THERE is that moment when you realise the entire country is probably going to be closing down for almost a week; Friday is a public holiday, as is next Tuesday so you can pretty much write off those five days in terms of getting any work done.
But that’s not a bad thing, right? It means plenty more time to get out and about for fun excursions and the 17th annual South African Cheese Festival is a brilliant day out for the whole family. It takes place at Sandringham just outside Stellenbosch from Friday, April 27 till Sunday, April 29 from 10am till 6pm daily.
Expect lots of local and international cheeses, obviously, as well as artisanal and gourmet products, wines and beers, live music, celebrity chefs doing demonstrations in three food theatres – all in a water-wise environment.
Agri-Expo CEO Johan Ehlers says the agricultural society, along with its partners, will present this year’s festival without any effect on the already depleted water sources in the Western Cape: “With 30 000 attendees over the three days, the SA Cheese Festival is regarded as the largest outdoor culinary event in Africa and has recently once again been honoured by AAXO (Association of African Exhibition Organisers) as Best Consumer Exhibition.
“The impact of the SA Cheese Festival on the local economy as well as on job creation within the agri-processing industry compels us to continue with this award-winning event with the necessary responsibility.”
Interventions to minimise the impact on water resources, and to remove the festival from the water grid, include the use of chemical temporary toilets; borehole water; drinking water and ice obtained from non-drought-stricken areas; waterless hand sanitation; an emphasis on fire hazard regulations; a dedicated #waterwise exhibition area; and the development of waterless recipes for cooking demonstrations as well as a focus on alternative and climate-smart crops as part of the Cape Made: Taste The Alternatives project – a collaboration between the Institute of Culinary Arts (ICA) and the Western Cape Department of Agriculture.
ICA alma maters Herman Lensing (Friday), Zola Nene (Saturday) and Johnny Hamman (Sunday) will oversee demonstrations in the Cape Made Kitchen of recipes they have developed using these crops, and whose producers will be exhibiting at the festival. The recipe book will be launched at the same time.
In the Agri-Expo Cooking Pot you’ll find celebrity chefs Jenny Morris (The Giggling Gourmet), Kamini Pather (MasterChef SA winner), Pete Goffe-Wood (MasterChef and Ultimate Braai Master judge), Carmen Niehaus and Leon the Milkman.
“I am devoted to cheese; it’s an ingredient that I could not live without,” says Pather. “I feel as though I celebrate cheese every day of my life and I support the Cheese Festival because it is merely joining my regular praise of the ‘yellow meat’.”
Pather loves herself a bit of soft goats’ cheese – it should taste as if she is licking the underbelly of a goat, she says. “I’m obsessed! An aged cheddar is another favourite. It should be chalky with salty crystals and a tongue furling flavour.
“Mozzarella Di Buffalo – because life is better when it’s creamy and stretchy. This cheese (and its creamier cousin, Burrata) are insanely luxurious and have the ability to be used in sweet and savoury dishes. Halloumi, the ultimate in squeaky cheese, also needs to be mentioned. I love a bit of texture and with the added sound bit, this is a winner for me. “
When in doubt, add more cheese, advises Pather, even when it comes to a simple mac ‘n cheese. “I will use many types of cheeses – 12-month matured Dutch gouda, chevin and bocconcini. I recently created a dish for Ucook which was a chicken risotto flavoured with garam masala and gruyere. It was a delightful mix of warm spiced and sweet, earthy cheese – delightful!”
Jenny Morris didn’t much like being asked about her favourite cheese: “It is like asking who my favourite child is,” she laughs. “I love them all – that’s both my children and all cheese. But in the cheese department I have a few very firm favourites.
“Parmesan, well matured. I love it mature because the texture is drier, crumblier and grainier than a young parmesan and I adore the crunchy salt crystals.
“Another favourite is a ripe bulging Brie and a chuck of creamy ripe Gorgonzola. And my fridge is never without a block of tangy, full flavoured, extra matured Wyke cheddar, which I think is exclusive to Checkers. It makes my mouth love me.”
Making a day of it is not just my idea; Pete Goffe-Wood agrees: “You can wander about and taste all the fabulous produce on offer, but you can also settle in for the afternoon with a substantial lunch, listen to some superb live music and drink a decent tipple or two,” he says.
The man loves the more robust strong cheeses, like mature cheddars, and is fond of blue cheese in all its various forms. “These strong flavours stand up well to cooking,” he says. When it comes to ways to cook with cheese, Goffe-Wood cites the classic cauliflower cheese as the perfect embodiment. He also uses cheese in risottos, and offers the tip of it being a handy protein when cooking for vegetarians.
“The Kitchen Cowboys teams and I will be manning the braai sand knocking out our legendary steak sandwiches, plus I will be doing a couple of demonstrations – one on goats’ cheese and another on cooking with cheese,” says Goffe-Wood. Go see the man put his cheese where his mouth is. Or something like that.
Tickets from Computicket (online and in Shoprite and Checkers stores) for R180 a person a day. Senior citizens pay R120 and children two to 13 years pay R20. No tickets will be sold at the gates. For more information, click here or call Agri-Expo on 021 975 4440, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- This story first appeared in Saturday Live (Weekend Argus) on April 21