Chaneë wins ‘big cheese’ award at championships

If you want the best fresh, soft or semi-soft cheese in South Africa you don’t have to go far: Capri resident Chaneë Wallace has just been granted this accolade at the South African Dairy Championships.

Chaneë’s Caramella – cream cheese ball with crushed garlic in virgin olive oil – was judged the winner. “I never thought I would be able to make an award-winning cheese out of my kitchen,” she said about the competition that had 895 products entered from 85 producers, including the big hitters such as Fairview, Parmalat and Clover.

During the Agri-Expo Qualité Awards dinner at GrandWest, on April 27, Chaneë watched the names of the winners as they were revealed, letter by letter on the big screen.

Then she saw the name of her cheese business, Chaneë’s Clere-Lapree, slowly spelt out on the screen.

“My fingers were trembling,” she said, still shaking as she recalled the event. “Oh Lord, I almost passed out. I couldn’t stop hugging the guy giving out the prizes. It’s breathtaking – I’m still overcoming the shock of it.”

Chaneë said she was having a conversation with the Fairview cheesemaker beforehand, asking, what it feels like to win. Would it change my life? Yes, he replied, your life will be different, it will be just another step forward in your cheese future because you have to start small.

“Cheesemakers are such humble people – you feel that warmth, that happiness, that joy from them. They don’t push you away,” she enthused.

“My life has changed,” she said reflectively, “because I was very hard on myself. Even though I make delicious cheese, I always push myself harder, I think that I am not good enough. Now I realise that my cheese has potential.”

The cheeses might be made out of Chaneë’s (spotless) kitchen, but from here she produces enough cheeses to sell at three outlets.

She uses 320 litres of cow’s milk a week from the Docke’s Noordhoek farm and 90 litres of goat’s milk from Anysbos cheesemaker Johan Heyn’s Toggenberg goats in the Bot River Valley to make her wide range of soft, semi-soft, hard and matured cheeses. Next step is the specially built rooms on her property to be used as a cheese dairy.

“I can’t wait to move,” she exclaimed.

Chaneë has come a long way from the passionate young cheesemaker first interviewed in the Echo in 2005 (Chaneë shares consuming passion for cheesemaking”, Echo, June 9 2005).

It was after matriculating from Ocean View Senior Secondary that she went door to door in Fish Hoek, looking for a job, and was given a chance by Carol Berry, then a cheesemaker at Imhoff Farm who also had a business in Fish Hoek.

At the time, she was living with her grandparents who had raised her. Fittingly, one of her prize-winning cheeses, Saint Mouton, the third-prize in that same category, used vine leaves from her grandfather’s Ocean View garden: white mould-ripened cow’s milk cheese wrapped in brandy-soaked vine leaves. A rare cheese, she explains with a broad smile, depending on when the leaves are available.

It was because of Kobus Mulder, dairy expert and international judge, who was also judging at cheese championships, that Chaneë entered.

The reason is that when she was applying – successfully – in 2008 to be sent to Burgundy, France, by the provincial government to learn about cheese, she did an enormous amount of research on the internet so that she didn’t seem clueless. Mr Mulder, who vetted the applicants, cautioned that there was still a lot to learn.

“I thought that entering would show him that Chaneë is not sitting around, doing nothing.”

Chaneë’s loyal customers would attest that she is indeed not sitting around doing nothing.

“The support they give me. They come in the rain at Rodgers (Fruiterers on Kommetjie Main Road).

“I just arrive and they are already waiting for me. What more do I want? I am living my dream.”

It’s her customers she thinks of when making her cheeses, and in an intensely personal way, thinking whose favourite cheeses she is busy making, even naming a cheese after one of her customers “with her friendly, beautiful smile”.

“I give them the ultimate cheese experience. I always make them feel welcome. I have valued customer awards to say thank you to them,” she said, rushing to show the selection of cheese knives, wine and cheeses, that form the awards. “My business would be nothing without them. My customers are my responsibility.”

Chaneë works diligently at her cheeses every day. “For me, consistency is key,” she emphasised.

She sells her cheese at Rodgers Fruiterers on Wednesdays, as well as at the fortnightly Just Nuisance markets in Jubilee Square in Simon’s Town on Saturdays and the Longbeach Mall markets on alternate Fridays.

“I don’t go out much. When I am out selling cheeses, that’s when I am socialising,” she said.

Chaneë said customers ask why she doesn’t sell her cheese to delis, but she can’t.

She needs to know who her cheeses are going to, that they are going to good homes, that they will know how to look after her cheeses so lovingly made.

From novice cheesemaker to national prize-winner, there is no doubt that Chaneë means it when she says: “Cheese is my life.”