The homegrown beauty of Boschendal’s bounty
From the eggs for breakfast to biscuits you take home, Boschendal’s bounty comes from its own crops, vineyards, orchards, livestock and gardens. It’s the first farm in the Cape Winelands to be awarded an environmental and animal welfare certification from A Greener World.
The writer supports Ladles Of Love that serves hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children and families from its depots throughout the Cape region.
Fatty wet biltong and lavender shortbread, pastéis de nata and round ribeye steak…I was going for a few of my favourite things but trying to make them rhyme was too difficult. These are, however, some of the items I put in my basket at Boschendal’s Farm Shop.
When visiting the estate in Franschhoek, you get to see a lot but not even close to all of it. It’s been well known for its wines for ages, which are jolly nice – the Blanc de Noir is a classic, the very definition of an easy drinking wine, and it’s affordable too; I lost count of the number of bottles we put away when we spent the weekend there, from sundowners with a bit of cheese and charcuterie, to sipping it from plastic cups in the car while watching a drive-in movie, to the Sunday picnic in the Rose Garden. The S&M (Shiraz and Mourvèdre) is a tad more expensive but the name tickles me, so I drink that too.
It’s not only the wines though, not even close.
As a farm, Boschendal is virtually self-sustainable, harvesting and foraging its multiple crops from the gardens and orchards, as well as eggs for breakfast and baking.
The free-roaming Black Angus cattle provide steaks, short ribs, mince, biltong and charcuterie. In the woods beyond the garden in front of the restaurant, there are pigs snuffling and rooting happily. All of these find their way into the kitchens where they are turned into dishes for The Werf restaurant and The Deli, and there’s plenty left over to fill the shelves in the shop for people like me to stand there with a glazed look in my eyes before manically grabbing bottles and jars and crisp cellophane packets and beautiful vacuum-packed cuts of meat and tubs of mayonnaise.
The biltong in particular is a weakness for me; it’s flavoursome, and when it’s still wet with a thick piece of yellow fat running down the side, that’s the piece I have them slice up for me. I also can’t get enough of the buttery lavender shortbread, and chai spice cookies. Oh, and the tomato mustard, which is sweet and mild and reminds me of something my mother used to make when I was a child, to put on cocktail sausages.
While the notion of eating and shopping from the land you’re standing on is gratifying, it gets even better when you understand how the farming practices are in symbiosis with that. To find out more, I sat down with head chef Allistaire Lawrence and farmer Jason Carroll, who between them get everything on the plate and ultimately in our mouths. We began with the pigs.
“99% of pigs in this world are farmed on concrete,” said Carroll. “We needed to have a story to tell about our pork. So in this forest down here at the bottom,” he said, indicating the trees in the near distance, “we weren’t using the land. As farmers you need to make as much money per every hectare that you have. For 300 years the oak forest has been dormant and not bringing in any money. We’d spend R17,000 every six months on alien clearing.
“We needed pigs for the restaurant, I needed to save money with the alien clearing. The pigs work for us all over the farm. They’ve never seen concrete, never had antibiotics.”
Carroll is a meat man, and his phone’s ringtone is the mooing of a cow. He gets his digs in as often as he can, referring to the lush garden spread before us as garnish for his meats every chance he gets.
There is a fence at a certain point but for all intents and purposes, the pigs – around 80 to a 100 of them depending on the day – are free to roam wherever they will. They have sunshine, water, mushrooms, acorns, roots and shoots to eat, supplemented by non-GMO feed. “Of all the animals in the world, pigs and chickens were the ones that got screwed the most,” said Carroll, referring to the way they are farmed (elsewhere). “They’re smarter than your dog at home. I’m here for the people who want to eat the pigs. The options are feedlots, steroids, hormones. The main goal here is the alien clearing. They don’t take sick days; they don’t take leave. And then they turn into food,” he said proudly.
Whether it’s the pork, vegetables, or the Black Angus beef, the thought process of the ethos is the same, for different end results, said Lawrence.
“Whether it’s in this restaurant or in the café style of The Deli, picnics, events, or the Farm Shop, we try to use what we can from the garden and farm first, then we outsource to within a 120 km radius, and it needs to be of a similar farming practice as ours.”
Like minded, added Carroll, who along with the butchery, vets suppliers of additional pork and beef to ensure they are almost the same as Boschendal. “We can say with conviction that if it’s not our meat, it’s very, very similar,” said Lawrence.
Considering there are only two fillets on a cow, and the average age of meat on most plates is 15 months as opposed to five-year-old animals here, it’s simply not possible for the farm to provide all the meat all the time.
The cattle are slaughtered off-site and brought back to the butchery where they are turned into breakfast sausages, bacon, biltong, droëwors, and charcuterie. “It all gets made on the farm,” said Lawrence.
“It’s a way for us to guarantee we use the entire animal,” said Carroll. “That was the goal from the beginning. We didn’t want Allistaire to open a restaurant that was just steaks and fillet. Nose to tail, the entire carcass, the entire animal – that’s how you respect it.”
Lamb and chicken haven’t been reared at Boschendal which is why you will seldom see it on the menu. It’s brought in for the shop, and the restaurants will pick up any overflow. There are plenty of eggs from layer hens though – but not nearly enough to cover all the breakfasts and pastries…like the pastéis de nata which I so adore. The recipe belongs to pastry chef Christine de Villiers, who oversees the bakery. Working with her is Genevieve Dempster, and they’re the ones responsible for the biscuits I can’t resist. These are made across the road in the “food lab”, as are biscotti, frozen meals to go (from the shop), salads and sandwiches.
The hens will be supplemented soon as Carroll brings in Potchefstroom Koekoeks, those dual purpose speckled fowls who will help lay the required 3,000 eggs a day, and eventually end up on the table. “A hoender with houding,” grinned Lawrence.
“We’re starting in July 2021 with our own sheep operation, for meat and wool – 1,000 sheep on 40 hectares of irrigated land,” said Carroll. He’s also getting ducks, and 200 goats.
The land for these new livestock used to be fruit orchards, but they weren’t performing. “So they’ve been pulled out and we want to plant organic orchards,” said Carroll. “But we need to fix the soil first so it’s going to be chickens and pigs and cows – a whole lot of manure and nutrients going back into the soil. And when its carbon content is where we want it, we’ll dig a hole and put a tree in it. We’re not a commercial fruit farm; we do things completely differently to everyone else but we’re not organic. We can’t say that.”
Carroll explained he has a system to his farming which makes him sound like a hippie. But he is not. Please don’t call him a hippie. I have already said too much. “The animals and nature dictate what gets used when. The animals talk to me. If it’s got a heartbeat and you can eat it, I do it. If you need it cooked, Allistaire does it. The garnish adds colour.”
When it comes to the quality of the pork, beef and vegetables, Lawrence said for him as a chef, most of the work has already been done. “It’s a pure product and it’s a delicious product. We just basically have to make sure we cook it properly and respect the ingredients for what they are. We try not to mask natural flavours, we pay homage to it.
“There’s phrases like ‘fine dining’ going around and it’s not that type of restaurant. We just cook good food. We want people to feel at home and relaxed in our spaces. I’m working with produce like this that has amazing soil health. I’m working with Jason’s beef that has been happily walking around on the farm, developing flavours while it’s doing that.
“We want guests to experience the farm the way we experience it when we’re working with it, and understand what it is that makes us happy.”
Although it’s not fine dining, The Werf is sort of fancier than The Deli across the way. It has a small menu of what they call small plates but which are more generously somewhere between a starter and a main course, and the dishes are designed to pair with Boschendal’s wines. There is a structure to the menu which is at the same time flexible and adaptable. You’ll always find beef, a braised dish, and two or three vegetarian options. This summer the tomato risotto was fantastic.
At The Deli, the menu is moving into winter comfort territory with things like mushrooms on toast; Turkish eggs with dill yoghurt, sautéed greens, two poached eggs, chilli oil and toast; and a sausage and tomato bake for breakfast. There was some muttering about the lack of bacon with the Turkish eggs but we agreed bacon makes everything better and can be added to any dish. “It should come standard,” murmured Carroll.
“We’re not trying to reinvent anything. We want to serve delicious meals at a good price,” said Lawrence. “With Covid we had to scale it back and make it more accessible. We are trying to keep the restaurant ticking over, to get more people in, and that’s how we do it.” DM/TGIFood
Boschendal Wine Farm, Franschhoek.
Certified Animal Welfare Approved by A Greener World (AGW) is the only higher animal welfare certification in South Africa and the standards of this programme were developed with the help of veterinary and farming experts from across the globe to encourage and maximise high-welfare farm management that is practicable.
“We’re proud to certify farms like Boschendal that have demonstrated their commitment to transparency and verified, high-welfare, farming practices. These stewards of the countryside are building a greener world while elevating the market and leveling the playing field.” – AGW Executive Director, Tozie Zokufa.