13 May 2016

Artisan cheese maker Christo Swanepoel has won the coveted Best Overall Food Product at the recent Balmoral Show, the biggest agri-food event in Ireland. Originally from Pretoria in South Africa, Swanepoel, who runs the City Cheese Company in Millisle, county Down, gained the award from promotion body Food NI for his Young Culmore, a semi-hard organic cheese made from raw milk sourced from an organic farm in county Derry.

Christo Swnepoel

Swanepoel, commenting on the top award at the show, says: “This is marvellous recognition from the industry for my work to create a portfolio of original cheeses which I hope to export. I’ve already had serious approaches from retailers in the Republic of Ireland and even The Netherlands for my cheeses. “I launched the products to meet a gap in the market for Dutch-style artisan cheeses and have been immensely encouraged by feedback from consumers and retailers. This award encourages me to push ahead with plans to boost sales of existing cheeses and to create new ones,” he adds.

A gourmet chef, Swanepoel has been based in Northern Ireland for over five years. He’s launched three quite different cheeses under the overall identity of his business, City Cheese. All the cheeses reflect the influence of the Dutch who contributed greatly to the food business in South Africa. They are based on research over the past two years into cheese production and market opportunities for artisan products. The cheeses are the award winning Young Culmore, a traditional Dutch Gouda style creamy cheese that’s named after the Derry dairy farm which supplies his organic raw milk; Angelique, a Parmesan style cheese that he’s named after his wife; and Pitjes klaas, a rich, nutty and creamy taste of South Africa that uses cumin seeds for a distinctive nutty flavour. “The artisan sector is tremendously exciting in Northern Ireland,” he says.

“There are some wonderful producers with great passion for premium and innovative food and drink. I’ve seen the sector develop rapidly over the past five years, and I am delighted to be a part of it and to work alongside so many creative people at farmers’ markets around the country. The ingredients, especially milk, that are readily available here are superb, wholesome, healthy and safe,” he adds. “Many people really don’t fully appreciate the quality and variety of food and drink that’s now on offer in Northern Ireland. “I started making samples of different styles of cheese for friends to taste. The feedback was immensely positive,” he says.

“Cheese-making is an important and developing sector in both South Africa and Holland, and I grew up enjoying cheese there. There’s also been a major transformation in artisan cheese in South Africa in recent years.” The decision to use raw milk was influenced by his conviction that it offers a much richer flavour. “To me, raw milk cheeses are more delicious and contain natural enzymes that infuse cheese with natural, deeper and exciting flavours. “My supplier understands milk and runs a dairy unit to the highest hygiene standards using robotic milking machines. His organic milk is wholesome, healthy and safe,” he explains. “And it helps me to create unique cheeses with outstanding taste.”