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WHETHER you slap it between two slices of oven-fresh bread or nibble it slowly paired with a good wine, cheese is the ultimate comfort food. The many varieties, tastes and textures to choose from make it incredibly versatile fare. If you’re generally a yellow cheese fan, and prefer to stick to the safe, common types, then prepare to have your horizons broadened at the 11th annual SA Cheese Festival at Sandringham in Stellenbosch from tomorrow until Monday.
Cheesemakers from around the country will be on hand to launch new products and promote their wares. Discover all the latest cheese trends, get a taste of the latest innovations and watch experts at work.
Festivals like this are the ideal testing ground for artisans to introduce new ideas to the public and test their wares with the help of willing tastebuds. If you’re keen to try something different, make sure you look out for Emile Esterhuizen and Kamilla Bøgwald and their brown Mestervik cheese which they are tentatively calling Arctic Brown.
Bøgwald and Esterhuizen met in Germany in 2009 and settled in her home country, Norway. That’s where their love of the sweet brown Norwegian whey cheese, Brunost, first took hold. When they moved to SA, just as Esterhuizen had missed Marmite in Norway, Bøgwald longed for her sweet cheese.
“Last year we decided to try making this cheese,” says Bøgwald.
And so the pair began experimenting with recipes, some dating back as far as the 1800s. They have come up with a slightly milder version of the cheese, with a distinctly sweet taste and an almost sticky mouth feel. And they are keen to see what South Africans think of it.
The cheese is based on a whey, milk and cream mixture which is boiled down very carefully over many hours. It is vital that close attention is paid to the temperature and browning reaction.
Bøgwald explains that whey contains a high percentage of lactose which is a sugar, and that the whey is usually discarded in traditional cheese making. “It is this lactose that is responsible for our cheese’s sweet caramel flavour and brown toffee colour. In a way our cheese exploits an under-utilised by-product, reducing waste in the industry.”
She says reaction so far has been mostly positive, with the occasional furrowed brow coupled with a surprised “It’s sweet!” or “This tastes like fudge!” “Some people believe it falls into the category of ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ foods because of its rather special flavour.”
It may be something new and exotic to SA cheese fundis, but in Norway it accounts for about 30 percent of all cheese consumed.
Norwegians usually enjoy the cheese with bread or waffles, but Bøgwald and Esterhuizen are a touch more adventurous.
“Because it’s so sweet, we think it makes for an excellent dessert cheese,” says Bøgwald.
And so she and Esterhuizen took to the kitchen dreaming up an array of exciting dessert and confectionery recipes that would be enhanced by their cheese: cinnamon buns with brown cheese filling, brown cheese-chip cookies, brown cheese cake, apple pie with brown cheese, and carrot cake with brown cheese icing.
However, not all of their recipes have been an instant hit, with many of the unsuccessful ideas being savoury, like a Mexican muffin with maize and brown cheese. “We’ve also not yet plucked up the courage to try a traditional Norwegian recipe with alkaline-treated fish and brown cheese (lutefisk med brunost).”
Besides their innovative recipes, their brown cheese can be enjoyed the traditional way on crackers or even melted over hot waffles with fresh fruit.
Make sure you look for their stand at the SA Cheese Festival and perhaps they’ll even share one of their decadent recipes with you.
l There will be no tickets on sale at the gate. See www.cheese festival.co.za