A FOOD AFFAIR TO REMEMBER
Wine, cheese and charcuterie with flair in the Deep Karoo
Though there is hardly any cooking involved, the effort that goes into an affair of this kind is quite something. The rewards are stupendous.
The crowd was a group of friends old and new, all of us being spoilt by a mutual friend who had enjoyed a wine tasting at Kranskop between Robertson and Montagu and had taken a range of wines home to the farm, and then decided to take things further.
The planning took weeks. First, you have to decide who you’re ordering from, and what. Then there’s the balancing act of coordinating the courier services with the producers to ensure that the goods reach you intact. There is room for things to go wrong. Nothing, I’m relieved to say, did.
We would order charcuterie from Richard Bosman’s Quality Cured Meats, cheeses from Dalewood Fromage between Paarl and Franschhoek, and a very special whole wheel of Karoo Blue from Langbaken near Williston in the Northern Cape. And we would have a gathering for the books and create some stories to tell in years to come.
I was roped in, happily, to order the cheeses and charcuterie through my contacts, having ordered products from both Bosman and Dalewood in the past. The budget was set and off I went, relying on speedy couriers (mostly) to get the goods to us in time. It’s a bit of a balancing act. They can’t send them too soon as these are perishables, especially the cheeses. But they do need to arrive on time.
It was touch and go with the Dalewood order, with the courier only arriving after 7pm the day before the event. This being a Friday. I was very nervous that something might go wrong and we’d have only the charcuterie and one wheel of cheese. But it all worked out in the end.
But for all the beauty of the Dalewood products, I felt we needed that prince of South African cheeses, Langbaken’s Karoo Blue, both for its intrinsic joys and its name that evokes the great Karoo and its forever skies. All we would do with this one would be to display it on a lovely platter, carve a few slim wedges but leave the wheel otherwise intact for its beauty to be appreciated. Some small decorating didn’t go amiss…
Getting it from outside Williston to Cradock involved the services of a couple from Nieu-Bethesda who were visiting Langbaken. Then my friend and I drove to Nieu-Bethesda to collect it, which is how this column came about.
My friend and I cooked up, quite literally, a special recipe for one particular Dalewood cheese. There was a whole wheel of Wineland Brie, which we served as it was, as intended. But we had a second wheel too, this one studded with green fig preserves. That wasn’t our doing: it’s how you buy it from Dalewood.
But that was only the starting point. We bought some phyllo pastry, if not without challenge. If you live in a small town, once you’ve been to all three supermarkets and none has phyllo, you know you’re stuck. Until you start phoning your friends. Sandra Antrobus checked with the hotel but they were out of it too. Luckily, Lani Lombard of True Living Old Karoo Deli in Cradock was able to spare a roll of phyllo from her deep freeze, and I still owe her for that.
“We’ll work something out,” she said, handing me the pastry. There’s trust in the Karoo.
Only one problem: this was a Saturday, though we were lucky to have electric light for the first part of the evening, the power was due to go off at 9pm and this was the dessert course. Five minutes before nine, my friend and I hot-footed to the kitchen where I had turned on the gas oven 15 minutes earlier to preheat. I had put out all the tools and ingredients for a whole cheese to be baked in phyllo.
In five minutes flat, we laid out and butter-drizzled seven sheets of phyllo, placing the whole Brie in the middle and folding the outer edges towards the middle. Then we turned the cheese by a quarter, folded in again, moved it another quarter, folded, and so on. For the final two sheets of phyllo, we turned the whole cheese over onto two laid-out sheets, then turned it over again while tucking the pastry under. All of this at great speed. The Food Gods were smiling on us – it worked a treat and was amazingly neat given the stress levels.
Then the lights went out.
I popped it in the oven, set my phone timer to 20 minutes and rejoined the gang. It turned out just right, as you can see, though what may not be immediately obvious is that the parcelled-up Brie was photographed in near darkness, a little light being cast only by two simple solar lamps; the dull ones, not those very bright Magnetos.
Once removed from the oven, we decorated it with tiny wedges of green fig and crushed almonds, drizzled over some of the syrup from the jar of preserved green figs made by our mutual friend Heyla Meyer, and took the thing of beauty through to the dining room where it was met with applause by those who could vaguely make it out in the candlelight. Find the recipe for the Brie “dessert” here.
Richard Bosman sent us lonzino (cured pork fillet with rosemary and paprika), bone-in prosciutto, cooked rosemary ham, two salamis (citrus whisky, and truffle), bresaola (cured silverside of beef with rosemary, thyme and pepper), and jars of duck rillettes.
The lonzino is so beautiful to look at once it’s been cut thinly using a gravity slicer that it was almost a shame to eat it. But it’s even more delicious than it looks and the bresaola, though it doesn’t cut as prettily, packs a whack of wonderful flavour.
There was also mortadella studded with pistachios, a huge treat for one of our gathering who was horrified when I described it to the group as “fêncy polony”. By which I didn’t mean that it was really polony, but anyway, we’ll let that go. It is sublime, but the rosemary ham was a triumph of greatness in simplicity.
From Dalewood was their nutty Huguenot semi-hard medium-full cheese with a nutty character; the rich and savoury Boland medium-fat semi-hard cheese with a smooth, velvety texture, and the glorious Languedoc surface ripened semi-soft medium fat mould cheese from pasture-fed Jersey cow’s milk. This is one of our finest cheeses.
Then, the Wineland Blue Camembert with its lightly marbled blue veins, the Wineland Brie and that variation on its own theme, the Wineland Brie with green fig, a proper showstopper worth taking the trouble to get right. Even if the lights are out. DM/TGIFood
Langbaken cheeses distributed by: wildpeacock.co.za