I fell in love… with the cheese. That’s what happened. Period.
Well, let’s back-track a few years: you know that feeling you get when something’s missing and you’re not quite sure what it is? I had that feeling. For years, I was building a corporate career in banking IT, chasing the life I thought I was destined for with my computer science degree from Wits. But I wasn’t happy.
I took the leap and gave up the comfort and security of the corporate lifestyle. Realising that all my free-time was spent cooking and baking (and that my husband’s waistline could only take so much), I narrowed my focus and formalised my interest at the Prue Leith Chefs Academy. I nailed that Culinary Arts Diploma #cumlaude, had the best time, and made great friends!
A move to Cape Town led me into the kitchen of a family-owned osteria. When I wasn’t cooking, cleaning or schmoozing the patrons, I was seriously stuffing my face with fresh fior di latte and burrata. I could not (still cannot) get enough of the soft, silky, creamy cushions of the essence of milk. As much as I enjoyed cheffing (with all its back-breakingly hard labour, the cuts, burns, blisters and long hours), I was fascinated by the transformation of natural ingredients.
My crew from the academy (the Gladiators as we unashamedly call ourselves) reunited to (leave our husbands behind, go on a girls’ trip, and) learn the art and science of cheese-making at Grootplaas Cheese Academy. It was all work and all play, and the bug had taken hold of me and would not let go.
By the time we left Cape Town to return to Joburg, I had hunted down the Italian cheese-maker who supplied my most-loved cheeses to the osteria, spent valuable time in his factory and Curds and Whey was becoming a reality.
A trip to Italy was the obvious next step. My long-suffering husband, Stephen Ngqwebo, and I trained under John Nocita, President of the Italian Culinary Institute, and the maestro casaro Salvatore Postella, in the most idyllic setting in Calabria. The experience of the Italian food culture, its simplicity and the intimate relationship the producers have with the food, was such an inspiration.
We might have aced the training, but the next few months back home were the real test: our small apartment kitchen could barely contain all our stuff on a normal day; add gas burners, massive pots, giant utensils, a fridge full of milk, whey, curd and cheese samples…. we could barely get in through the door, much less cook a balanced meal. Long nights and all our weekends were spent perfecting our cheese using local ingredients.
We moved to a factory at the Riversands Industrial Park which is now home to our production facility.
We can’t wait for all of Jozi and the rest of the country to sink its teeth into our Italian-styled cheeses and all the wonderful creations we have in store.