Cheese Festival SignThe SA Cheese Festival has always been my favourite of all the foodie fests in and around Cape Town. Every year I go, all fired up, and every year I come back laden with an alarming amount of cheese, and a sense of immense satisfaction.

But this year was different. Not as satisfying as usual, somehow, and far less fun. And I’ve been trying to figure out why.

It all started as we approached Paarl, and encountered a rather long queue for the exit off the N1. We weren’t as early as I’d wanted to be, but were still on target for getting there at about 11am. Early enough to beat the rush – or so I thought…

Traffic Jam at the SA Cheese FestivalAn impressive traffic jam soon nipped that foolish optimism in the bud.

As we edged our gradual way along the road between Paarl and Franschhoek we came to the conclusion that, of the four days over which the festival is now spread, we had managed to pick the same day as every other cheese-loving Capetonian – and that it was going to be something of a bunfight.

And so it was. A year and a half later we eventually made it into the parking area, annexed some territory and ambled up to the external gate.

SA Cheese Festival: ‘The Mall’Already, at that relatively early hour, a state of lockdown was in place – no one past the outer perimeter without positive proof of tickets purchased! No ticket, no cheese…

We happily brandished our long-since-acquired tickets at the squadron of brightly-clad security folk, and wandered, a little dazed, into the fray.

Now, I don’t know if it’s a question of actual numbers – ie whether the number of tickets sold has expanded this year – or of my own ever-diminishing levels of crowd-tolerance reaching a new low, but I found that, despite my best attempts, no degree of elbow-flailing helped to dispel the thronging masses. There were simply too many people in the way.

And, not wishing to injure myself or others (had I been drinking sufficient quantities of champagne, there would have been far more casualties), I simply gave up trying to reach the cheese. Gave. Up.

As a result, instead of getting totally carried away and spending far more than I budgeted on more cheese than a normal person should be able to consume post-festival-frenzy (as had previously been the case), I hardly bought anything at all.

Nor did I get to chat to any of the cheese makers about their wares – it was simply too chaotic.

Plants for sale, and mayhem beyondCome 3 o’clock I was exhausted and ready to go home. And though a very satisfying cup of Fairview cappuccino (I’d hazard a guess that those guys have had proper barista training) did perk me up enough to take a quick round of photographs, the thought of getting stuck on the way out as well as the way in had us leaving far earlier than closing time.

Now, that’s not to say that everyone else wasn’t having a great time. The place was packed, and everyone was very merry (and getting merrier by the cork-pop), and there was a hum of contentment all around.

The organisers did a pretty good job of letting people on the way in know that the festival was sold out, and that they wouldn’t be letting anyone in without a valid ticket.

A big sign saying “Sold Out” might have helped, but they did send their people up the road to turn back anyone without a ticket (a friend of mine who joined us there later, from Franschhoek side, had to phone and ask me to go to the gate to show proof I had her ticket, so that she could drive in).

I just couldn’t deal with the crush. So, whilst I’ll certainly be back next year, it’ll most definitely be on a different, less popular day (like the opening Friday, if I happen to be on flexitime).

Kimilili FarmAll was not lost, however – during my whirlwind round of tasting, I did manage to fight my way to two wonderful cheese makers: Kimilili hand-crafted farm cheese and Geluksfontein goats cheeses.

I didn’t get a chance to chat much to the folks there, but the Kimilili cheeses are delicious, and, as I discovered by visiting their website, are made using natural farming practices:

“At Kimilili … We use natural farming practices to establish and improve our pastures. The animals are exclusively raised on pasture and only get hay and minerals as supplements. We do not use chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides or any commercial dairy feed on the farm.”

Geluksfontein Goats CheeseHoohah! No wonder their cheese is so good… They’re based in the Tulbagh Valley, but you can find them at various markets, including the Stellenbosch Farmers Market (every second week – I must have missed them on my visit).

The other great find was Geluksfontein Goats Cheeses, from a farm in Limpopo Province which, as it turns out (again, looking at their website), is also organic:

“Geluksfontein dairy goat’s comprises a 400 acre dairy goat farm at MELKRIVIER, a small rural settlement in the Waterberg region of the Limpopo province… Geluksfontein Goat Milk products are made using traditional methods in the cheese room of our fully organic farm”.

I bought a delectable goats feta, and a roll of soft goats cheese crusted with black pepper… mmmmmm… Pity they’re so far away! But, they do appear to be sold in a couple of Spar outlets, so perhaps we’ll have some in the Mother City one of these days.

Bring on 2009! I’ll be there… on any day except Sunday.

PS: take a look at this. Proving cheese-tasting really can take it out of you… (that’s not me, but I know well what the evil combination of many tiny bits of cheese + many tiny sips of wine + + can do to the unsuspecting).

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