Diary of a dairy farm: Beatrix Dairy

We first discovered the cheeses of Beatrix Dairy at Culture Club Cheese for our article on cheese and wine pairing, Where There’s Whey, There’s Wine.

High up in the  Eastern Free State's Witteberge Mountains journalist turned farmer and cheese-maker Barry Sergeant makes cheese from a herd of free-range goats.

The cheeses he specialises in are natural-rind cheeses, bloomy rinds (such as buche), washed-rind (chevrotin), and tomme.

What does a day in the life of Barry Sergeant look like?
Up at 06h00; attend to the dogs and falcon. Prepare for work at the dairy, where milking is underway.

Be at the dairy by 07h00; start with an individual inspection and greeting of each and every animal. Check for any signs that may require attention.

Move to the milking parlour, and into the dairy. The next few hours – often up to midday – are spent dealing with cheese-making.
This comprises a very long list of activities.
Daily attention is paid to cleanliness and sanitation.
We only use piping-fresh milk, which is moved within minutes into the cheese-making area.
We never store milk, meaning that the operations work seven days a week, every day of the year.
Around 17h00, when the animals come in from the free-range, they are once again greeted and inspected individually.
When there are kids, extra attention is given to the mothers and kids. Various natural supplements may be used to boost the condition of the animals.

How did you go from journalist to goat farmer and cheese maker?
I was born and raised on farms in Zambia and Botswana and always considered farming my first prize, but I was distracted by all kinds of other things . . . for a while, anyway!

We hear you're involved with bees too; can you elaborate?
I have been involved in bee-keeping for many years, mainly with Lardus Erasmus, who is a practical and academic expert (and based in Potchefstroom).

Can you explain the term 'wild cheese making?'
Cheese has been traced back more than 10,000 years. At Beatrix, we try to follow the ancient paths, allowing modern interventions only where unavoidable (refrigeration is a good example).

What is your personal favourite cheese in your range?
The chevrotin.

In your opinion, what separates SA and French cheese-making at an artisanal level?
In France, such cheeses emphasise the entire value chain, from free-ranging animals, to uncooked milk, to natural cheese-making. In SA, there is an over-reliance on modern interventions, such as concentrated farming (especially of milk-goats), cooking of milk, generous use of additives, artificial rinds, and so on. After more than 10,000 years of making cheese, where should we be?

Things to love about living on a farm and the Eastern Free State in general?
Beatrix farm is located in a beautiful but inhospitable place. The weather can be very demanding, and conditions are never easy. But the challenges are always inspiring, and keep us on our toes and hooves!

Experience these cheeses from www.organicemporium.co.za in Joburg; or Culture Club Cheese in Cape Town.