Christo's the cream of the crop with Dutch cheese
A Dutch cheese is now being handcrafted in Northern Ireland - by a South African chef. Pitjes Kaas has been created in a small creamery using organic unpasteurised milk from grass-fed cows.
The semi-hard creamy cheese includes cumin seeds for a nutty and intense flavour and is aged for up to seven months by specialist cheese maker Christo Swanepoel.
Mr Swanepoel is a native of Pretoria in South Africa but has been based in Northern Ireland for the past five years. His wife, Angelique, is also a chef.
Christo set up the creamery at his home Millisle, Co Down, two years ago.
A gourmet chef, he's also launched two further speciality cheeses - Young Culmore, a creamy Gouda style, and Angelique, a Parmesan.
All three cheeses have natural rinds and are unwaxed.
Young Culmore and Angelique are both aged for up to four months.
All three are semi-hard cheeses that use organic raw milk which comes from a Northern Ireland dairy farm.
The Gouda style Young Culmore, in fact, is named after the organic farm that supplies the raw milk.
The initial three cheeses are being produced by Swanepoel under the City Cheese Company that he's established to develop these and other handcrafted cheeses.
All the cheeses reflect the influence of the Dutch who contributed greatly to the food business in South Africa.
They are based on research over the past two years into cheese production and market opportunities for artisan products.
Christo said: "I'd been keen on cheese in South Africa and learned a lot about Dutch cheeses from Angelique, my wife, and her parents who have family roots in Holland.
"This led me to start researching the market and to also educate myself on artisan cheese production.
"I wanted to develop a raw milk cheese and started looking for a local supplier. It was a pretty steep learning curve.
"It made sense to look at the types of cheese we had enjoyed in South Africa as a starting point."
His decision to use raw milk was influenced by his conviction that this offers a much richer flavour.
He added: "To me, raw milk cheeses are more delicious and contain natural enzymes that infuse cheese with deeper and exciting flavours.
"My supplier understands milk and runs a dairy unit to the highest hygiene standards using robotic milking machines; and it helps me to create unique cheeses with outstanding taste."