Mark your calendar this season for the annual South African Cheese Festival on April 27-29 in Sandringham, Stellenbosch in Western Cape. For three days, the laid back town of Stellenbosch becomes bustling with cheese and wine lovers who travel to the region from around the world.
There’s a reason Stellenbosch was chosen as the location for the cheeseheads to gather and share their love of the dairy treat. Anyone that is familiar with the area will know that the city is in the heart of the winelands with rows of vineyards tucked in the foothills of mountains. Because of Western Cape’s incredible weather, wineries and farms prosper. And this of course, includes professional cheese mongers who rely on the land for their dairy cows and livestock to thrive. The festival continues to wow and draw visitors annually because of its indoor and outdoor location where foodies can browse through hundreds (and we mean hundreds) of gourmet food and drink vendors in white tents while admiring the mountains in the background.
In addition to the cheese makers showing off their best recipes, dozens of South African wineries and other food vendors with high end culinary chefs participate in the event. Once you’ve arrived to the event, look for the large indoor arena, that’s the Cheese Emporium, the true star of the festival. Visitors will come across rows of cheese vendors giving away samples of boutique cheese pieces with toothpicks for them to taste and pick out their favorites. All cheeses are hand-made and created with a unique recipe. Keep walking and you’ll come across the Cape Made exhibit, where you can continue your tasting of non-cheese items made in the region like olives, roasted nuts, honey, mushrooms, herbs, bread, figs, tea and more.
You can meet the professional cheese masters and their livestock at Carnival Park where prize-winning dairy cows, goats and sheep are brought in from the farms so foodies can get a glimpse of the animals that brought them the very same cheese they’re eating. For families who are toting around their little ones, you’re in luck. This is a kid-friendly event with a designated Kiddies Corner at Carnival Park where there are various supervised activities and games set up to keep them entertained for hours while parents sip on some vino to pair with their Camembert. Teenagers have their own areas in the Teenzone at Dairy Square where they can enjoy their treats in a safe, non-drinking atmosphere.
Don’t feel like the only thing there to do at the festival is to walk around and sample cheese. There are many scheduled shows and competitions that are well worth attending such as The Ladismith Cheese Carving Competition that’s held daily at Blossom’s Gazebo. You thought ice carving was impressive? Wait until you see what gorgeous art can be made from a simple block of cheese from talented artists. A cooking show is also held at the event where celebrity chefs spill their knowledge of working in the kitchen and share their own recipes. Among the celebrity chefs that are expected to make their appearances this year are Jenny Morris of The Giggling Gourmet, Kamini Pather of MasterChef, Leon the Milkman, and Pete Goffe-Wood — who earned the name as the Food Alchemist.
In the midst of the white tents outdoors, the Stellenbosch Vineyards Music Gazebo is a large stage where talented South African musicians belt out their best tunes. Concerts are thrown throughout all three days and local musicians like Kurt Darren, Nic Stevens, and Absolutely Fabulous will grace the stage with their music. Foodies enjoy taking breaks from cheese sampling to head outside, enjoy the fresh air and listen to fantastic music.
For those who wish to take their festivities up a notch, sign up for the Connoisseur’s Experience, an exclusive event at the festival where only 100 people are permitted each day (you’ll have to buy your ticket in advance for R850). The package includes VIP parking and entrance, a complimentary bottle during admission, a complimentary tasting glass, a cheeseboard near the music gazebo, VIP restrooms and lockers, and private sessions with the celebrity chefs.
Keep in mind, there are no tickets to purchase at the gates, you’ll have to buy your tickets beforehand online at Computicket. Don’t forget to share your experience online by using the hashtag #SACheeseFest. Looking for an extravagant place to stay during your visit? Stellenbosch is home to some amazing farm stays and boutique hotels like The Hydro, Coopmanhuijs Botique Hotel & Spa, Asara Wine Estate & Hotel, and many more. Or consider some of Cape Town’s most stylish hotels.
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