Cheeses have been made in South Africa for centuries, though they have mostly been reinterpretations of European types. Until a few decades ago, the most common were Cheddar and Gouda, and cheese represented only a tiny slice of the agricultural and food market. Then in the 1990s a number of cheesemaking businesses were started, both large and small, which increased the volume of national production as well as diversifying the supply and improving the quality. In the past 15 years, the average per capita consumption has doubled; it is possible to find an increasingly growing variety of cheeses in shops; and cheese competitions and events have also been organized for the past few years. Despite this, the market is still dominated by big dairy businesses and national and international distribution chains. There are few artisanal products, and even fewer raw-milk cheeses. The Presidium was established to protect and promote the few that do exist.
There are around 10 Presidium producers and they work only with raw milk. Their skill lies in their ability to adapt European models to the available ingredients and the local environmental conditions. Their products reflect and add value to the specific nature of their local terroir. The variety of cheeses reflects the incredible variety of climates and environments around South Africa: the almost Mediterranean landscape of the Cape province, the arid Karoo, the subtropical northeastern districts.
Cheeses like Karoo Crumble, Ganzvlei Vastrap, Ficksburger and Huguenot are all very different from each other, offering unusual characteristics and reflecting their places of origin, the pastures were the animals have grazed and the passion and stories of the producers. Karoo Crumble, for example, is made in the semi-desertic Karoo region and has notes of hay, hazelnut and aromatic herbs. Ganzvlei Vastrap, bright yellow in color, is made in a rainy area close to the ocean and has a gentle flavor, with pleasantly bitter hints of the grasses and flowers of the local shrubland vegetation called fynbos.
Thanks to the collaboration of its network in South Africa, Slow Food has identified a small number of producers who process only raw milk (from their own animals or local farms); use animal-welfare-friendly farming practices; limit themselves to a small-scale production that protects the local environment, culture and traditions; and, most importantly, make cheeses of the highest quality.
The Presidium was started to support these cheesemakers who are currently laying the foundations for what could become the South African tradition of artisanal cheeses. The project will also help inform national consumers about the benefits of cheese made from unpasteurized milk and international consumers about the existence and importance of South African artisanal cheesemaking.
All of South Africa