The first little bits of cheese they made was an old fashion goat gouda now call Tanglewood. The cheese is made with a washed curd that gets scald when some of the whey is replaced with hot water. It’s this scalding that made it the fairly strong cheese and apparently not everyone up north loved its flavour.
“I actually had to make something a little milder,” she scoffs. “We actually called it the sissy cheese - but you can’t sell a cheese called sissy. Since it was for all the people in the Highveld we called it the Highvelder Classic, for all the highvelders who couldn’t cut it.”
A lot of their cheeses have imaginative names like this. There is the moldy activated charcoal ashed logs called Forest Phantom named after the heavy mist that rolls through the wattle forest on a cold day.
“It’s a little phantom that lives in the forest and comes out.”
And then there is the East African range; Serengeti, Amboseli, Colembe, Kampala and Kilimanjaro, covered in decoupage images of Maasai, sunsets and elephants from serviettes. These names are inspired from Belchers childhood.
Belcher was born in Zambia and would go on to live in Uganda and Kenya before living in Zimbabwe with her husband and her four children. They came down to South Africa in 1979, because Norman missed the country where he was born and they have been here ever since.
“Ten years ago I was fortunate to go back and it was so nice. I flew to Kampala, went to Jinja so I could dip my fingers in the Nile in lake Victoria. I was heartbreakingly beautiful.”
Now they have a small farm in Bapsfontein lined with the phantom’s wattle forest along with 13 workers, an old stately American bell tower, a few dogs, 240 goats and 25 East Friesian sheep.
It’s with those sheep that they made their Benedictus sheep’s cheese which took a super gold at last years World Cheese awards – only 4 SA cheeses have ever fallen in that category - and even snatched the trophy for South Africa’s best cheese from Parmalat. Not a stranger to awards their goat’s yogurt also took first and third place at the championships and they were awarded Farmer of the Year for Gauteng by the agricultural board. The also got a citation for what they add to the cheese industry from Slow Food Cape Town and a hero’s award from the Joburg Affiliate, of which they are a proud member.
“I don’t have mechanical stirrers, here’s my stirrer,” Belcher says and holds up her hand. “Everything is done by hand; we roll by hand and pack by hand. Even the presses are not mechanized. They are vintage and so are we.”
Rina and Norman are both 70, although you wouldn’t be able to tell from their hard work and feistiness. Belcher insists that the work and having the young people around keep her feeling young and although she thinks that men age faster than women, her and Norman continue to be equal and loving partners through it all.