The Say Cheese! Artisan Cheese Fair is back this year and aims to be even better than before. The brainchild of well-known foodie Kiki Ciman-Frauenknecht, this premier cheese event will bring together cheese makers and cheese lovers, bakers and brewers, and all things spicy.
This year’s fair promises to once again be a cheese-lover’s paradise, showcasing the extraordinary local talent we have in South Africa, many of whom are small producers, but make some of the country’s most rare and exquisite cheeses.
In anticipation for this specialty exhibit, we were invited to an exclusive lunch and cheese tasting at the Ristorante Club Italiano, the birthplace of the fair.
We began our afternoon with a cheese and wine tasting with a difference. Sensory analyst, Claire Goosen, guided our taste buds, along with our senses of touch and smell, through three sets of wine and cheese pairs. After some water to cleanse the palette, we were instructed to sip on our glasses of bubbly or grape juice while truly paying attention to the sensations that swirled around our mouths.
My sparkling grape juice had a sharp aftertaste as well as lighter notes of fruity lime. We then got the go-ahead to taste our first block of cheese on a stick – Feta. The soft, creamy sensation was all too familiar, as was the salty kick that lingered on the tongue. After a second sip, the grape juice became more muted, as the feta aftertaste worked to combat the spark. This also allowed us to perceive other notes in the juice or wine that were previously more subtle.
We learned that this phenomenon goes under the name of ‘sensory adaptation’, causing us to perceive taste, touch and smell differently in response to other stimuli. We kept this in mind for tasting number two, a deliciously creamy bite of Brie. After cleansing the palette again with some water, we dug in.
The cheese presented a rind of edible mould that was pungent in both smell and taste, and had a strongly acidic kick at the sides of the tongue. Bordering on unpleasant, this was quickly offset by the mild mushroom flavour and velvet, creamy texture of the cheese. After another sip of grape juice, the flavours were definitely more muted as the spark and flavours were suppressed.
Our final pairing consisted of the ever popular and versatile Cheddar, with it’s dense, velvet texture and sweet, milky taste. Surprisingly, we were greeted with a pleasant crunch caused by sugar crystals in the cheese that formulated from the milk. This was by far my favourite of the three cheeses, and even the fruity flavours of the juice were amplified after the tasting.
A truly educational and collaborative experience, the cheese tasting was the perfect way to break the ice before a feast of cheese dishes arrived for lunch. We nibbled on breadsticks and salted crackers while waiting for a starter of broccoli and blue cheese soup. A divine melt-in-your-mouth texture and rich caramel flavour was the perfect introduction to our meal. Next we were served a magnificent Arancini – butternut risotto balls stuffed with soft Mozzarella, coated in breadcrumbs and sesame seeds, and then deep fried. This was accompanied by a creamy, sweet and sour sauce, making it a firm favourite at the table.
An assortment of cheesy dishes arrived in quick succession after this. From goat’s cheese pizza topped with roasted beetroot and rocket, to Mozzarella balls in a creamy sauce and ricotta and parmesan gnocchi, the menu was specially curated for our lunch and showcased the extraordinary cuisine that can be made with the artisanal cheeses that will be on sale at the fair. For dessert we were treated, of course, to a delectable cheese board filled with fruits, nuts and sweet marmalade.
The Say Cheese! Fair runs from the 30th September to the 1st October and promises a lively weekend of leading cheese experts, food bloggers, chefs and winemakers, who will conduct tastings, pairings, as well as cheese-making demonstrations.
Tickets will be available at the door at a cost of R90 for adults, R55 for pensioners and scholars aged 12 to 18 and kids under twelve enter free. For more information, please email Kiki at [email protected] or phone Elize Nel on +27 (0) 72 795 4214.