaves with tomato (maybe drizzled with good quality olive oil and spooned onto crusty bread?), or you could let it ooze out over your warm pasta or crisp pizza. The burrata won its category at the 2011 South African Dairy Championships, bronze at World Cheese Awards and a 2012 Qualité Award. (This dairy has recently been certified as halaal and kosher.) Order online from Puglia, or buy it at Cheese Gourmet and The Real Cheese.

Van der Poel Gouda
As far from a rubbery supermarket round as you can imagine, this mild and milky 6-months matured gouda is a great table cheese. Cheese Gourmet’s Jo recommends it with crispy roll and tangy pickles. Buy it at their stall at the Pretoria Boeremark.

Zandam Mascarpone
This cheese regularly places in the top three of the South African Dairy Championships (third in 2009; second in 2010; first in 2011; third in 2012). Zandam mascarpone Its ultra-rich creaminess is a treat in desserts or served simply with figs drizzled in syrup. Visit the Zandam website to see a list of their distributors around the country.

Other top cheeses mentioned by Valerie include Langbaken Karoo Swiss, Greengoose Ficksberger, Langbaken Alanna, Hilton Blue by La Petit France, Goukambert by Gansvlei Dairy, Hijke Pepato, Corbel Crumble, Prince Albert Regal, Cremalat Mascarblue, Simply Pecan by Simply Natural, Cremalat Smoked Mozzarella, Lancewood Chunky Cottage Cheese, Fromage Blanc by Vrouenspan Kaas , Pecorino by Ovis Angelicus, Swissland Chevre, Foxtail made by Foxenburg Estate and Belnori Highvelder.

Jo also recommends Dalewood Fromage Boland, Langbaken Karoo Swiss, Bronberg Reblo Alpino, Greengoose Ficksberger and Healy’s Gold Cheddar.

By Linda Scarborough

For further cheesy delights, read our A-Z of cheese and see the list of SA Dairy Championship winners dating back to 2001.

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