By Winifred Bowman
Franschhoek has established itself firmly as South Africa’s Culinary Capital. It combines great food and wine with a small village atmosphere. When we head that way, it is always with a sense of excitement. There are always excellent wines and great food on offer. Will it be bubbly with the local smoked salmon trout on a thickly spread cream cheese bagel from THE SALMON BAR? Or Cape Bokkom salad from PIERNEEF LA MOTTE? How about freshly baked bread and charcuterie fromBREAD AND WINE? The choice is vast, and always exciting.
Franschhoek’s newest addition is its recently launched Artisan Food Route. This new scheme gives you the opportunity to treat your taste buds to some of the finest olives, cheeses, charcuterie and artisanal breads our country has to offer.
‘Artisanal’ is a newish buzzword. What with all the markets that have popped up over the last couple of years—sometimes in the most unlikely places—you’ve probably already had a tasty artisanal experience of your own. What I love about these markets is that it makes it possible for us, as consumers, to interact with producers and really get to know where our food comes from and how it’s made.
Artisanal sausages and cured meats are most likely produced from animals raised compassionately and organically; artisanal cheeses from hand-milked, free range cows; artisanal jams and preserves from fruit and vegetables grown on small farms without pesticides. The foods are made in small quantities and traditionally adhere to time-honoured methods and recipes, and they invariably contain high-quality and unprocessed ingredients. They fit in with the slow and local food movements, and are usually produced in a sustainable manner. Drew Warner, co-founder of JUST GOOD CHOCOLATE, says: “Artisan food is unique. It’s defined by the fact that nothing else on earth exists that is exactly the same. Artisan food is created with love, with attention to detail, and not mass produced on factory lines with only quantity in mind rather than quality.”
Artisan producers understand and respect their raw materials. They know where these materials come from and what is specifically good about them. They have mastered the craft of their production and have a historical, experiential, intuitive and scientific understanding of what makes their food sought-after. In addition, sensitivity to the impact of their production on people and the environment play a major role in their production philosophy. So it is all about provenance, artisanal skills, sustainability, seasonality and local sourcing of ingredients.
When you stop in for a visit you find passionate producers on hand to explain their processes and ingredients. We didn’t have time to pop in at all the interesting spots—my waistline thanks me for that—but we did stop in to sample and buy some cheeses at DALEWOOD FROMAGE, that is, after we waited for the cows to cross the road for their afternoon milking session. We also made sure we tried the Porcini mushroom biltong from BABYLONSTOREN, which came highly recommended, and I must say, as a carnivore, I could hardly taste the difference. Across the road at the colourfully painted JAM JAR there are lots of tasty goodies to sample. The tiny kitchen is filled with pots, sugar, fresh fruit and thermometers, and it’s adjacent to the sales area—so zero carbon footprint here.
Franschhoek has a lot more to offer than just artisanal products, though. It’s home to several of South Africa’s ‘Top 100’ restaurants—establishments that have won top local and international culinary awards—so you can be sure of enjoying a memorable dining experience. One firm favourite in the valley, in terms of pairing wine and food, is HAUTE CABRIÈRE. In order to make best use of the freshest local ingredients, their a la carte menu changes almost on a daily basis. In line with their concept of creating the “true marriage of food and wine”, there is a carefully selected wine-pairing suggestion with each dish. And if you like your portions small, you’re in luck, because they serve everything as both full and half portions.
The valley doesn’t lack taste in the area of accommodation either. Establishments range from boutique hotels to guesthouses and comfy bed-and-breakfasts. One such luxury boutique hotel worth mentioning is VAL D’OR ESTATE GUESTHOUSE. It’s a great stop for a family reunion or wedding party, with spacious guesthouses and self-catering units.
In the words of Franschhoek Wine Valley CEO Jenny Prinsloo: “We are extremely proud of our members, who strive to keep Franschhoek the preferred culinary and wine destination for local and foreign tourists. Franschhoek is priceless!”
Who’s Who Along the Food Route
- African Chocolate Dreams for exquisite handmade chocolates: Tel. 021-876-4599.
- Allée Bleue Estate for olives, olive oils, fresh herbs and delicious pesto: Tel. 021-874-1021.
- Babylonstoren is home to a well-known fruit and vegetable garden. A deli and farm shop enable you to stock upon fresh produce, baked breads, charcuterie, cheeses and preserves: Tel. 021-863-3852.
- Bread & Wine, renowned locally and internationally for some of the country’s finest charcuterie and breads: Tel. 021-876-4004.
- Café BonBon for olives, breads and preserves: Tel. 021-876-3936.
- Dalewood Fromage , award-winning artisanal cheese producer: Tel. 021-874-5725.
- Dutch East is all about coffee, freshly roasted and ground: Tel. 021-876-3547.
- Franschhoek Medicinal Herb Garden produces fresh medicinal herbs, which are fast becoming a trend for use as an alternative form of medicine: Tel. 072-469-2240.
- Gooding’s Groves produces tasty olives and olive oil: Tel. 021-876-2158.
- Huguenot Fine Chocolates produces some of the best handmade Belgian chocolate in the country: Tel. 021-876-4096.
- The Jam Jar, a true gem, producing superb jams, preserved lemon and fruit cordial: Tel. 021-874-1637.
- La Bourgogne , a popular stopover for olives and various styles of olive oil: Tel. 021-876-3245.
- La Cotte Inn (Fromages de France), importers of fine French artisan cheese: Tel. 021-876-3775.
- La Motte Wine Estate is home to a historic water mill which is still operational, producing stone-ground flour, used in some of the estate’s delicious homemade breads: Tel. 021-876-8000.
- Maison offers delicious chorizo, pickled Shiitake mushrooms, preserves, olives, prosciutto and homemade bread:Tel. 021-876-2116.
- Noble Hill, home to a beautiful chilli garden, olives and olive oil: Tel. 021-874-3844.
- The Really Interesting Food Company is the perfect stopover for delicious food gifts and imported ingredients:Tel. 021-876-3568.
- Sacred Ground for artisan breads, sandwiches, cakes and coffee: Tel. 021-876-2759.
- Salmon Bar has become well known throughout the Valley and afar for preparing beautifully fresh Franschhoek trout and salmon dishes: Tel. 021-876-4591.
- Solms-Delta is home to the Dik-Delta culinary gardens, which include indigenous produce: Tel. 021-874-3937.
A Top Destination—from Any Angle
Franschhoek hosts an array of festivals throughout the year. They include: the Franschhoek Outdoor Challenge, the South African Cheese Festival, the Franschhoek Literary Festival, Cook Franschhoek, Franschhoek Summer and Winter Wines, the Franschhoek Open Gardens Festival, the Franschhoek Bastille Festival, the Franschhoek Uncorked Festival and the Franschhoek Cap Classique & Champagne Festival.
Adding to its lustre, Franschhoek was recently awarded Travellers’ Choice Destination Award Winner 2012 on TripAdvisor in the category “Top 25 Destinations in Africa”. This award is presented to destinations based on popularity, taking into account travellers’ favourites and most highly rated places on the TripAdvisor website. With TripAdvisor branded sites making up the largest travel website in the world (in excess of 60 million unique monthly visitors, 36 million marketable members, and over 75 million reviews and opinions) this is no mean feat.
How It All Started
The Franschhoek valley was occupied in 1688 by French Huguenot refugees who brought with them their French wine-and-food culture. Most of the Huguenots who settled in the area were given land by the Dutch government in a valley called Olifantshoek (‘Elephant’s Corner’), named after the vast herds of elephants roaming the area at the time. Soon the name changed to Franschhoek, with many of the settlers naming their newly-acquired farms after their French origins: La Motte, La Cotte, Cabrière, Provence, Chamonix, Dieu Donné and La Dauphine among them.