Dear Friends and Family,
Perhaps I will one day tell you about my Watson adventures in Italy and in England but for now, as the backlog of blog posts feels like a mountain, I think it is best to write from the present.
On January 14, I arrived in Cape Town, South Africa. Friends of the cheesemakers I first went to stay with picked me up at the airport and invited me to spend a few days in their home so that I could acclimatize to this new country. Although I slept through most of my first day here — I blame jet-lag and the 100 degree heat– my first week was packed with a combination of project work and fun diversions.
I sought out farmer’s markets, looked for cheese shops and had some great meetings with cheese retailers and distributors. My favorite meeting was with Kobus Mulder, head of the South African Cheesemaker’s Association, because he introduced me to the range of South African cheeses and explained some of the challenges facing the industry– such as building a cheese culture in a country where most people, most of the time, do not consume artisan cheese. (As opposed to Europeans, who consume an average of 20-25 kilograms of cheese per year, the average South African only consumes 1-2 kilograms of cheese per year.)
In my free time, I toured Cape Town by motorbike, swam in the ocean, enjoyed some great meals with my hosts, hiked up Table Mountain (one of the 7 wonders of the world, they say) and went paragliding.
On January 18, I drove a rental car over 500 kilometers to my first dairy (a 5,000 hectare property with 12 jersey cows and several hundred sheep in the middle of the Karoo desert.) I never believed I could feel at home in a such a dry and hot climate but I quickly fell in love with the farm and the farmers (Peter and Francy Schoeman) who took me in as a daughter.
In addition to making cheese with Francy (and learning about her range of blues, washed rinds, bloomy rinds, fresh and cooked curd cheeses), some of my favorite memories with the Schoemans include experimenting with other fermented foods (such as sour dough bread, kefir, and kombucha), learning how to make sausages, exchanging French lessons for Afrikaans lessons with their 12-year-old daughter, Alanna, and going on long sunset runs along the sandy roads.
I wanted to stay in the Karoo longer but felt I should broaden my understanding of South African dairy production by visiting other cheesemakers across this large and diverse country. So, in the middle of February, I embarked on a 3,000-plus kilometer tour to visit 5 other artisan cheesemakers.
I am now almost back to Cape Town and hope to write about this three-week road trip soon. In the meantime, I look forward to judging at the South African Dairy Championships and flying to Brazil on March 10th.
Much love to you all,