Nothing puts me in the mood for love like mushrooms. I know, I know – they’re a far cry from oysters or caviar, but aphrodisiacs rely on individual appeal and I happen to be mad for forest smells: wet earth, moss, the vaguely cabbage-y smell of tree rot. These are what led me to a special Valentine’s Day threesome: roasted mushrooms stuffed with Nancy’s Camembert and a spot of Brussels sprout relish.
To continue reading, please visit the Di Bruno Blog.
Disclosure: Twice a month, I develop posts for Di Bruno Bros., one of my fave Philly cheese haunts. I pick a cheese to highlight and am paid for my contributions. This is how I fund my dairy habit.
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.
My time in Botswana is drawing to a close. Dairy hasn’t been the center of my attention here as I’ve worked with Maman Fromage to launch her abroad program for 17 students from the Midwest. Still, I have made some observations about cows.
In Botswana, the country’s biggest exports are beef and diamonds. Cows also play a huge role in wedding ceremonies where the “bride price” is paid in cattle. The going rate for a beautiful bride? Eight head.
Last week, we attended a village wedding in Gabane, where heifers bumped against one another in the back of a pick-up truck, like a troop of nervous bridesmaids. When the pink-hatted bride was ferried off to the chief, amid wild ululations, the cows settled down.
Later, a feast was served consisting of beef, chicken, goat, tripe, sorghum porridge, hominy, beans, mashed butternut squash, and millet beer. Those are traditional village dishes, though here in the city of Gaborone I’ve found everything from pot stickers to popsicles. And even blue cheese (which I’ll post about shortly).
When I first heard that women were exchanged for cattle in Botswana, my eyes bugged. But gifting cows is a sign of reverence. The university where we are staying was founded on cattle donations from local families.
A bronze bull in the center of campus honors the first donation. Bulls for buildings? There’s a new concept.
Reporting in from Gaborone, Botswana: Within 24 hours of arrival, Madame Fromage found her fix. Here is Yours Truly in Woolworth’s — believe it! — before a vast selection of pre-packed dairy.
Many of these are imports, obviously, but my mother (also a cheese sleuth) picked up some local Cheddar and cream cheese, both made in South Africa. If time allows, we will sniff out some cheesemakers in Cape Town. Otherwise, word has it that there’s a dairy just outside Gaborone. Perhaps we will host a cheese party at our new flat in The Village (pictures forthcoming). First, we’ll need to learn to drive our stick shift rental car on the left side of the road. And avoid hitting goats.
That’s today’s project.
Lovely readers, I am headed to Africa for, you guessed it, a cheese safari. Some people travel to Botswana in search of elephants. I prefer the dairy angle. Rumor has it that artisan sub-saharan cheese exists.
My home base will be Gaborone, the site of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. Since I will be conducting my own private investigation, I have read several books in the series and found them to be delightful. Hopefully, I can take some cues from Detective Precious Ramotswe and locate at least one or two Kalahari cheesemakers to highlight here.
Botswana has two big exports: diamonds and beef. And where there is beef, there must be cheese. Right? South Africa, to the south, appears to have a thriving cheese scene. Here’s what I’ve uncovered so far:
2. Klein River Cheese in Stanford, South Africa produces Raclette.
4. There are 12 modern cheese factories in South Africa. Many of these cheeses appear to be available in Botswana.
2. Fairview Cheese, a third-generation dairy and vineyard in Cape Town, produces a line of goat cheeses, along with Brie, Camembert, and an award-winning Blue Rock.
Wish me luck, and if you have any leads, please drop me a line. I will be back in early February. Look for updates here — hopefully, I have wifi. Cheers!