By David Malan, Cheesemaker - Kokerboom Kaas
This is a question frequently asked of us. It is also something that we, as artisan cheese makers, need to clarify.
Premium milk from my dairy costs R8.50 per liter. This is higher in cream content than you can commercially buy. Ten liters of milk produces about 1kg of cheese. That means my basic raw material cost is R85 per kg. Factor in cultures, capital outlay to set up, Electricity and time for 2 months maturation where most of our cheeses are turned and brine washed every day for a month, then twice a week to get the youngest cheese we can sell.
In our town, we can buy cheddar and gouda for between R65 -R75 per kilo, from roadside vendors. It begs the question of integrity of those ingredients and cheese making method. Factor in that the vendor also wants to make a profit so at least 25% mark up is on that product as well. So, the vendor makes or purchases his product for around R45 per kilo. Here we thought that turning lead into gold was fiction! Think what you are eating before you compare prices.
People will buy biltong and spend R230 per kilo happily! If they buy vacuum sealed snap sticks from the chain stores and convenience stores, they pay between R450 and R1200 per kilo without question. Biltong takes 2 days max to make. There is no long maturation.
Cheese is easy to make. (relatively!) It takes a few hours to a few days, at worst, to process. Then Affinage takes place. Affinage is the aging / maturation process as well as the care of the cheese during that period. This takes us anything between a month to four months before our cheese is ready to eat.
Artisan cheese is living cheese. Maturation has not been affected by preservatives or stabilizer – or any chemical additive. It is an ongoing work of art from the time you purchase to eating – for a very good reason!