Meet the Maker
Teacher who didn't know about goat's cheese is now making SA's best cheese
Not deterred by the wealth of award-winning artisanal cheesemaking talent in SA, a young Free State cheesemaker, Estee van Aswegen, entered her wares in the recent SA Dairy Championships in Cape Town. Her soft cheese, Vliedermaus was judged top of its class.
She tells us more:
Being part of the generation who were told to live their dream, I was not satisfied with my career of teaching maths to grade 9 learners in a very challenging environment. After a road trip on the R62 I felt inspired by all the farmers in that area who open up their pieces of heaven for other people to come and enjoy. I grew up on Baris Farm near Clarens in the Free State and felt that we could offer the same experience.
I don't know why I chose dairy goats of all things that popped into my mind, but I did. Being an impulsive decisionmaker, I had my first goats lined up to start and my mother and I drove to De Rust, loaded five goats who we were terrified of, and the rest is history. I'm grateful for the goats every day, they have changed my life for the better.
Having goats, however, was only one part of the cheesemaking ordeal. Learning to make the cheese, sourcing the right equipment and ingredients, that was the tricky and fun part. I read up everything goat's-milk related, bought books and invested in the best equipment that I could afford. Developing our range of cheeses up to now has been a most amazing adventure.
I've never been afraid of a challenge, but I had no idea how large and competitive the artisanal cheese market is in SA. Ignorance is bliss…
Our winning cheese, the Vliedermaus, (pictured below) is a special cheese lovingly named after our beloved black Staffordshire bull terrier. It is a rich, soft, creamy, ashed, bloomy rind cheese and ticks all the right boxes for me - it's bold in flavour yet creamy and soft.
Our camembert, awarded second place in the category, has a buttery yet milky taste. It's delicious and makes a superb baked camembert.
The halloumi, which gained third place, is made in the traditional style of folding and has added dry mint from our gardens. This cheese is a real crowd-pleaser and I love how the goat's-milk halloumi reminds me of a good lamb chop on the braai.
When I do something I enjoy, I work to be good at it and winning means we are doing it right and means the hard work is worth it. Being able to make and be part of producing winning cheeses is also a major motivation for our cheesemaking staff, who work very hard every day.
What makes our cheese so good? Definitely the unique taste of our pastured goats' milk, the dedication and love in development of recipes, notwithstanding a whole lot of luck. My favourites are the camembert that is still chalky on the inside, runny around the edges - and I will demolish a Vliedermaus at any level of ripeness.
A few years ago I didn't know about goat's cheese. I was very sceptical when my husband made me eat it for the first time - and I fell in love with it.
I believe artisanal cheesemakers aim to produce honest, authentic products and consumers appreciate that. South African consumers are also definitely developing a taste for more exotic/different cheeses.
We sell our cheese mainly on the farm at our small deli-esque restaurant, Baris Monger. But we also supply a variety of cheeses to Cheese Gourmet in Linden, Johannesburg, whenever we can.
When I'm not making cheese I daydream about food, read lots of recipes then try to cook them, pet our dogs and cats and sing ridiculous songs to our baby boy.
• The Baris Monger farm shop and restaurant, 10km outside of Clarens on the R712, is open Monday to Saturday, 10am - 3pm. For more information visit baris.co.za