The Wordsworth launch lunch of Agri-Expo Dairy Manager Kobus Mulder’s book ‘Cheeses of South Africa’ at Reuben’s at the One&Only Cape Town yesterday was most enjoyable, with great company, good food and wine, a charming hotel ambassador, and entertaining author/speaker.
Gorry Bowes-Taylor has been organising book launch lunches for Wordsworth for years, and will be a comedian in a next life, not being the most diplomatic lunch hostess, but is loved for making her guests laugh, and for finding new venues at which to hold the book launches. As I have written before, the lunches have a cult following by some of her regulars, who are not really interested in the subject of the book or the author, but who find value in the R225 three course launch lunch, excellent quality wines, the chance of making new friends at the table, the chance of winning a prize in the lucky draw, and for being entertained by Gorry and the author/speaker. She did not disappoint with her lunch organisation yesterday. Wordsworth sets up a table to sell the discounted launch book at such a function.
I missed the sign to enjoy the Hendricks gin with cucumber and tonic in the Vista Bar, and the Wordsworth lady very kindly passed on hers to me, most refreshing despite the cold wintry day. I used the opportunity to buy some Dalewood superior quality Brie from the owner of The Real Cheese/Get Stuffed Enterprises, who cleverly had set up a table outside Reuben’s to sell a selection of the about 150 cheeses she stocks in her Observatory store at bargain prices. I had a good chat with Matthias Heinz, the Reuben’s restaurant manager, who has been in his position for the past seven months. He shared that they have been extremely busy, with 75% occupancy this month and 70% last month, unlike most other accommodation establishments (the Mount Nelson Hotel has been at 10%)! They can seat 220 – 250 guests, and the restaurant does the hotel’s breakfasts, and its lunches and dinners are well supported too, so they are close to full for most meals, necessitating good organisation and communication with his staff, something which was lacking before, the service levels having been inconsistent. Matthias was previously at the Cellars Hohenhort hotel, the Winchester Mansions, and at Arabella at Kleinmond. Every day he briefs his staff, noting the names of guests booked to eat, their specific dietary requirements – e.g. their guests from India even eat curry for breakfast – and what the guests have eaten on previous days.
The One&Only Cape Town sommelier Luvo Ntezo was checking on the glassware, and we had a good laugh about how he attained ‘blogger’ status and participated in the Blogger episode of MasterChef SA when he has never blogged before. He said that the ten of us who were uninvited the day before the Pizza episode shoot were lucky, as the shoot had taken 12 hours, in very windy and hot conditions in Camps Bay. Aubrey Ngcungama is the Ambassador for the One&Only Cape Town, and was the MC for the lunch, welcoming the guests. Aubrey too was in the Blogger episode of MasterChef SA and has a blog, and we joked about his last blogpost having been written quite some time ago. Aubrey went to school at Michaelhouse, the school that features prominently in the Spud books and movies, he shared proudly. He speaks the most beautiful English, and has been a harsh but charming food critic on Dinner Divas.
Kobus is an entertaining speaker, and started off by blaming his charming Scottish wife, who is an excellent cook he said, for only allocating a certain quota of English words to last the week ahead, all spoken in jest of course, as he spoke perfect English. He said it was photographer Russel Wasserfall who had come up with the idea of the book about our artisanal cheesemakers. There is no one more qualified to write such a book, being known as our country’s ‘Big Cheese‘, having spent most of his career in the cheese industry, and also having studied cheesemaking. He described himself as a cheese evangelist, and traced the history of cheesemaking back to 5000 years ago. The first cheeses were made in what is now Iraq, spreading to Greece, Italy, France, and then to Bath in the UK. It was the French that were the first to market cheeses. After World War II cheese-making was industrialised and mass produced. Kobus traveled in California in 1990, and found first signs of artisanal cheesemaking there, which spread to the UK, Australia, and reached South Africa in 1995. Working for a mass cheese producer making 1000 tons of cheese per month, he noted a sales decline, which was due to artisanal cheesemakers taking sales away from the big producers. This trend grew as our countrymen traveled overseas and tasted fine artisanal cheeses there, or read about them in international books and magazines. There are about 120 artisanal cheesemakers in our country, mainly women, who have an instinctive understanding of the effect of cultures and bacteria in milk. They are self-taught, as there is no cheesemaking training facility anymore. He emphasised that there is no reliable recipe for cheesemaking on the internet. There are eight basic steps to cheesemaking, to ensure that tasty and nice to eat cheese are made. Cheese is either eaten with bread, or is used in cooking, the latter having huge potential in our country, especially as it gives food flavour and texture. South Africans eat only an average of 2 kg per head per annum, compared to 26 kg in Europe. He will not evaluate a brand name of cheese, but rather a ‘family‘ of cheese types, which include fresh, soft, semi soft, semi hard, blue, pasta filata, and hard. Our country’s cheese standard is high, but could improve even further, he said. He praised Dalewood Fromage’s Huguenot cheese for having been a top 10 international cheese twice in the past, a ‘hard cheese with a brush rind‘ which has a ‘Heidi taste‘ of nuts and Spring! Kobus is so highly regarded that he serves on international cheese judging panels.
“Cheeses of South Africa’ documents 22 artisanal cheese makers, including Aidan Pomario, Beaconsfield, Buffalo Ridge, Cloud Cottage, Foxenburg, Gay’s Guernsey Dairy, Healey’s Cheddar, Indezi River, Myst Hill, Silver Lily, Swissland Cheese, Alpine Goats, Belnori Boutique Cheesery, Chrissie’s Country, Dalewood Fromage, Ganzvlei, Goat Peter, Hijke Cheese, Klein River, Ovis Angelicus, Simply Natural, and Zandam Cheeses. The majority of the producers are in the Cape.
The starter was a Smoked and spicy fish frikkadel, which was served with macerated tomato, shredded red onions, and capers, topped with rocket, nicely presented and with an after-bite. The wine served with it was Kleine Zalze’s Chardonnay 2012. The main course was Soy-braised pork belly with crispy crackling, (cold) mash, mushrooms, and an unusual tempura-style crispy broccoli, served with a chilli and ginger caramel sauce. The dish paired beautifully with the Kleine Zalze Shiraz, Grenache, and Viognier blend 2011, a smoky fruity and smooth wine. The dessert was an impressive presentation of a Banana Sticky Toffee pudding, cream, Madagascan vanilla ice cream, a caramel smear, crumble, and caramelised pecan nuts, topped with a slice of dried banana, which was served with a perfectly made frothy cappuccino.
We are delighted to have a loyal fan for this blog in Kobus, actively using it to keep up to date with news about the food industry and as a search facility, he shared. We spent a lovely afternoon at the book launch, and I enjoyed chatting to table companion and porcelain restorer Valerie Felmore and her son. The service by Sipho was attentive, and she checked on us regularly, topping up the wine and water, as did Matthias and Aubrey.
‘Cheeses of South Africa’, by Kobus Mulder and Russel Wasserfall. Jonathan Ball Publishers.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage