Estee van Aswegen says it was her search for an alternative income stream on the family farm, Baris, near Clarens, that led her to cheesemaking about three years ago.
“I still don’t know why I decided on dairy goats, of all things. But I made my decision and the next thing I knew, my mum, Minda, and I were on a goat-purchasing road trip to De Rust,” she says.
“We returned with five goats, and here we are today with a herd of 50 dairy goats and an up-and-coming cheesery.”
Baris farm is situated 10km from Clarens, in the picturesque eastern Free State.
Van Aswegen says the trickiest part of the business was learning to make the cheese and sourcing the right equipment and ingredients.
“I read up on everything about goat’s milk, and invested in the best equipment I could afford. It called for a lot of research, talking to people in the know, and learning from my own mistakes.”
The artisanal Baris cheeses are sold at the farm’s deli and restaurant, Baris Monger. She also supplies the Cheese Gourmet in Linden, Johannesburg.
The Baris range consists of eight cheeses, including Camembert, Brie, feta, halloumi and the award-winning Vliedermaus, judged top of its class in 2018 and 2019 at the South African Dairy Championships.
It was named after the family’s beloved black Staffordshire bull terrier. Van Aswegen describes it as a rich, soft, creamy, ashed, bloomy rind cheese that is bold in flavour.
The Baris Camembert was awarded second place in 2019 and third place in 2018 in the category for goat’s milk bloomy rind cheese, with or without condiments. It has a buttery yet milky taste, and she says it makes a superb baked Camembert.
The halloumi, which gained third place in 2019, is made using the traditional style of folding, and contains mint from the Baris garden.
“Developing our range of cheeses has been a mind-blowing journey. Since we developed our own recipes, it took a lot of experimenting. It was important not to replicate other cheeses on the market, but to develop a range with its own identity and flavour.”
Goat production notes
The Baris goat herd consists of 50 Saanen ewes. The Saanen goat originates from the Saanen Valley of Switzerland. The largest among all the dairy goat breeds, they are mainly raised for commercial milk production. The herd was sourced from a number of farms across South Africa.
Van Aswegen recently introduced Toggenburg genetics into the herd. The traditional goat breed of the Toggenburg and Werdenberg regions of St Gallen in eastern Switzerland, it was first brought to South Africa early in the 20th century.
Van Aswegen has no plans for crossbreeding the goats.
The average daily milk production is 2,5ℓ/ewe, and the cheesery produces about 250kg of cheese during the summer months. The breeding season starts in March, and she keeps one ram for every 35 ewes.
The herd is kept on planted pastures, such as chicory and ryegrass. Van Aswegen believes in holistic care, but has the herd inoculated against endoparasites and ectoparasites. A mineral lick and concentrate rations are provided before kidding starts in winter.
The average temperatures on the farm go to below freezing in winter and as high as the mid-30s in summer.
During the off-season, she augments the goat’s milk with cow’s milk, which she says is a perfect alternative.
A challenging start
In the beginning, she did everything, from managing the herd to milking, making the cheese, and working in the deli. Later on, she was joined by her trusted helper, Martha Motobatsi, who works in the deli now. Tinashe Mataruse, a former waiter at the deli, has taken over as cheesemaker.
Van Aswegen says she was lucky to find Mataruse because he understands the intricacies and nuances of the industry, and produces cheeses that would impress the most critical of connoisseurs.
After only two-and-a-half-months’ training, he grasped what cheese production was all about and now forms an integral part of the business.
“I’ve never been afraid of a challenge,” says Van Aswegen.
“However, during those early days, I often asked myself why on earth I embarked on this wild, new journey! But the successes slowly started to overcome the failures. The awards the Baris cheeses gained at the dairy championships meant that we were doing something right.”
The farm’s extensive herb and vegetable garden, managed by her mother, Minda Farrell, supplies all the cheesery’s needs, such as mint for the halloumi. She also sells a range of preserves at the deli.
“In this way, I know exactly where the inputs come from. Not only does it save money, but it adds to the integrity of our products. I am committed to the production of truly unique artisanal cheese that is produced on the farm and from the farm.”
She says cheesemaking is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It is only now that the cheesery is starting to show a profit; previously, she had to reinvest her profit into the business to get it to the standard she wanted it to be.
“At this point, I can say we are on the way to success. I must credit my husband, Pieter, for his input and ongoing support.”