Within four years of its launch, a micro cheese enterprise in Darling is experiencing macro demand from gourmet outlets across the Western Cape for its soft European-style cheeses – a rarity in South Africa. Jay Ferreira visited Carla Bryan of Udderly Delicious Cheese to find out more.
Six years ago, Carla Bryan attended a cheese-making course in Durbanville, Western Cape. She gained both knowledge and inspiration from it, and the result was the launch of her business: Udderly Delicious Cheese. Today, Carla hand-makes six different cheese types and cannot keep up with demand.
“To make good cheese, patience and passion are key ingredients,” she explains. “It combines cookery and science. The same recipe made by different people will always taste different.”
Udderly Delicious currently occupies the floor space of a single garage, using age-old cheese-making techniques. Yet Carla’s cheeses have attracted the attention of gourmet restaurants.
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Initially, Carla sold her cheese at local markets. In 2011, she received her health compliance certificate and officially launched Udderly Delicious Cheese in Darling. Her capital outlay, in addition to the course, included the cultures, moulds and cheesecloth (R3 000), the pot (R3 000) and a second-hand pasteuriser (R7 000).
(A new model would have cost between R20 000 and R30 000.) She also bought a cheese fridge for R6 000. Carla currently employs two staff members. Running costs include milk, electricity, water, cultures, rennet, packaging, labels and fuel.
Carla has two large clients. The first is the Wild Peacock Food Emporium Wholesale Division in Stellenbosch, which she delivers to once a week. This sells Carla’s cheeses to gourmet restaurants and delis, including Creation Wines, Le Quartier Francais and Aubergine restaurant.
The second client is Darling Brew, which uses Udderly Delicious cheeses on its cheese platters to pair with its craft beer.
In addition, Carla serves major local markets including the Darling Flower Show and Voorkamer Festival, and travels to the Langebaan and Groote Post markets on the West Coast once a month.
“Our production uses 110l of milk (at R550) per day, four days a week,” Carla explains. “We make about 11kg of cheese from 110l milk and work from Tuesdays to Fridays – that’s 44kg of cheese per week. I collect milk from the farm the night before each production day. We use only cow’s milk and our production is stable throughout the year.
“We try to predict the orders two months in advance for the harder cheeses and build up stock accordingly. As demand exceeds supply, this is often difficult. It also means that we go to markets with what is left because I supply my regular customers first.”
The process in a nutshell
The cheese-making process starts by preparing pasteurised milk. The milk is warmed and a lactic culture – or mould for blue or white mould cheese – is added. The souring milk coagulates with the addition of rennet or citric acid, which forms curd. The curd is then ‘cut’, ‘cooked’ (heated), and then ‘dipped’ to release whey, the basis of Ricotta. The curd is then placed into moulds to drain, then pressed and salted or brined and left to mature if needed.
Cow, sheep, goat or buffalo milk can be used on its own or as a mixture. The type of animal feed has a distinct effect on the quality and taste of the cheese.
Pasteurisation: the first step
The process begins with pasteurisation. Here, milk is heat-treated at 71°C for one minute or 63,4°C for 30 minutes. This destroys unwanted harmful bacteria as well as the beneficial lactic acid bacteria needed for the process of casefication – turning milk into cheese. The function of these bacteria is to ferment the lactic acid, essential for coagulation and to produce enzymes that give character and flavour to matured cheese. They are reintroduced after pasteurisation by adding selected cultures to the milk.
Carla has two employees: Marisha Warnick (middle) and Mandy Adams.
Coagulation, curds and whey
To make cheese, the milk has to be coagulated into gel by adding rennet, a complex mixture of enzymes that interact with the lactic acid bacteria.
Animal, vegetable and microbial rennet are available. Carla uses liquid animal rennet at four drops per litre of milk as this coagulates better. She dissolves it with cooled, boiled water before adding it to the milk, stirring it for a few minutes for uniform distribution.
Carla uses her fingertip to test that the milk has set. “It will remain clean if coagulation is complete,” she says. “To separate the curd from the whey, we cut it slowly in a grid pattern to form 3cm to 4cm blocks. Larger blocks produce a softer cheese while smaller curds produce harder cheeses.”
She adds that whey – a protein-rich, yellowish liquid – can be used to make Ricotta, ideally within two to three hours.
After being cut, the curd is slowly heated and stirred to separate it from the whey and ensure cohesion to produce a firm cheese.
Only cheeses such as mozzarella, scamorza (Italian cow’s milk cheese) and provolone require stretching. Curd must be matured in whey to become stretchable. The curd is mature when the pH level drops to between 5,1 and 4,9. The protein changes and starts forming strands when exposed to hot water at 90°C.
This is followed by dipping or forming – the process of dispensing curd from the pot into the mould, which is perforated to allow drainage.
Some cheeses such as mascarpone, cottage cheese and cream have to drain through a cheesecloth. The curd is then drained away to make the cheese more compact in the pressing process. The pressure required here depends on the size and type of cheese.
Salting, brining and maturation
Salting dehydrates the cheese and gives it flavour while also preserving it. Therefore, a salt crust is essential for long-maturing cheeses. This is done by either dry salting – rubbing salt over the surface of the cheese – or brining – immersing the entire cheese in a 10% to 20% salt solution. The duration will depend on the type of cheese, but they must be turned regularly to ensure uniform salting.
During the maturation period, cheese undergoes changes that give it a specific structure and flavour. The enzymes in the milk, rennet and environment all contribute to breaking down the fat and protein present in the fresh curd. For this phase, the cheese is transferred to a controlled environment of between 10°C and 13°C and a relative humidity of between 80% and 95%. Cheeses must be turned regularly to mature uniformly.
“If grey-green mould forms on the surface, we simply wash it off with a damp cheesecloth or brush it off with a nail brush,” explains Carla. “If the humidity in the room is too low, the floor is wetted and the cheese is oiled with olive oil. If it’s too high, we ventilate the room.”
Varieties and prices
Carla calls her cheese European in style (Italian peasant or country cheeses). Her varieties include Skattie (between Gouda and cheddar), Caciotta (pronounced ka-shorta, somewhere between feta and brie), Pepper Caciotta (with black pepper) and beer cheese with Darling Brew Native Ale. Mascarpone and Ricotta are made on order. When time allows, she makes Pecorino.
Skattie, which sells for R205/kg, takes 12 hours to make. This is followed by a day in brine and two months of drying in the fridge before it is sold. During this time, it is turned, washed and oiled weekly.
“We treat these cheeses like babies. This is why we call them Skattie,” she quips. Beer cheese takes two to three days to make as it has to be pressed for 18 hours. It then matures in the fridge for four to five weeks before it is ready to be sold at R240/kg.
Caciotta, Carla’s quick turnaround cheese, takes nine hours to make and can be sold within four to five days, at R195/kg.
Mascarpone takes one day to make and goes out the next day as it has a short shelf-life of 10 days. It sells for R120/kg.
Ricotta also takes a day to make but the whey must be drained within two to three hours and the cheese has to be consumed within two to three days. Carla makes this cheese on order and sells it for R80/kg.
Carla explains that she does not make hard cheeses as they have to rest for a year. Skattie is her best seller. “I think people like this cheese because it’s different,” she says. Caciotta, on the other hand, is a favourite amongst chefs.
“We don’t really get fresh cheeses in South Africa, so the chefs love it,” she says of her hand-made soft cheese. “Europeans tell me that they can’t find cheese like this anywhere in our country, and they drive hundreds of kilometres to come and buy it. More and more people want handmade and artisanal food. They don’t want factory-produced food, but food that’s more personal,” she adds.
She takes pride in the fact that people know exactly where the cheese they buy comes from, and that her cheese tastes different. Carla admits that she can only produce so much cheese a week. Should she expand the business too much, it will lose her personal touch, she says.
“Mandy helps me, but only to a certain stage. I have the passion so that’s why I don’t want to grow huge. I’m happy to stay a local cheese maker known in Darling as Carla Kaas or Mrs Delicious. And it’s not possible to expand because I work from my home.”
She also prefers to work where people can see cheese in the making, then buy it to take home. “I get many requests for this,” she says. And her personal favourite cheese? Caciotta, she says without hesitating.