We asked The Cultured Community, Why is cheese so delicious? What are your favourite types of cheese and why? Any local cheese varieties that we must try? Where to go for the best cheese in SA?
Last week we welcomed Luke Williams to the community. Luke was the founder and driving passion behind the popular Culture Club Cheese in Bree Street. It was known as the epicenter of the South African artisinal cheese culture at the time and open many’s people’s perception to what cheese can be. We grew up in South Africa with yellow plastic representing this great fermented product and it seems we still have a long way to go.
Luke still remains a the go to person for understanding what is available but has closed his Cheese monger and deli and has moved onto another equally exciting and noble project the Slow Food Club .
Luke describes some of his favourite South African Cheeses and what makes good or bad cheese.
Luke goes onto to explain, “cheese is so immediately attractive to our taste buds because it marries fat with acid. We are constantly looking for this partnership when eating: strawberries and cream, good mayonnaise, wine with delicate buttery notes to offset the acid, the sweet spot between bitter, extra dark chocolate and milk chocolate etc.”
Luke explains that cheese is acidic due to the fermentation process turning lactose sugar into lactic acid via the good work of natural occurring bacteria. Add this to its abundance of protein and fat, throw in a some salt and you have a combination of flavour and texture that is hard to resist. Cheese makes you happy and there is science to back it up, “Casemorphins derived from the breakdown of the predominant protein ‘casein’ are created via fermentation and trigger the opioid receptors in our brain when we take a bite”, explains Luke.
Luke cites what makes great cheese is like most things it starts with the foundation and in this case that being milk. Commercial large grocers’ cheese, that I alluded to being ‘yellow plastic’ previously, is made from pasteurized cheese and removes the character needed to build flavours. Luke notes, ” Raw milk has so many naturally occurring bacteria of all shapes, sizes, flavours and expressions that when we pasteurize we kill them off and reduce our flavour canvas to something far smaller”. He goes onto suggest that free range derived unpasteurized milk can pick up the flora characteristics of what the animal was consuming. Luke elaborates, ” Bavarian/Alpine cheese that has come from cows that have been allowed to wander on summer exposed hills jam packed with previously snow covered herbs and wild flowers know that there is no way of replicating this cheese anywhere else”. Luke is clearly very passionate about cheese and is all too happy to wax lyrical on this clearly very misunderstood culinary treasure. He notes that Langbaken in SA follow this method and their animal’s milk picks up fynbos qualities and flavours which makes the cheese so unique. A terrior of cheese not only comes from the micro-flora but also the flora. Luke sums it up , “Cheese is so complex and so simple at the same time.”
Community regular contributor and store manager at The Home Brewer’s Shop, George Newman, highlights one of the biggest challenges to the great cheese revival.
Through experimenting with sour beers and an lacto-fermneted food he became interested in the cheese making process due to the common factor of lactobacillus bacteria,”I have come to understand that the process and raw ingredients of cheese making are as complex, challenging, exciting, inventive, simple and honest as all the other cultured foods and drinks that I dabble with”.
I too shared a similar journey to cheese enlightenment to George in that I found cheese through beer. I grew up with yellow plastic cheddar and assumed that was cheese. Went to UK and got exposed to white mature cheddar and aged gruyere with the salt crystals. Pairing cheese and beer has to be one of the great delights in life.
Mike Halls observed first hand the second biggest challenge to the ‘real’ cheese revolution. The market is just not their to make it sustainable.
Mike is from the UK and struggles to come to terms with how South Africa presents cheese, ” I still cringe when walking down the cheese aisle in supermarkets, where all cheeses are the same, only with different labels: Gouda, Cheddar etc. these cheeses do not live up to their names”.
Mike does note that Food Lovers Market and Checkers have been making improvements to their cheese selection and you are able to find exotic varieties like paneer at Woolworths. Access to small production artisinal still remains evasive to most. Mike has taken to making his own cheese and it looks impressive. Looking forward to tasting in a couple of months.
So what is the solution? How do we go about supporting small cheese producers? George suggests, “Artisanal Cheese is just one of the many foods that still need to be revolutionized. For these artisanal products we need to create and support those creating new (old) routes to market that are as short and sustainable as possible like farmers markets and smaller neighborhood non-franchised grocers selling Whole Foods well made/grown products from small honest sustainable growers and makers”.
I for one will be signing up for Luke’s Slow Food Club so I can get my hands on Langbaken cheese and other ethically source organic produce that supports farmers and not grocery store shareholders.
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Website coming soon with blogs and podcast with industry experts and passionate home fermenters. The journey has just began.