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The Franschhoek Artisan Food Route
Find your inner foodie and eat all things artisan in this pretty culinary capital
My no-carb diet went out the window as I surveyed the delicate ensemble sitting prettily on a silver plate in front of me. A flushed pink salmon blini, biltong profiterole, white chocolate truffle, blush-coloured macaroon and decadent chocolate brownie dotted with gold adorned the plate, covered in a shiny glass bell, all exquisitely and enticingly presented. My accompanying glass was filled with honey-coloured, jasmine scented Straw Wine, while my teacup received a warming exotic French Earl Grey, which smelled as heavenly as it sounds. ‘Yes, I could get used to this’, I thought, as I tucked in and sipped my wine, all before 11am.
Breakfast Brownies with a Side of Straw Wine and History
This was but the first stop on my unforgettable journey along the famed Franschhoek Artisan Food Route, which takes avid foodies around the region’s top culinary gems. We arrived at La Motte and went on a historical tour of the estate’s grandiose grounds, which still boast original Cape Dutch buildings complete with gables and quaint green-shuttered windows, and an old water mill, which is the only one still operational in the area. The heady scent of roses greeted us as we tiptoed through the gardens to the converted concert-hall-come-cellar, where a vintage Steinway with a history suited to an instrument of its stature, greeted us. Then we returned to the restaurant, where the estate’s charming baker served us a selection of his best breads, made with the flour from the mill and accompanied by Shiraz butter. The harvest bread is one of La Motte’s best kept secrets, with sprinklings of salt to balance the pockets of crimson coloured grapes – if you see some in the shop, get it instantly as it’s sought-after and scarce. Then it was time for the winelands tea and all the magic I described above.
Homemade Bread and Charcuterie, with a Dash of Tuna and Fennel Fritter
At the end of tea, I was already full so rather unsure how I was going to manage to fit in any more food (don’t worry, I managed). We made our way to Bread & Wine at Môreson Estate, which immediately became one of my favourite nooks in the valley. Set under dappled shade, with a twinkling pond and stream, the restaurant is a place of beauty and rest, which also has a reputation for its unparalleled charcuterie, courtesy of Chef Neil Jewell. The lovely Tina (Neil’s wife and a formidable chef herself) met us and took us to a table laden with mixing bowls, yeast and water, and, under her instruction, we set about making two loaves of ciabatta.
I am a terrible baker, but Tina was so patient and kind that it was quite easy to keep up with her and form my dough into a decent looking ball. As the dough was rising, Chef Neil bought out a platter of ‘nibbles’ to keep us going. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve never tasted charcuterie like that – Neil is an absolute wizard; I’m not even sure what it was we were eating, but everything was sublime, from the simplicity of the sausage to the melt-in-your-mouth eisbein and aged salami. We finished making our bread and then sampled some of Môreson’s MCC (divine), before settling down to lunch – seared tuna steaks with fennel schnitzel and foam, accompanied by the estate’s Knoputibak blend. Lunch finished; a board laden with nougat, chocolate bon bons and jellies was served; and we collected our freshly-baked breads and then rolled ourselves to the shuttle to head for Clermont for an olive oil tasting.
Locally Made Olive Oil that Smells of Freshly-Cut Grass and Oranges
Gordon is a self-professed olive oil nerd with a fount of knowledge on all things to do with this highly-niche product. Clermont is home to the Franschhoek Olive Oil Company – Gordon’s baby – which produces award-winning extra virgin oil that’s pressed and bottled on the farm. I’d never done an olive oil tasting before, but it was quite fascinating how big the discrepancy between shop-bought refined olive oil and Gordon’s olive oil was. Gordon walked us through the pressing process, and then we sat down and he poured us a bit of his oil, which we warmed and then smelt – it carried whiffs of freshly-cut grass and citrus for me. We sipped it and it had a decidedly distinctive, fresh, nutty, buttery and slightly bitter flavour which was absolutely delicious. From there, we tried the shop-bought stuff, which had no fragrance and absolutely zero flavour. I can now understand why I should buy local and quality olive oil products – aside from the fact that it’s truly worthwhile supporting smaller, honest productions like Gordon’s company.
The Cheese I’d Choose to Eat If I was on Death Row
Lastly, we headed to the very special La Cotte Inn for a tasting at Fromages de France with Lodine, who is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about her products. She sliced us delicious slivers of imported camembert’s, brie’s and blues that I won’t even begin to try to describe; they were just so good. I adore cheese – if I was on death row, I think my last meal would be a ripe, oozy camembert served with crusty baguette and a nice white wine – the point is that I was in awe of Lodine’s collection of curds and whey, and I strongly recommend you pay the Inn a visit next time you’re in town. They also represent 35 of the wineries in the area and sell their wines at cellar prices – I bought a pinot noir because I just couldn’t help myself.
The Rest of the Franschhoek Artisan Food Route
It was the most perfect day and it made all my foodie dreams come true, and everyone back at the office green with envy (I really should have bought them a bread or something – sorry guys). I explored but a fraction of the places listed along the Artisan Food Route, the full list of which includes:
- African Chocolate Dreams stocks delicious handmade chocolates
- Allée Bleue Estate boasts olives, olive oils, fresh herbs and delicious pesto
- Babylonstoren is home to a well-known fruit and vegetable garden. A deli and farm shop enable visitors to stock up on fresh produce, baked breads, charcuterie, cheeses and preserves
- Bread & Wine is renowned locally and internationally for some of the country’s finest charcuterie and breads
- Café BonBon stocks olives, breads and preserves
- Dalewood Fromage is an award-winning artisanal cheese producer
- Dutch East is all about coffee, freshly roasted and ground
- Franschhoek Medicinal Herb Garden produces fresh medicinal herbs
- Gooding’s Groves produces tasty olives and olive oil
- Huguenot Fine Chocolates produces some of the best handmade Belgian chocolate in the country
- The Jam Jar produces superb jams, preserved lemon and fruit cordial
- La Bourgogne is a popular stopover for olives and various styles of olive oil
- La Cotte Inn (Fromages de France) imports fine French artisan cheese
- La Motte Wine Estate is home to a historic water mill which is still operational, producing stone ground flour, used in some of the estate’s delicious homemade breads
- Maison offers delicious chorizo, pickled Shiitake mushrooms, preserves, olives, prosciutto and homemade bread
- Noble Hill is home to a beautiful chili garden, olives and olive oil
- The Really Interesting Food Company is the perfect stopover for delicious food gifts and imported ingredients
- Sacred Ground is where you want to be for artisan breads, sandwiches, cakes and coffee
- Solms-Delta is home to the Dik-Delta culinary gardens, which includes indigenous produce
- If time’s a factor, the Franschhoek Village Market on Saturdays showcases many of these fine foods in one place
If you’re at a loss about how to plan your day, give the Franschhoek Wine Valley a ring and ask for some help putting together an itinerary. Their number is +27(0)21 876 2861, and they’re extremely kind and helpful so very worth getting in touch with. You can also visit Franschhoek.org.za for ideas.
A BIT MORE ABOUT THE FRANSCHHOEK ARTISAN FOOD ROUTE
Q: What makes it artisan?
A: It’s hand-made by a skilled craftsman, usually in limited supply and using traditional methods/ recipes and unprocessed ingredients. It’s not about speed; it’s about quality, and producing things in an ethical and sustainable way. It’s about being conscious of where the things we eat originate from, and knowing that these goods are grown/ raised or made with love, compassion and care. Franschhoek is one of the world’s foremost culinary capitals, which makes it a treat for anyone with an interest in food or wine.
If you want to enjoy la belle vie and find out more about what artisan is all about; do the route and chat to the wonderful crafts people involved – you definitely won’t regret it.
Words and photographs by Samantha Corbett
Coming late 2019: La Colombe’s Indian-inspired eatery, Epice Franschhoek.
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