S. African artisanal cheesery hopes virus will boost Slow Food

South African cheesemaker Danie Crowther shows a chili string cheese during a tasting in Clarens in the front shop of Noah’s Cheese. (AFP)
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Updated 20 July 2020

S. African artisanal cheesery hopes virus will boost Slow Food

  • In the longer run, coronavirus ‘likely to boost demand for locally produced foods’

CLARENS, South Africa: Cheddar-making was put on hold when coronavirus struck an artisanal cheesery on the outskirts of Clarens, a town tucked into the foothills of the Maluti mountains of central South Africa.

Hard cheeses requiring months of ripening were no longer viable, and the small business battled to stay afloat as sales plummeted.

Cheesemaker Marietjie Crowther only managed to produce small amounts of her signature smoked mozzarella and chilli-infused “string cheese.”

Rare buyers were found among the few butcher’s shops and delis that stayed open during the virus lockdown.

But with restrictions eased and customers trickling back, Marietjie and her husband Danie believe coronavirus could boost demand for locally produced foods in the long run.

“I have noticed that some retailers tell us they want to focus more on local products,” said Danie, who co-owns Noah’s Cheese with his wife.

“To rely on food from far away doesn’t make sense anymore,” he explained.

“The cost in terms of the environment, the risk when a disaster like this happens, is too high.”

Eating locally is the favored goal of locavores — foodies who believe in produce grown from nearby sources, in the belief that it retains nutrients and flavors that may be lost through transport and carries a far smaller carbon footprint.

But local food of this purity can be near-impossible to achieve in a world of long, complex supply lines and dependence on fossil fuels.

The small cheesery says it has overcome these concerns.

Nestled at the bottom of a rock formation named after Mount Ararat, Noah’s Cheese runs entirely on solar energy and sources its raw materials from surrounding land.

Marietjie Crowther works with a wooden stick the preparation for a ‘pasta filante’ cheese in Clarens, South Africa. (AFP)

The mozzarella is smoked with wood from a neighboring apple farm. Condiments are made with fruit pulp left over from nearby gin breweries.

That unusual setup helped the firm survive the crushing impact of coronavirus.

“We didn’t have a fixed cost on electricity,” said Danie. “We are not reliant on (imported) produce ... It is here, it is local.”

Noah’s Cheese is a member of the Slow Food movement, which originated in Italy during the 1980s to protect local food cultures and traditions.

The short supply chains and small-scale nature of Slow Food production has seen new interest from consumers concerned about food provision during lockdown.

“They realized when this COVID hit that they were stuck in the city, where there is no way you can produce food for yourself,” said Marietjie.

“People suddenly became more aware that we must use what is in our area,” Danie added. “Even those who do not necessarily know about the Slow Food movement.”

For Noah’s Cheese, the challenge will be to tap into that budding market.

The Crowthers relied heavily on festivals to sell their products and seek business partners — all of which have been canceled for the rest of the year.

Clarens has missed the bulk of its tourist season, which peaks over Easter, and travel between provinces remains banned.

“I would say more than two-thirds of our market was lost overnight,” said Danie. “So it’s a difficult thing to adapt to.”

The couple have worked hard to find new delis and are currently negotiating shelf space with a local supermarket chain.

They also have high hopes in the launch of an online shop next week that will deliver cheese directly to customers stuck at home.

South Africa has a growing market of foodies seeking more sophisticated flavors than factory-made feta and gouda.

Artisanal cheeseries have entered the scene to meet this demand, adapting classic techniques from France and Italy to local ingredients.

“The taste for cheese in South Africa is ... still at a very early stage,” said Danie.

“We are young industries,” he added. “But we make exceptional cheeses.”

Singapore Airlines drops ‘flights to nowhere’ after outcry

Updated 1 min 42 sec ago

Singapore Airlines drops ‘flights to nowhere’ after outcry

  • Several carriers have been offering short flights that start and end at the same airport to raise cash
SINGAPORE: Singapore Airlines said Tuesday it had scrapped plans for “flights to nowhere” aimed at boosting its coronavirus-hit finances after an outcry over the environmental impact.
With the aviation industry in deep crisis, several carriers – including in Australia, Japan and Taiwan – have been offering short flights that start and end at the same airport to raise cash.
They are designed for travel-starved people keen to fly at a time of virus-related restrictions, and have proved surprisingly popular.
But Singapore’s flag carrier – which has grounded nearly all its planes and cut thousands of jobs – said it had ditched the idea following a review.
The carrier has come up with alternative ideas to raise revenue, including offering customers tours of aircraft and offering them the chance to dine inside an Airbus A380, the world’s biggest commercial airliner.
Environmental activists had voiced opposition to Singapore Airlines launching “flights to nowhere,” with group SG Climate Rally saying they would encourage “carbon-intensive travel for no good reason.”
“We believe air travel has always caused environmental harm, and it is now an opportune moment for us to think seriously about transitions instead of yearning to return to a destructive status quo.”
The airline said earlier this month it was cutting about 4,300 jobs, or 20 percent of its workforce, the latest carrier to make massive layoffs.
The International Air Transport Association estimates that airlines operating in the Asia-Pacific region stand to lose a combined $27.8 billion this year.
The group also forecasts that global air traffic is unlikely to return to pre-coronavirus levels until at least 2024.