Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Dairy

“Right near your house there is a Greek woman who makes haloumi. Just round that corner and look for the black gate. Tell her I sent you.”

“The wife of my Japanese mechanic sells the tofu she makes at home – let me know if you want to buy a block.”

An endearing feature of life in Harare is the vast number of unmarked, unpublicized businesses that you hear about by word of mouth. Restaurants that only open for small groups on pre-arranged days; immigrants and expatriates that sell homemade, traditional foods, straight from their kitchens; talented artists who market sculptures from hidden backyard galleries framed by rows of maize.

One day, more than a year ago, two friends told me they knew a couple who drove twenty minutes outside of town to buy milk and cheese from a dairy farm, that the farm was impossible to find unless you followed someone, AND that it was only open for one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon. The couple with the insider knowledge was making a trip later in the day.

Did we want to go? Of course we did.

And so Mark and I became acquainted with what we now simply call “The Dairy.” The Dairy is run by an unintentionally charismatic mother-and-son team (let’s call them Shirley and Frank), and the reason it is open for only two hours a day is that these are the hours when the cows are milked. The milk travels from udder to pail to your container. It is still warm. And rich. And creamy. Like a concentrated version of store-bought milk.

In addition to milk, The Dairy also sells goat and cow feta, a dense and creamy soft goat cheese, and a cottage cheese speckled with chives or fresh thyme. This cottage cheese is what I would call cream cheese, although Frank says I am wrong. Cottage versus cream is not the only linguistic debate I have with Frank, who also contests my pronunciation of gouda. I say goo-da, he says gow-da. “Is the goo-da ready yet?” I ask. “I don’t make goo-da, I make gow-da,” Frank replies.

Speaking of The Dairy’s gouda…oh, how wonderful it is. Shaped like an oversized hockey puck, wrapped in wax and, inside, smooth with just a tinge of sharpness that unravels as it hits your tongue. The gouda is rarely available and, when in stock, is stored out of sight. You need to know to ask for it. To secure a wheel, you also must demonstrate respect and love for cheese. Frank tells the story of a woman who wanted to buy two wheels of gouda, one to eat now and the other to freeze for future consumption. He refused to sell her any cheese because she had considered desecrating the cheese by freezing it.

Today the gouda was tantalizingly close to me – Frank retrieved two wheels from his hiding place just so we could take a photo. He said the cheese tastes good now, but is too mild – it would be ready for sale in two weeks. I had an idea – couldn’t I just buy a wheel today and keep it in my fridge for two weeks? No, Frank said, he knew how much I liked the cheese and didn’t trust me – I would surely eat it early. The Dairy drives a tough bargain.

A few months ago, we heard The Dairy might be taken over as a result of the government’s ongoing land reform program. I can’t say we were shocked, but we were immensely saddened – sad for the family, the farm workers, the animals, and, quite selfishly, ourselves. No more calming walk past the animal stalls with the farm dogs scrambling around our feet. No more debates over goo-da and gow-da. And the thought of having to buy the soggy, chewy, greasy supermarket products that pass as “cheese” was just unbearable. Luckily, The Dairy survived. We appreciate it even more.

This post is an entry in Food Destinations #5: Where Everybody Knows Your Name, hosted by From Our Kitchen. Food Destinations is a food blog event established by I Was Really Just Very Hungry.


Anita said...

After that I can only say how lucky you are, Carolyn, to have access to such a wonderful place!! If only I could find such a spot within an hour of Delhi!!
The cheese look absolutely divine. I do occasionally make mu own paneer, but good paneer, like all cheese, must start with good milk! That is hard to find in the supermarket.
Looks like my maid is right when she tells me you could mix equal parts of water into the milk from the village buffaloes and we city-folk wouldn't be able to tell!!

Alex said...

I've just heard the news on BBC Radio 4 about Morgan Tsvangirai being very badly beaten up in Harare during a public meeting on Sunday and earlier today mentioning the rampaging inflation - the highest in the world. I cannot imagine how people in Zimbabwe survive, they have had to undergo unimaginable horrors including near starvation in what was once Africa's breadbasket. How is anything going to change for the better there? Morgan Tsvangirai and others have so much courage, how can a man take all this?

Since you have started your blog, I have thought of you a lot, looking for clues to how you lead your daily life and being concerned for your welfare. Me, I can walk 40ft down the road and buy anything I want, when I want. I can say what I like about our Government. I can say what I like about our politicians. I look forward to the day when that can be done in Zimbabwe.

I will never be able to eat Gouda without thinking about Zimbabwe.

My very good wishes

Ruth said...

Carolyn - You are doing a fabulous job of keeping a positive light on some of the things that still happen here in Zim. Thanks. By the way, my mother in Norfolk, VA is now a regular reader and is thrilled with new recipes for some dishes she'll serve to State-side friends.

gillian said...

have been inexplicably "home" sick for southern africa this week...even with the terrible news coming out of wonderful to hear about the dairy again! you have inspired me to make a melk tart for a cubscout event tomorrow...have good batsiranai news from rome but cant seem to get though to zim this week...thank you again for your lovely snapshots of life there...

shadle said...

hope you and Mark are doing well. Duke bowed out of the tourney early this year, as you are most likely already aware. oh well.

we miss you in NC!

fernando Olmos G. said...

first time I see a blog from zambia. it's cool
check my blog at

Rahin said...

hey carolyn , what a beautiful blog , its a pleasure to read , i just started blogging since last few days n came across ur blog today , have to congratulate you , job well done gal :)

Maria said...

I too just came across your blog- marvelous! I grew up in Kenya (but am now in America- freezing). Reading your blog makes me so homesick and brought back so many wonderful memories. In Kenya we used to buy our cheese and other dairy products at a dairy similar to what you describe, there truly is nothing like dairy-fresh products! Thank you for sharing such a wonderful experience!

Carolyn said...

Anita - Ha! I love your maid's descriptions of "city" milk. I have never tried making cheese at home - I guess this is my chance with such good milk to use!

Alex - Thank you so much for your kind words and concern. I, too, certainly hope that things do change for the better here - and soon.

Shadle - Yes, I heard the Duke news - even being in Zim doesn't save me from gloating UNC fans! Hope to see you and Britta soon when we visit NC.

Ruth - I need to give you an award for most regular Harare-based commenter and blog promoter! Thank you so much.

Gillian - I hope your melktart was delicious. And sorry if I amplified your home-sickness!

Thanks, Fernando!

Rahin - Glad you enjoy my blog, and good luck with your new one! I just checked it out – looks great.

Maria - Oh no, another homesick reader! Glad I could help bring back some memories, though! Are there any Kenyan dishes you would recommend I try to make?

Natalia said...

I have never been to a dairy before. My milk and cheese always come from the grocery store, so I am very jealous that you can get yours fresh right from the source! Great entry!

denburgess said...

Hi, I am moving to Africa, can you give me some food [goat cheese advice]]]?]