By Engela Duvenage, for the Faculty of AgriSciences, Stellenbosch University Farmers with a few cows and the necessary space available could for around R24 000 start their own artisan cheesemaking business. So says Dr Faith Nyamakwere of the Department of Animal Sciences at Stellenbosch University (SU). She recently received her PhD in Animal Sciences in the SU Faculty of AgriSciences for her research on how small-scale farmers can start their own artisan cheesemaking businesses. She successfully developed a cheesemaking process for Pecorino-style and ricotta cheeses, and then implemented it on four farms in rural Eastern Cape. Her model includes aspects such as the use of simple tools, breed choice, hygiene practices and how to set up a reasonably cheap yet all-important aging chamber for maturation purposes. Her project, which was a first in South Africa, was conducted with help from the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) in the Eastern Cape, through funding from the National Research Foundation. It was conducted in collaboration with the SU Department of Food Science and the Italian cheese company Formaggi della Famiglia Busti, Acciaiolo. The hope is to extend the project to further help small-scale farmers to market their products. Dr Nyamakwere believes the model can also successfully be followed by people wanting to start a garagist-style cheesemaking business, depending on whether they have enough processing and ageing space available, and can ensure good hygiene control. “The idea for her project came from the fact that in Europe there are still many small farms making traditional and artisanal cheeses with very simple tools. These products are part of the European culture and history. Farmers are able to sell their products to niche markets and receive medium to high earnings,” explains her supervisor, Dr Emiliano Raffrenato of the SU Department of Animal Sciences. Keeping livestock and the making of fermented milk products have a long tradition in the Eastern and Southern Africa, but cheesemaking is not part of most people’s culture in South Africa. Compared to Europe, South Africa has a very small artisan cheesemaking industry. “Most of the cheeses we know in South Africa have European roots. Despite its nutritional value, especially for growing children, cheese is still a very acquired taste, in part because of its cost per kilogram. In recent years, however, it has been introduced into many more South African diets through fast-food products such as pizza,” she says. “The ideal would of course be to develop a local cheese that is tailored to local taste preferences, such as is being done in Japan,” adds Dr Nyamakwere.
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