There are times coming to a new place feels like coming home. Klein River Cheese is such a place. So heartily greeted and taken care of. Klein River cheese neatly nestled along the Klein river with a huge park garden, just outside Stanford in the Stanford valley. It´s definitely a farm, but most of all a farm dairy, they do not do dairy farming themselves, but buy their milk from a few surrounding farmers, partly family.
The cheese they make at Klein River Cheese vary from soft to hard and the most famous is their Gruberg, a Swiss alpine style reminiscent of a Gruyère. This cheese is also included in the Academy of Cheese library, quite an honour that is. But they have a good variety of cheese from young to very well matured, washed rind and natural rinds. They even have a cheese called Parmesan which they are allowed to in South Africa. A couple of Danish varieties, too – Havarti and Danbo. No Norwegian though, how can that be? What about using some of the whey from the cheese making to make a brown cheese. I am sure most South Africans have a sweet tooth, so that would be a hit.
We plan to visit Klein River Farm on our South Africa trip November 2024. On my visit I was lucky enough to be guided around the whole dairy included the huge maturing area. I must admit it takes a brain smarter than mine to keep track of all those cheeses and which is ready when. They’re doing very well, so there is definitely a system. We cannot expect to have a whole group guided through the dairy but my hope is that we can sit down in the garden or at The Veranda for a cheese tasting with wine, or perhaps beer for a change, and listen to their story. I am sure that will be a wonderful memory to take home. They make fantastic cheeses, well worth tasting.
Cheese 2023 is history, but those attending have most probably gone home with new knowledge, ideas and fresh impulses whether you make cheese, sell it, or is just a nerd that cannot be surrounded by enough cheese. This festival in Bra, let’s call it a festival, is cheese for tasting, for buying and exploring. And of course it is networking, meeting up with people you know and connect with new ones. There are seminars and panel discussions, this year’s topic was Meadows, the fact is they are slowly disappearing. All over. If you want biodiversity, if you want terroir, well then you also need meadows. That simple.
Two years till next Cheese
You’ve got time to plan in other words. Arranged in Bra by the Slow Food Foundation which resides in Bra. The whole town is enjoying the massive influx of people and is involved in Cheese one way or the other. So what should you plan to do? You can just stroll around, take in the atmosphere, taste cheese, sit down for a coffee (and a grappa if you like), have light or heavy lunches, talk to people at the huge number of stands around the town, taste wine and cheese at the large tasting hall, listen in to panel discussions, seminars, go to guided tastings. Mostly with wine, but there were cheese with beer, with grappa, and unfortunately the one with coffee was cancelled. To secure a ticket for the tasting you have to book early. Some of the activities are free, others are payable, typically such as the guided tastings. Slow Food is also concerned with tradition so they have programs to help threatened breeds, products or other related issues to survive. Not only cheese, anything food.
Who should go?
Anyone with a special interest for cheese. Being a producer – big or small, trader, merchant, journalist, nerd, foodie, chef. Well anyone dealing with something cheese related or just enjoying it and are curious about the cheese world. it is so diverse, you really cannot imagine before you have been there. This was my third time visiting and i had the pleasure of guiding a small group as I did last time.
This year it was all about meadows. The sad fact is that they are disappearing. Fast. In the mountains a well as at the flatlands. Giving way to urban development. This has an impact on our food supply as well as our climate, pretty basic both of them for our survival. Sounds very dramatic of course, but the thing is if we let this just continue that’s where we’ll end up. Not in my life time, but one day.
Bleu d’Auvergne, my go to week-end breakfast blue cheese. With my home made breakfast rolls, farm butter and pour over drip made coffee. I purchase my cheese from a cheese monger, so I am sure it is made from raw milk, or “lait cru” as the French will say. There is a lot of Bleu d’Auvergne made from heat treated milk, thermised or pasteurised that is. The latter being industrial varieties. There are eight farmhouse cheese makers though, so look for them. Some say this is a cows’ milk copy of Roquefort. I don’t agree thinking Bleu de Causses as a better candidate for that title.
Invented by Antoine Roussel?
As we know it today, Bleu d’Auvergne is not an old cheese. Some say it was invented around 1854 by an Antoine Roussel, but that is not all true. The cheese had been there for years, the various farmers around the area making their own variant, and none of the particularly consistent. So the blue mould was in a way living their own life. Having worked at a pharmacy as a youngster he was used to observing processes and the art of preciseness. That’s what he brought home to his family’s farm. He started to experiment how to tame the blue mould that so far had behaved rather randomly in the cheese interior. That again led to a lack of consistency in the cheese. He started out with the mould and observed how it developed on rye bread. Well he could have looked to Roquefort as they had probably done that for a long time already. Sometimes, we have to find out for ourselves, though. That did not help help with the distribution of moulds inside the cheese, which really was the problem.
Bleu d’Auvergne the first pierced cheese?
What the young Antione Roussel found out was that piercing the cheese with a needle made the blue mould grow along that canal, so he created an instrument with many needles and thus creating a cheese interior that was rather well organised. So as far as I know he was the one who introduced the piercing of blue cheeses that has become so common today. He shared his new won knowledge with the other cheese makers in the area, and they adopted it. As such you can say the new Bleu d’Auvergne was born.
The piercing structures the development of the blue mould, that is so, but the mould does not need these oxygen canals to develop as both the Spanish Cabrales and the French Bleu de Termignon and maybe others, are examples of. Even so, most makers of blue cheese today make use of the needles.
What’s so special about it?
Obviously the piercing thing, as the history is told they were the first to use the technique. It has become quite widespread. That’s something.
Bleu d’Auvergne wine pairing
I started out with recommending Bleu d’Auvergen for breakfast with coffee. Apart from that a sweet white wine is the obvious, although there are other sweet wines as well such as Maury and Banyuls from not far away. For a virgin paring try Rhubarb juice or a rhubarb juice blend. And as always, there is black tea. Milk, no sugar for me, but you take yours according to your own preferences.
L’Ami du Chambertin cannot boast centuries of history as it is a relatively new cheese from a French perspective. Born, or created, in 1950 by Raymond Gaugry at their family dairy just south of Dijon, in Chevrey-Chambertin. Not being a native Burgundian, he came from the Berry province of the Loire and started out as a laitier, it was probably exciting to create something new, although based on long-lived local traditions. L’Ami du Chambertin is an Epoisses style cheese. No doubt. A washed rind cheese, or stinker if you like. Very Burgundian. It is said you can succeed with anything in France, irrespective of your origins, as long as you speak the language. No problem for this newcomer to the area, of course, so perhaps no surprise the vignerons of Chevrey- Chambertin took the cheese to their hearts and loved it, having a good bite of cheese with their own famous wine. And from this immediate love affair emerged the name. It should be said, l’Ami du Chambertin appears in three variants; au lait cru, au lait termisé and au lait pasteurisé. All the same size, about 200 grams and boxed.
The Schatz family took bigger steps. Originally from Trentino in South Tirol, they moved to South Germany and have been involved in viticulture there since 1641. Quite some time that is. Not so for our wine though. Friedrich Schatz wanted to enter the wine business, but somewhere with a better climate than South Germany. His search around various European countries ended in Ronda, Spain in 1982, well 10 kilometres outside the Ronda town. He had to start with learning the language. As a primus motor for the wine farmers in the area they have together succeeded in becoming a qualified area for growing wine, not just the sweet wines as was the tradition, but dry whites, reds and rosés. The winery is organic and bio-dynamic, situated 700 m above sea level secluded between the the Sierra de Grazalema and the Sierra de las Nieves protecting them from the strong eastern and western winds, but with hot days and cool night and a suitable influx of coolness from the Atlantic Ocean.
The link between l’Ami du Chambertin and Pinot Noir (On the Wild Side)
The red from the Chevrey-Chambertin are bold, rustic Pinots. Not necessarily silky and smooth. Which is a match in heaven for the l’Ami du Chambertin which is a rather bold cheese with opulent flavours, not to speak about the aromas. So the F. Schatz Pinot Noir is a Chevrey-Chambertin in disguise? No I would not say that. The current release 2016 is describes by the bodega as delicate with floral touches of rose petals with spicy hints of pepper and cloves on the nose and with red intense and enveloping fruit. Balsamic, mineral, with a very elegant finish in the mouth.
But, that is the 2016 vintage. There is however another wine that you will not find in their web page. The “Pinot Noir On the Wild Side”. That’s the name. Only available in Norway, a special cuvée bottled for the Norwegian market only, and a limited release – 600 bottles. The 2022 vintage, direct from the stainless steel tank after six months in there. Raw, fresh fruity and rustic with balanced acidity and intense red fruits. A wonderful wine and a match in heaven for the l’Ami du Chambertin which requires just this wine. The only other thing you may need is some country bread.
L’Ami du Chambertin (au lait cru) and F. Schatz Pinot Noir 2022 (On the Wild Side). These two together will lift the flavours to a higher unity. Not much more you need for a picnic. A country style bread. And accompanying music, perhaps: “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed. That’ll be some picnic, I promise.