The word ‘artisan’ is a common one these days. You’ll find it at any market and it has an inherently feel-good vibe because it refers to anything that’s been hand-made by a skilled craftsman.
Artisanal foods are produced in small batches, typically using traditional methods and high-quality, unprocessed ingredients produced in a clean ethical manner. And, as Bread & Wine Vineyard Restaurant’s chef Neil Jewell puts it, they use time: time to treat animals and the Earth with care, time to pay attention to detail. His salami, for example, takes a year to make and the farm from which he sources his pork allows the animals to grow for at least 16 months, as opposed to the 16 weeks demanded by local supermarkets, who have to keep up with the high demand for cheap meat (pumped full of growth hormones, because nature doesn’t work that way).
Unavoidably, artisanal food is pricier than anything mass-produced, which sometimes evokes the sense that it’s a marketing trend or a scam, especially when you feel the effects on your wallet. While a few may well exploit the term as such, the ethos of artisanal food is nevertheless to produce the best in delicious, wholesome dining.
The Franschhoek Artisan Food Route is one of the most enjoyable ways to find out what that means from people who are passionate about making and sourcing good food. The route includes a list of producers and an accompanying map so you can plan your education in taste and quality against the spectacular Franschhoek backdrop.
We started our day at La Motte’s wine estate: a gorgeous place to spend the morning, with its rose garden and Dutch architecture. A short tour took us past the manor house, the wine cellar (now renowned as an intimate concert hall), and the historic water mill, which is still in full operation, stone-grinding flour for some of La Motte’s breads. We were treated to a bread tasting that included the Ouma bread, fruity rye and mosbolletjies. The very best of them, however, was a grape focaccia in which the winey richness of Syrah grapes is complemented by salt and rosemary. In addition to tasting the breads with butter, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, try La Motte’s unique Shiraz butter.
From there we stepped over to Pierneef à La Motte for a decadent Winelands Tea: rich biltong and cream cheese profiteroles, creamy salmon blinis, raspberry and chocolate macaroons, white chocolate truffles, and triple chocolate brownies. I paired mine with some of the best tea I’ve ever tasted – crème caramel rooibos. And just because it was an indulgent day, we sipped on La Motte’s impeccable Straw Wine.
It was a sugar-loaded start, but it gave us the energy to knead our own freshly made dough with Tina Jewell at Môreson Farm, where you can take a bread-making course. While we waited for the dough to rise, we sat down to Neil’s moreish charcuterie board.
When we popped back into the bread room, big bowls of fresh herbs, garlic–parsley paste, creamy feta and bright sundried tomatoes had been set out for us to turn our dough into tasty herb flatbread and cheesy filled focaccia. When those went into the oven, it was over to the tasting room for Môreson’s Solitaire MCC.
Lunch was needfully light and nutritious: seared longfin tuna on kohlrabi puree with a fennel schnitzel and garlic and parsley foam. It left plenty of room for a quick but luscious dessert: a tray of dark chocolate truffles, grape jellies and nougat.
After collecting our breads, lovely and warm from the oven, we were off to Auberge Clermont olive grove, home of The Franschhoek Olive Oil Company. Owner Gordon Frazer’s tour explained the meaning of such terms as‘cold pressed’ and ‘extra virgin’ (which is only processed once), and what you should be able to smell and taste in good olive oil, as opposed to the heavily processed variety in which the impurities of low-quality fruit have been stripped out with chemical treatments. To taste olive oil, you cup the little cobalt-blue tasting glass in your palm to warm the oil and kindle its qualities before sniffing it. The grove’s oil has a robust, grassy nose. It slides smooth and fruity across the tongue, and causes an unexpected, pungent burn in the throat. High-grade olive oils such as this have a distinct character and flavour to add to food, unlike the refined olive oil (marketed as ‘light’) that we also tasted. It was almost odourless, tasted of cooking oil and had a horrible, greasy mouthfeel. The comparison served its purpose: I will diligently check the label before buying olive oil from now on, and never compromise with cheap, overprocessed oil.
We ended the day at La Cotte, a rustic, well-stocked cheese and wine shop in the middle of the town. The knowledgeable Lodine Maske (who owns the shop with her husband Ludwig) treated us to a detailed tasting of her range of imported French cheeses, telling us a bit about the region each one came from and how it was made, plus a few tips on buying, storing and eating cheese in general. The dates on these cheeses, for example, are not expiry dates but indicate when the cheeses are ripe enough to be eaten.
Despite the constant indulgence, the day was satisfying rather than overwhelming because we didn’t just consume, but took the time to slow down, listen, and appreciate what we were eating. The Franschhoek Artisan Food Route is all about enjoying the beauty of food in its simplicity, while learning about the ethics, hard work and attention to detail that goes into the creation of natural, top-quality cuisine. By the time the tastes hit your tongue, you know what good food means and you’ll enjoy it that much more.