Compared to the well-known cheese making countries of Europe, South Africa is a relative newcomer to the industry. However, the past 10 years have shown the craft of cheese making is developing all over South African countryside — and attracting a wider cheese-loving audience than ever.
South African Cheese Trends
As the popularity of cheese continues to grow, worldwide sales of cheese increase about 1.8% each year. In South Africa, however, the sale of cheese is rising at a rate of about 3% per annum. The reason? Changing lifestyles.
More consumers in South Africa are dining outside of the home and enjoying cheese as an ingredient in a number of prepared dishes. (It’s estimated that 1,000 metric tons of South African Mozzarella is used on pizzas each month.) The popularity of television food programmes and glossy cookbooks has also contributed to cheese becoming a bigger part of the South African diet – and the trendiest food product of the moment.
South African Cheese Production
To keep things in perspective, the per capita consumption of cheese in France is 25 kg per year. In England, Australia, and New Zealand, it’s about 9 kg per year. For South Africa, the per capita consumption of cheese per year is only about 1.9 kg (slightly lower than Japan). Though this figure says that South African cheese is still at its beginning stages, it also denotes huge opportunity for growth.
There are currently 12 big, modern cheese factories in South Africa, and they produce about 65% of the country’s cheese. The rest is made is small to medium shops. Most cheese makers are located near the coastal areas where water is readily available and the weather conditions are favourable. More than half of the country’s cheese is made in the Western Cape, the undisputed South African cheese province.
South African Cheese Varieties
Traditionally, South African consumers prefer milder cheeses. Of the 82,000 metric tons of cheese South Africa produces per year, 31% is Cheddar, and 20% is Gouda. Cream cheese, Feta, and Italian-type cheeses like Mozzarella are also favoured because of their versatility.
Over the past 10 years however, new cheese making methods and knowledge have introduced South African consumers to more flavoursome cheese, particularly French and artisan types. As consumers become more familiar with these new flavour profiles, the demand for specialty cheese continues to boom.
In the past, South African cheese markets only carried a few, fast-selling cheese varieties. Today markets, delis, and farm stalls are stocked with bloomy rind, brine-ripened, blue-veined, and specialty goat’s and sheep’s milk cheeses comparable to those made in France, Denmark, and Switzerland.
In 2002, the first annual South African Cheese Festival was held. Today it is hailed as the country’s premier food festival, and an event where South African cheese makers get to introduce consumers to new and exciting types of local artisan cheeses. Some of these South African varieties include Wookie, Kwaito, and Bokmakiri, a soft goat’s milk cheese covered with pepper and garlic.
South African Cheese Exports
The quality and uniqueness of South African cheese has improved so dramatically, many cheese lovers believe it’s time to for the country to develop its own programme for registering designation of origin cheeses. Like the Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) of France, such a label would denote genuine South African cheeses that exemplify quality, tradition, and local production methods.
Perhaps that will happen when South Africa becomes a true cheese exporting country. So far, only a limited number of South African cheese manufacturers have exported cheese to the European Union under the EU/SA Free Trade Agreement. As South African cheese manufacturers work to overcome a few exporting hurdles (namely EU certification, exchange rate, and price competitiveness), cheese lovers around the world eagerly await the thrill of experiencing fresh flavours from a new, up-and-coming cheese making territory.