In Africa with Wineland Blue
Unlike most people who travel to Botswana, I did not harbor dreams of seeing a white rhino. Or hippos. Or giraffes. I nursed one very small dream: to discover a new cheese, but only if I happened upon it; my real job this past month was to learn how to drive a stick shift Toyota on the left side of the road so I could ferry my mum around. She paid my way to Africa to act as her assistant for an Unnamed Rather Under-Funded Study Abroad Program.
Unofficially, I was her chauffeur, secretary, cook, sherpa, and hydration therapist. Officially, I was Madame Fromage on hiatus. After a busy year of book writing in 2012, I decided to leap at the chance of a dairy-free vacation. Without wifi (or electricity, some days), living in the city of Gaborone made it easy to drop off Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress. Do I feel renewed? I do.
Botswana is a great place to contemplate thorn trees, wander red dirt roads, and O.D. on the lemon-cakey fragrance of frangipani blossoms on morning walks before the heat sets. If someone would only develop a goat cheese called Frangipani Sunrise, I would tout it immediately.
Cheese plays no part in the traditional Botswana diet, but still, I managed to find a fudgy wedge here and there, including a slab of Camembert served with cranberry preserves atop a bacon burger at the Mokolodi Nature Reserve. There was also a memorable cheese and butternut panini at Sanitas Tea Garden, a plant nursery. Butternut squash — served steamed or mashed — is a local staple, along with beef, sorghum porridge, and “fat cakes” (a yeasty fritter introduced by the Dutch).
For my dairy fix, I trolled the cooler at Woolworth’s and, on my last night in Gabs (as the locals call Gaborone), I put forth a cheese plate for some new friends, Mary and Leiloba. After a few glasses of South African wine, the cheeses got better and better. Especially toothsome: a molten goat crottin from Fairview Cheesery in Cape Town.
South Africa appears to be the epicenter of cheese activity in the southern part of the continent, no doubt brought in by the English and the Dutch. It explained the wedges of cumin-flecked Gouda and cranberry-studded Stilton I saw in grocery dairy cases, alongside various aged Cheddars.
The best cheese I sampled was Wineland Blue, a downy wee Brie with delicate blue pockets. Turns out it’s won medals at the World Jersey Awards. No surprise. The paste was lush, mushroomy, and moussey (nothing like a gummy Cambozola) with an occasional whisper of Gorgonzola. How unexpected! For me, it was more thrilling than watching a snake handler wrangle cobras or observing a giraffe munching trees at dusk.
But then, that’s just me. Dairy is my wildlife.