22 March 2011 by Robyn Campbell

Make cheese in Nature’s Valley

Tour the Garden Route and you’ll probably end up a little giddy. Perhaps because the N2 road works have muddled the GPS, and sent you off to Tsitsikamma - twice! Or because there are so many activities to try along this lush coastline.

From berserker bungee jumps to some hand-in-trunk time with an elephant, now you can add cheese making to your holiday repertoire.

Between Plettenberg Bay and Humansdorp, at the Nature’s Valley turn off, venture down the R102 and almost immediately you’ll come across the Nature’s Way farm stall.

Selling home made everything; this rustic little refreshment station provides a delicious parade of products to buy and people to savour while you munch on a cheese platter.

It’s also where you can come and spend a day or so learning the basics of cheese making.

There’s a small dairy behind the farm stall (the Jersey cows gave it away didn’t they), where local artisan cheese-maker Joan Berning gives lectures and demonstrations in making feta, gouda, and fresh cheeses.

Participation is limited to a maximum of 6 people, so you’re guaranteed full access to Joan’s encyclopaedic knowledge of this challenging craft.

Part science and biology lesson (because when you make cheese your job is to make the right type of bacteria happy, and fend off the bad ones - it’s war, I tell you), and part cookery class, you’ll learn to cut curds, press, mould and store cheeses, turn whey into ricotta, and make natural live yoghurt.

Joan is sympathetic to all types of would-be cheese makers, and makes sure that beginner urbanites to those with an eye on a mini cheese empire, leave armed with the knowledge to suit their environment.

Lessons are interspersed with plenty of coffee breaks, camaraderie, and lunches made with locally sourced produce, and are preceded with, yes, you guessed it, cheese tastings.

Cheese making is an art and a science that takes years to perfect. By the end of day two, Joan sends aspirant cheese makers away with tons of insider’s insight, a cheese manual, a DVD, and the confidence to start taming those curds!

And, if you never get your gouda-on, or fix it to make your own feta, you can always make your way back to Nature’s Valley, to the Nature’s Way farm stall, and chomp cheese with the locals…

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