The SA Cheese Festival is not only about cheese (there’s a lot of it!) but there’s all sorts of other great stuff to discover and enjoy too. Here are my 15 favourite finds, along with some practical advice on what to expect. 

I had never been to the SA Cheese Festival (gasp!), mostly because I had heard that things can get quite chaotic with long queues for tastings, finding parking was no fun and let’s not get started on the students hogging the cheese tastings!   So when I got the chance to go this year (albeit on a media pass) I was quite excited to see what this popular festival was about. Turns out it was loads of fun and much more than I expected. The SA Cheese Festival is not only about cheese (there’s a lot of it!) but there’s all sorts of other great stuff to discover and enjoy too. Here are my 15 favourite finds, along with some practical advice on what to expect.  

1. Arrive early 
The gates open at 10h00. You should aim to get there for 10h00! The queues do get long so the earlier you are, the better chance you have of tasting all the cheeses and wines on offer before the masses arrive later in the day.  

2. Take your wellies 
This year we had some rain (which us Capetonians are not complaining about) which meant that things got fairly muddy. The festival organisers made every effort to put down plenty of sheeting, but there were a lot of muddy patches. Take along your wellington boots and then you can slosh about with gay abandon – especially after a few glasses of wine!

3. There’s plenty of wine (which goes well with cheese) 
There is no shortage of wine at the SA Cheese Festival! The best part was finding new wines that I had never heard of before, like wines from the West Coast. I have to admit that the Road Trip Pinotage from Vintales completely stole my heart – possibly because I love roadtripping as much as Pinotage! I also found out about a wine route that I knew little about – the Olifants River River Wine Route, which I will be exploring soon! Note: You need to buy a wine glass for tastings at the entrance.  

4. Beer and cheese pairings 
Now this is something I had never thought of!  Wine usually steals the limelight when it comes to cheese pairings, but it turns out you can pair beer and cheese too. To learn more about which cheese goes with which beer, then make sure you don’t miss the Beer and Cheese Pairing in the Standard Bank Tasting Room (16h30 daily) where you get you scoff a block of Langbaken Karoo Cheese with a tasting of Newlands Spring Brewing Co craft beers. The pairing is free, so get in early to get a seat!

5. Become a wine tasting connoisseur
In the Cheese Emporium you’ll find The Cape Wine Academy stand with all the information you need about their educational wine courses. You can do a South African Wine Course, taste wines of the world from Australia to France, learn more about winemaking practices, along with wine and food workshops.  These fun and informative courses are really affordable and a great way to learn more about the world of wine.

6. Drink water 
With all that wine, you need to keep hydrated! Bluewater will fill your water bottle for free and they even have sparkling water at a press of a button.  You’ll find their water station just outside the Cheese Emporium. 

7. My Kitchen for budget meals 
My Kitchen is a recipe magazine that specialises in money-saving meals for every day.  I met them at the festival and I love their magazine! In fact, it could become a new favourite. I may not have known about them, but My Kitchen have been around for a while, so look out for their latest issue at your local Pick n’ Pay store. It’s very affordable at under R30 per issue, so you are already saving money!

8. Try mushroom growing 
Growing mushrooms is easier than you think and with a box of grow-your-own Espresso Oyster Mushrooms from Funki Fungi, you’ll be well on your way to harvesting your own Oyster mushrooms in no time (did you know that oyster mushrooms are believed to improve kidney and liver function as well as assisting with gastro-intestinal problems?) These guys were also selling all types of mushrooms as well has having handy information packs and mushroom recipe ideas. You’ll find Funki Fungi in Cape Made: Taste the Alternatives section of the festival.

9. Rabbit stew anyone?
Some people may not like this idea, but if you eat beef or lamb, then there is no reason why you should turn your nose up at rabbit meat! Still not convinced? Coniglio Rabbit Meat Farm may change your mind when you taste their rabbit stew! It’s delicious (and like many things, tastes like chicken!) and you may find yourself buying a pack of rabbit fillets. They may be local, but you will only be able buy their products at the festival as they can’t keep up with overseas demand. You’ll find them in the Cheese Emporium.

10. Discover artisan cheeses
Everyone knows the big names in cheese, but did you know about Kingwill Cheese who hail from Riversonderend that have 18 different cheddars, or Langbaken Karoo Cheese from Willisden who get their cheese from 10 happy Jersey cows? Or how about some cute mozzarella balls from Puglia Cheese? The SA Cheese Festival is the perfect place to get to know the newcomers and show them some love. You’ll find their cheeses are utterly delicious and super affordable too!

11. Try your hand at cheese carving 
At Blossom’s Gazebo you can carve out a block of Ladismith Cheese and win some great prizes, including Ladismith cheese hampers, and hampers of Willow Creek products. It doesn’t cost a cent to enter the competition, but best get there early to grab a seat (they are limited) and your block of cheese. The competition runs daily from 14h00.

12. Get cooking with inspiring recipe cards 
There are a number of stands with free recipe cards and booklets, so if you love cooking, then make sure you grab a few to take home.  My personal favourites were the mussel recipes from Blue Ocean Mussels (Cape Made: Taste the Alternatives section), Ladismith Cheese recipes (think Cheddar Whiskey Fondue!) and the avocado recipe booklet from Westfalia Fruit – both of these stands can be found in Cheese Emporium. By the way, Westfalia Fruit had the BEST bargain on their Avocado Oils – R30 for a bottle! Or R100 for the four. I now have a delicious bottle of garlic avocado oil in my grocery cupboard that will be used soon when I try out one of their recipes!

13. Affordable cheese boards and more 
Of course there would be loads of cheese on offer at a festival celebrating cheese, but what’s really nice is that there are so many affordable options. I loved my Friendly Cheeseboard from President Cheese for R80 which was more than enough for two. You’ll find them in the President Cheese Pop Up Shop.  Other than cheese boards, you are spoilt for choice with rotis, samosas, breads, oysters, fish and chips, gourmet pies and more. From R10 to R50 to R100, you’ll definitely find something to eat within your budget. In fact we worked out that you could get a roti and a bottle of wine for just under R100 – bargain!

14. Don’t forget your mother 
Mother’s Day is just around the corner (May) and you are bound to find all sorts of things that she would love, especially if she likes to cook!  There are condiments, cooking gadgets (I loved the fold-up knives), hemp oils,  creams, seeds and of course wine.  Pronto Mama have made it really easy for you with their Mother’s Day gift pack for R120, which includes a jar of their really delicious slow-roasted tomatoes, a salad splash and a board. 

15. Grow your own food 
I am a huge advocate of growing your own food. No matter the size of your garden or balcony, you can still grow something! In the Cape Made: Taste the Alternatives section you’ll find a charming little stand that will make you want to grow your own Indian garden, sprouts and multi-coloured corn. Super Sprout makes it really easy for you too – just buy one of their seed slabs, pop it into an ice-cream container with some soil and watch it grow!

There really is so much to see, do and taste at this festival, it’s impossible to list them all. This is merely some of my favourite finds. Next year I may have to take my own advice and arrive when the gates open!  

Inside information: 
The best days to go are the first or last days, as the Saturday gets really busy. In fact, this year the Saturday tickets had sold out. The queues for cheese tasting and wine can be long, so you want to go on a less busy day.

Published April 2018 | Sponsored media ticket