The Gourmet Greek
The Gourmet Greek
It’s somewhere past 6pm, I’m sitting in a cozy cottage on the property of the Gourmet Greek with rain soft drizzling outside quite literally overwhelmed by what I’ve seen today and as fulfilled as I always feel when I spend time with a great sustainable producer.
I think I’ve just witnessed cheese being made by one of the best dairy artisans in the country. I now know something about the craft behind the dairy you’re getting from the Gourmet Greek and as I sit here looking out the window staring at the rolling Midlands hills, thinking back over my day spent with this family, I’m overcome with a sense of gratitude that I’m here, that connecting with craftsmen like this appears to be my life’s work.
I left Jozi awash with rain early this morning to make this trip down to the Midlands to visit some new and very exciting producers that we’ve gotten involved with of late.
The Midlands is teeming with them. This region with its rolling soft green hills, misty mornings, poetic value and quaint soft scenery has the most amazingly creative artisans of all descriptions living meaningful lives nestled gently in all this green.
And boy do they know the meaning of a hard day’s work. This special family has worked their hearts out today making cheese. Rosemary and her daughter Filia, are in their small family-run factory with their staff converting the milk that Dimitri fetches from a local Jersey farm at 4.30am every morning into the delectable dairy we’re now privileged to get in Jozi.
I have never seen cheese being hand crafted before and had absolutely no idea how much work went into it. It was literally a 6 hour process from the time of collecting milk from the nearby Jersey farm to getting that cheddar into molds – 6 hours to produce 25kg’s of cheddar and 25kg’s of gouda!
The difference between slow and hand crafted cheddar coming out of an artisanal dairy and factory produced cheddar which will take all sorts of chemical short-cuts that an artisanal dairy won’t take, is quite literally measured in hours, quality and authenticity.
We are quite literally talking about close on 500 liters of milk being turned into 50kg of cheddar and Gouda being an entire day’s work for a cheese artisan.
Tomorrow, they’ll be up and in the dairy early again, getting the next batch of product ready. On Thursday night Dimitri will leave for Johannesburg and spend all day delivering to select Jozi delis and stores on Friday.
This family works hard. This is a trait I saw throughout Midlands’s producers actually. If they have to all stay up until 3am in the morning to get last minute orders in from Jozi, they will and they do.
As we become more appreciative of their craft and more willing to support their businesses, they are meeting this with incredible tenacity and commitment to produce great food for us. This is something they are good at in this region, I’m convinced that the Midlands should be seen as the capital of great food craft.
The process of turning curd into cheddar for example is so laborious, I could barely believe that somebody would put so much into it. I watched Filia, Dimitri’s daughter and another staff worker, hanging over a huge vat, working and re-working slabs of cheddar as they push out they whey, cook and slap the forming curd into the beautiful tasting cheese that ends up on our plates, for hours.
The blocks of cheese that eventually made it into the molds at the end of today will sit to mature for at least 5 months. Conventional ‘factory’ dairies will use chemicals to speed up the maturation process and to mimic the flavor of ‘mature’.
This dairy will not do this.
As with all artisans – things are done properly here or not at all.
Short cuts are not taken and that’s the difference in a nutshell folks. People like this push out the quality that they do because they take huge pride in bringing traditional craft to their work and are prepared to put in the physical back-breaking work and precision required to produce something of quality.
The process of turning curd into hand -crafted cheddar is laborious, I could barely believe that somebody would put so much into it. Filia the daughter and another staff worker, hanging over a huge vat, working and re-working slabs of cheddar as they push out they whey, cook and slap the forming curd into the beautiful tasting cheese that ends up on our plates.
They do not add any vegetable oils to create the right texture like so many factories do, they follow an age-old process to get it right and the cheddar is what it is – the process of turning great milk into cheese through ‘cheddar-ing’.
The yellow color that you see in their cheddar and gouda is not a colorant – it is a reflection of the beta-carotene coming from the grass in the cow’s diet and the fact that no cream gets stripped out of the milk which comes from cows on grass.
Non-artisanal factory produced cheddar will bulk up the cheese with vegetable oils to create the creaminess and then they will color it with artificial colorant.
The yoghurt is another classic point of difference between a true artisan and a factory. The Gourmet Greek has won an Eat Out award for their traditional Greek yoghurt. It is flying off the shelves in Johannesburg and there is no misunderstanding why, it is quite literally not only the best I believe we are seeing on our shelves but undoubtedly the most authentic and the healthiest.
At breakfast on Tuesday morning, I sat with Dimitri, his lovely wife Rosemary and her Mum comparing the labels of some common Greek yoghurt brands on the shelves.
Just to give you some perspective on why I sell this yoghurt and call it ‘real’ – the ingredients list for The Gourmet Greeks yoghurt is milk from pastured Jersey cows and culture. How he gets it so thick using a traditional Greek recipe? He strains it. It means he starts off with 2 liters and ends up with 1. The slow straining is what makes it that thick as well as the preparedness to lose 1 liter of milk, an economic trade-off a factory with all eyes on focused on only profit and efficiency, is unlikely to take.
Let’s compare this quickly to a rival product that shares shelf space with this yoghurt and makes absurd and fake health claims which seems to make it more popular.
The ingredients list for the inauthentic rival product:
Low-fat milk (goodness of the cream taken out), whey powder, vanilla pod, stabilizers – tara gum and xanthan gum, sugar, thickener – corn starch (we can hazard a fair guess that it is GM), citric acid, artificial flavorant and potassium sorbate as a preservative.
This company starts with 1 liter of milk – ends up with 1 liter of yoghurt and uses thickeners including cornstarch to create the thickness you are meant to get through the straining process.
It is not real Greek yoghurt.
Also note that the fake Greek yoghurt – loaded with starch, sugar and stabilizers not only is the same price which I find a touch unfair considering that they do not lose a liter of milk in the straining, bulk it up with cheap starch and sugar and do not invest in the time to slowly strain it – but it is makes some very interesting health claims on the label.
It calls this low-fat product with added sugar – high in protein and low-GI!
This reminds me of another dubious and misleading claim I saw on a product recently – it said ‘gluten-free’ on a packet of popcorn. As if this is a great advantage – when popcorn has never ever had gluten in it, it’s a cheap marketing gimmick to add a property like this that has actually never been a real trait of the product – as a feature!
It’s like me writing a label on a cabbage saying ‘no added sugar’ and you thinking this is wonderful. It goes to show you how marketers rely on consumer ignorance to sell you smoke screens and illusion.
It reminds us why real is so beautiful.
I might ask Sally-Ann Creed co-author of The Real Meal Revolution and nutritionist to comment on how this just can’t be true. Once you strip fat out of a whole product and add starch and sugar you have created a product that creates a high insulin response so to call it low-GI which implies it is a favorable product for insulin resistance or diabetes is misleading to my mind.
Anyhow, my point is that the difference between hand-crafted, authentic and traditionally made dairy, like that which comes out of this very special Midlands dairy and the non-artisanal I’ll call ‘fake’ Greek yoghurt thickened with starch, stabilizers and sugar instead of with time, attention, love and authenticity, is the one that makes this yoghurt superior and why I want to represent this farm.
It’s not only in the yoghurt that you see the difference, their cheddar is beautiful and so full-flavored because they mature it properly. A common response I often hear after people have tasted their Gouda – is ‘wow’ I’ve never tasted Gouda this delicious. That, I believe is again because the cream is not removed from the milk before they make it. Every mouthful is full of flavor, texture and the antioxidants that come from the cream found in the grass.
Their cheddar is matured for a minimum of 5 months.
Rosemary tells me that the company that sells them culture, also sells a fake ‘maturing’ flavorant so that cheese makers cannot mature the cheese naturally but just throw in the fake ‘mature’ flavor and there you go.
That’s what’s happening to food and this is why we celebrate food heroes like Dimitri, Rosemary and Filia so highly.
You cannot compare factory, corporate yoghurt – to this.
Dimitri will shortly be taking out the preservative that they are putting in the milk to make up batches for us that specifically exclude it. We have vowed that we will work around the risk of the shorter shelf life.
Other than calcium carbonate which is added in the cheese making process, there is nothing other than fantastic Jersey milk from cows on pasture going into this great product, time, love, attention and care from a hard-working, talented family dedicated to bringing craft back into food.
No sugar, no added starch, no stabilizers, no colorants and no thickeners.
I went to visit the farm where Dimitri gets the milk to chat to the farmer there and see what he is all about. There I met Grant Warren, owner of Preston Farms.
He is committed to grass-fed Jersey milk as he only looks for the best for his own authentic French Brie and Camembert. He is also the owner of Le Petite France producing exceptional Brie and Camembert from this region.
There are no routine antibiotics or growth hormones in any supplement feed for the animals. When the grass conditions aren’t right to keep milk production up, supplement feed of silage doesn’t make up anymore than 10% of their diet when it is necessary.
I was a bit disappointed here as I really wanted to get pictures of the cows for you and more information about their environment but it was bucketing down rain for the duration of that visit and the cows were far from the farm pasturing up some mountain so I couldn’t get close enough to see them. I’ll need to go back in more agreeable weather to get more pictures for you of the Jerseys producing the milk.
When I visit farms, I always stay over and leave feeling so close to them having spent time around a supper table getting to understand more the special fabric of their lives and families. I leave farm visits, friends with the family, I leave having spent time with their children, hearing details of their lives, their ups and downs and specific joys, challenges and struggles and I can’t imagine it any other way.
It’s that connection that binds us, if I cannot connect meaningfully with a farm then I don’t write about them and if I battle to find an openness about them that creates trust then I can’t represent them.
So when I visit farms like this, having first fallen in love with their ethics, philosophy and their commitment to sustainable food, and then I get to really interact with their humanity and spend time in their homes, I always leave even more dedicated to connect you to them.
I leave committed to them after having seen what they do, and I bridge that with my commitment to you to be linked to them. My work is about making you know them like I do so that you are meaningfully connected to the producer of your nutrition.
This is a family –run dairy worth supporting. This is a food hero that makes a difference. I am so proud to stock The Gourmet Greeks’ incredible dairy and to know that we have one more farmer on the books making a positive difference to the health of all by making proper, healthy, nutritious food available to us.