So as I reported earlier, Saturday the 26th of April saw Chantelle and me attending the annual South African Cheese Festival, held on the Bien Donne farm just outside of Franschhoek. This was the seventh year of this sophisticated cheese and wine showcase’s existence and it ran from the 25th to the 28th of April.
Based on the weather reports for the week, we were pretty gloomy at the prospect of attending this cheese and wine extravaganza, because as the experts would have it, we would be standing knee deep in mud and soaked to the bone should there be no cover under which to seek shelter. As it turned out, the weather played along perfectly and was simply fantastic for this kind of outing.
The event itself has grown tremendously since its initial run and the farm now caters for literally thousands and thousands of visitors who come from far and wide (a huge percentage of which are Stellenbosch and UCT students, I am sure of it!) to partake in the festivities. The idea for the festival is that it is a showcase for all the local winemakers and cheese producers of the region to have a place to show off their wares and hopefully attract some more business in the process.
The method is pretty simple. Have a couple of huge tents standing around, put down a fake carpet flooring and then set up literally hundreds of little stalls for all the producers to take over and make their own. Alongside this, establish a huge outdoor area for relaxation purposes that is lined with tons of specialised food/restaurant stalls to feed the hungering masses who might grow tired of consuming just wine and cheese all day. And of course, to keep the spirit of this whole commercial venture a little more festival like, you need to organise a bit of entertainment in the form of live music as well, just to keep the crowd happy.
This is pretty much the recipe that the organisers decided to follow and all I can say is that it was indeed a good recipe to stick to. They managed to create a vibrant, bustling festival vibe in which everyone was having a good time and there was in the end very little to complain about. The producers were all getting a good traffic throughput and the exchange of money was fast and furious. What more could they ask for?
Being primarily a cheese festival you go there expecting to eat lots of cheese (like I was) and thankfully the festival certainly didn’t skimp on this facet. There were literally hundreds of cheese producers on display, from the big name players like Clover and Parmalat to the smaller, more specialised cheese houses. Of course with this much cheese to sample a person quickly needs a drink in hand, and that is where the brilliant decision to share the space equally amongst cheese and wine producers comes to the fore. You literally walk to one stall, grab some cheese and then walk to the stall next to it and stock up on some wine for ‘tasting’ purposes. Of course, the idea is if you really like something you will buy it, and as always Chantelle was immediately suckered into purchasing (when I say she purchased I mean I paid for it) some sort of fancy Simonsberg Camembert Madagascar Green Pepper that is basically a small cut of cheese stuffed into a fancy box. I on the other hand was there to sample as much cheese as possible, which would explain why I was dragging Chantelle mercilessly from stall to stall without giving her time to actually savour what she was trying.
On the wine front though, I do have to admit to sampling some fantastic wines and truly there was something of everything to be had. Although I didn’t actually end up purchasing anything, I must have at least ended up drinking a bottle or two of all the assorted alcohol that I tasted! My only real astute observation on the wine front ended up being that as a male it must be dangerous to work on the Zevenwacht Estate – every single male on their team was bald! This is obviously a sign that I should stop drinking Zevenwacht, even if they happened to be the venue at which my sister previously got married.
Of course, specialised producers like honey and nougat makers didn’t want to be left out of the party either, so alongside all of the cheese and wine you would often find yourself stumbling on a very specialised little outfit like a tofu or chocolate salami manufacturer. Chantelle nearly wet herself when she discovered the Wedgewood Nougat group was present as well, so inevitably we ended up buying some of their wares as well.
As for the entertainment, in all honesty the organisers could have gone for something a little more high profile than what they did, but seeing as the age group at which this festival is actually targeted at, the cheesy bands putting out all the old classics was probably the most suitable in the end. Actually, the best entertainment was to be had at the big Checkers display where they pulled out all the stops, organising many cooking demonstrations from various famous celebrity chefs, entertaining with the fabulous Sterling trio of girls who play the electronic forms of the violin and cello, and trying to pull in all the TV fans by having Egoli star David Vlok as host.
The festival also put on a couple of its own cooking shows, the most notable of which was the shows by Nataniel which surprisingly enough were all sold out the minute the tickets went up for grabs. Luckily for me and unluckily for the rest of the Montgomery clan, we didn’t get to see any of his shows thanks to the fact that we had pitched up a little later than originally planned!
And then there were of course the food stalls. A number of well known restaurants from the area all had a stall there and you could literally get anything your heart desired for lunch which would explain why we ended up with Boerewors rolls and pancakes as a snack once Chantelle finally tired of the whole wine and cheese business. Admittedly, it was difficult to fit the pancakes and Boerewors roll in past all the blocks of cheddar that I had squashed in there with my dual toothpick technique, but I managed in the end.
Overall I must say that this festival can only be described as being an absolute success. Flawlessly organised, from the parking to the purchase of branded glasses on your entrance, everything ran as smoothly as a good sauvignon blanc down your throat and I am pretty sure that everyone who loves cheese, wine and a little bit of culture had a pretty good experience. As it was, the actual venue was so big that we in fact ended up missing out on the entire ABSA wine route tent!
It was a fun experience marred only by our own stupidity when at the end of it all, we ended up walking down the entirely wrong road to exit the farm, forcing us to turn back and walk a couple of hundred kilometres (well it felt like it) back to get to the ride road to get to the car!
And just to prove that I am not just making this mini report up and was in fact hobnobbing with all those other wine-loving, cheese-tasting people, here are some pictures snapped with Chantelle’s ever handy little phone:
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See, I told you so! :P
Related Link: South African Cheese Festival