Meet the stars who make the show possible: South Africa’s talented and creative cheesemakers: Today we focus on Oudtshoorn entrepeneur Dean Lategan and his ambitious young cheesemaker Ashley-Ann May.
Why do men and women, on retiring to the country with ideas of taking things easy, take up hobbies that turn into flourishing enterprises that sees them working as hard as they did before?
Partly, I think, because no one really “retires” these days, it’s just too boring a concept. And partly because – like making wine – making cheese has a certain magic about it, as you see the raw ingredients transformed into a savoury round that slowly matures into a food that sustains and tantalises the tastebuds.
About six years back Dean Lategan and his wife Petra retired from the corporate world to a dairy farm in the Klein Karoo. Dean started making cheese “just to have in the house” – a hobby that grew as friends asked him to make some for them, leading to his building a little factory on the farm using leftover tiles and adapting second hand equipment.
Dean started making Boerenkaas ,a Gouda-type farm cheese from milk from his Jersey cows, cheese without additives other than the culture and rennet. After pressing, the cheese “went for a swim in the sea” as his granddaughter described its immersion in the salt bath.
As demand soared, Dean could not cope alone. With Petra in poor health , he was producing ever bigger batches, cleaning, sterilising, and packing his products single-handed. After a few trial helpers, a vibrant young woman joined him as cleaner after the tobacco picking season closed. She expressed her desire to learn cheese-making, and Dean lent her his books ahead of a practical test. After a couple of weeks Dean was called away from the factory to attend to a farm problem, leaving 150 litres of milk behind. On his return Ashley-Ann smiled as she showed him 10 perfect cheeses she had produced.
Latana cheese became popular on local markets, and walked off with two silver and three bronze medals on entering the World Jersey Cheese Championship for the first time.
Today there is a wide variety of Latana cheeses, including one for dessert. Their Bulgarian yoghurt balls are rolled in five different herbs and preserved in olive oil with chilli and garlic. Their cream cheese selection stars cranberries, gingered pears, dried figs, wild melon and sugar-dried tomatoes. Karutana is a hard cheese, well matured, washed daily with a herb-infused wine from a neighbouring cellar.
To come: Latana Cheddar matured for 12 months in a dark cave not far from the Cango Caves – this should be an event of note.
Dean Lategan acknowledges their debt to a herd of pampered Jersey cows who are the placid stars of a cheese tour for visitors to the farm. If you cannot make it to Oudtshoorn, make sure you visit the Latana stand at the Cheese Festival later this month where you will be spoilt for choice. Last word goes to Dean Lategan:
“We experimented with a lot of new cheeses and I am bringing them to Cheese Festival to see what the reaction of the public will be. We made a cheese with Boeretroos (strong black coffee), a cheese with red wine that has a marbled effect, we added lavender to one, tried olives and used rosemary in another one.
“We will have all our well-loved Boerenkaas flavours at the festival, green pepper, black pepper, cumin, stinging nettle, cloves, mustard, and the tried-and- trusted plain. Our yogurt balls, that won SA Champion last year, will be there as well as our cream cheese.”
The 16th SA Cheese Festival takes place from Friday April 28 – Sunday April 30 at Sandringham, off the N1 near Stellenbosch. Remember to buy your tickets through Computicket of at branches of Shoprite and Checkers. Adults pay R160, senior citizens R100 and children 13 and under enter free of charge.
See my blog entitled “Sweet 16 – cheesy but true” for more info.