Monday 23 March 2009

Weekend bliss: camembert, halloumi, roast lamb, a birthday and a nomination

I had such a lovely, golden, sun-soaked weekend that I felt as gloomy as a goldfish as I mooched to my desk this morning; what a lovely surprise to find that this blog, and my other blog, Salmagundi, jointly written with my friend the terrible Muriel, are both finalists in the 2009 South African Blog Awards.

Thank you for nominating us, dear friends and readers, and please cast your vote for this blog by clicking on the gold tag at the top right of this page (or click here, which will take you to the voting page and automatically check the box next to my blog; all you need do is fill in your email address at the bottom of the page and respond to the confirmation email when it arrives).

Two things made my weekend memorable. One, I went to a cheese-making workshop, hosted by Brian and Jo Dick, who own that wonderful shop, Cheese Gourmet, in Linden, Johannesburg. Cheesemakers Hans Keller and Barbie Pretorius of the De Rust Cheese-Making Academy, near Hartebeespoort Dam, showed us how to make halloumi cheese, that lovely, salted, springy taste of Cyprus.

Do you know how easy it is to make your own halloumi? It's a piece of old cheesecake. If you have 10 litres of raw, fresh milk, a thermometer, 6 ml of rennet, and some sterilised pots and trays and weights, you can make a lovely, squeaky halloumi cheese in your own kitchen in under two hours.

Ok, I haven't tried it myself yet, chiefly because I'm at a loss as to where to find 10 litres of raw fresh milk - pasteurised, homogenised supermarket milk won't do, says Hans - but I intend to give it a try the minute within udder's tweak of a cow, or at least close to a proper dairy. And I have good reason for wanting to make my own - my 16-year-old son thinks that crispy fried halloumi cheese is the best thing since sliced bread, and is also under the impression that it's as cheap as sliced bread. I can't afford to indulge his cravings too often, much as I'd like to (bones that are growing as fast as his surely need all the calcium and protein they can get).

Anyway, once I've tried halloumi-making myself, I will pass on the details of my experiment. In the meantime, if you'd like to try making your own, click here for details of courses offered by Hans and Barbie, and here to contact The Cheese Gourmet. If you live in the Cape, check out the two-day cheese-making courses offered by Finest Kind of Plettenberg Bay.

During the demonstration, Brian Dick presented a selection of superlative hand-made South African cheeses for us to taste, and it was just fascinating to hear Hans commenting on each cheese, and talking about the art of cheese-making: a blend of chemistry, experience, instinct and sheer alchemy.

All the samples were gorgeous, but the most sublime, for me, were the organic cheeses from the Jersey herd at Dalewood Fromage, near Franschhoek in the Cape Winelands. Their unique Huguenot cheese - a mature, semi-hard cheese - is neither a Gouda nor a Cheddar, but in an indefinable category of its own. They also specialise in a range of bries flavoured with chilli, green fig, crushed olives and wild mushrooms. Their Cape Chilli Brie, an oozy dream of a cheese with a subtle zing of red chilli, is just outstandingly delicious; I'm not surprised to learn that it's won numerous awards.

I also took home some of their Wineland Blue camembert, decadently creamy and delicately freckled with patches of blue mould. This made a wonderful salad (see pic above) combined with baby salad leaves, ripe figs, walnuts and just a lick of olive oil and Balsamic vinegar.

Now to the second thing that made my weekend wonderful. My darling honorary niece, Julia, turned 18 this weekend, and her mother and uncles threw a celebratory Sunday lunch for her and her best friends. Is there anything - anything - to beat a long, lazy lunch on a shady Highveld patio, surrounded by trees and singing grassland, overlooking a sparkling dam? Lazy jazz sounds drifting over the lawn, crisp white wine, candles, presents and sparkling conversation? And the food: I wish you'd been there. James made his signature dish of seared fresh tuna with rocket, avocado and Wasabi mayonnaise, Claire pulled from the oven mountains of lemony, herby, slow-cooked shoulder of lamb, served with with roasted baby vine tomatoes and new potatoes, and we finished up with fudgy chocolate birthday cake and a dreamy Tarte Au Citron.

Oh, my, I feel lucky.

PS On the subject of halloumi cheese, try my halloumi salad with a lemon-caper dressing.
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