My wife drew my attention to this fascinating story which appeared on the BBC news website a few weeks ago. It is the unlikely story of a man in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who makes fine cheese. It is a legacy of the country’s days under colonial Belgian rule.
Andre Ndekezi’s farm is in Masisi, a village in a hilly region in the East of the DRC, near the borders with Rwanda and Uganda. Although we in Europe and North America tend to think of Africa as all dry scorched land and droughts, this part of DRC has lush green hills and plentiful rainfall, ideal for dairy cattle and for producing cheese.
Ndekezi was taught to make cheese by Belgian monks in the early 1970s, and is one of the few cheese producers in Africa. I remember in the 1980s the London Government introducing milk quotas to farmers in England and Wales, which effectively limited how much milk each farm could produce. Where I grew up in West Wales, a number of the dairy farmers started using their excess milk production to make cheese, and quite a number of nice cheeses from West Wales can now be bought in markets and even supermarkets in Wales (and maybe outside of Wales?).
I am a big fan of cheese of all types, although I vividly remember the first time I tried a cheese that was not the traditional “Cheddar” or “Red Leicester” or “Caerffili” so beloved by people in the Disunited Kingdom. I was 19 at the time, and was offered some French brie for the very first time. It was pretty mature, and completely different to any cheese I had tasted before – I didn’t like it at all! It took me several more tries of brie before I acquired a taste for it, and now I regularly eat brie, camembert and other soft French cheeses. I hope one day to get the opportunity to travel to this part of Africa to try for myself this unusual product of the DRC!