Devil's Peak series launching this week! We sat down with the South ...
The Real Cheese
Taste and buy South Africa’s best artisanal cheeses in Observatory
If you are interested in what you eat and the story behind your bites, let me tell you: you will fall in love with The Real Cheese Shop in Observatory. What you get: a choice of 150 cheeses and the stories of who’s behind them. This is not only a chef‘s hot spot, but for every food lover.
British-born, Valerie Elder (she‘s lived in South Africa nearly 40 years and calls it home) had the idea for her shop by following her food passion. A radio documentary made her park on the side of the road where she listened to a lady that was so passionate about cheese. After phoning SABC, she found the women and said "I want to sell your cheese in Cape Town". This was her first partner, and they still work together. After many years of working in hotel management, Valerie had enough of making food. "I wanted to turn it around, now I wanted to supply the food industry."
This was 16-years ago. Valerie started by selling cheese out of her flat in Hout Bay, but "My flat wasn’t big enough, so I bought a house in Observatory and an even bigger fridge.. my house ended up being a fridge." After many years of selling cheese from home and premises in Mowbray, The Real Cheese Shop ended up in Observatory with a team of nine and three walk-in cold rooms, enough to offer you lots of cheesy stuff.
"Our success is all word of mouth," says Valerie, who has strict criteria on who she works with. All cheeses at The Real Cheese are free of preservatives, colourants, chemicals and all cheeses are made on organic principals. The 40 farms Valerie works with have their own herds and everything is under thier own management. "Our cheese makers are creative, passionate and committed. Making cheese is hard work."
South Africa can make good quality cheeses – a changing cheese-perception
Most of the 150 different cheeses (the range is constantly changing) you can buy are sourced from cheeseries all over the country, predominantly from the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. "And we’re not talking rubber-yellow cheeses," as Valerie likes to say. "We want to promote and support South African good quality artisan cheeses to show we can do it."
"In the late 90s, people started to ask 'What is in this product? Where does it come from? How do I know it doesn’t harm me?'". "Our products are safe and of top quality" assures Valerie.
When someone asks Valerie what cheeses she offers, she replies "What do you want?". The main categories of cheese on offer are blue and bloomy rind, white moulded, mozzarellas and semi-hard, Cheddars, Parmesans, Pecorinos, goat and sheep cheeses as well as fresh cheeses. Imagine the choice of 40 different goat cheeses, 6 different Parmesans... are you ready for a trip to Obs?
A must-try and the closest to a truly South African cheese is the Huguenot. A cross between Emmental, Gruyère, Pecorino and Parmesan, it’s sweet and nutty and was developed in the Cape.
"People like that they can taste before they buy and only buy as much as they need for reasonable prices." says Valerie. The perception of cheese is changing since it is not part of the African heritage; Cape Town is miles ahead of anywhere else in the country.
I’m so lucky to testify as a happy customer. While Valerie and I put together a cheese platter, a man approaches us, shaking Valerie’s hand saying "I am a big fan of your business, so nice to meet you."
Valerie grew up in a town in the UK where there were four shops like The Real Cheese. "I grew up with great exposure to European cheeses. That goes into you, becomes part of you."
by Antonia Heil
The Real Cheese (Get Stuffed Enterprises)
Bishop Corner 217 | Lower Main Road | Observatory | Cape Town | +27 (0)21 448 8041
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, Saturday 9am to 12pm
PS: The Real Cheese also offers cured meats from Cremalat, a renowned Italian outlet and cheese accompaniments as Suurtjies, Maketaan, Aubergine, olives, biscuits, biscotti and more. Valerie and Claudette gave us ideas for a cheeseboard.
This event has a special focus on animals but concentrates on cheese, wine and art.
Read about another one of the best cheese shops in Cape Town: The Culture Club Cheese Store.