They say life is what happens when you’re making other plans. This adage rings particularly true in the story of the Dimitriades family who own one of the most celebrated yoghurt and cheese factories in the Kwazulu-Natal Midlands. But their story did not start with Gourmet Greek. As with all the best stories, it started when a girl fell in love with a boy…and was whisked off to Greece.
In the early 1980s, a 21-year-old girl from Zululand was swept off her feet by a handsome and charming young man from Greece. Before she knew it, Rosemary found herself in Athens, married to Dimitri, with no cooking skills to speak of and the language? Well, it was Greek to her. One could almost hear the chorus chanting a certain doom, but this wasn’t about to turn into a Greek tragedy.
Four children later, Rosemary’s dolmades competed with the best of them and she could hold her own in her adopted Greek. But Dimitri had grown restless. “We’re going back to South Africa,” he announced one day with a certain fanfare and finality. Leaving their import-export business behind, they bought a sugar cane farm in Rosemary’s native province of Kwazulu-Natal.
“We knew nothing about sugar cane,” she reminisces, “but we made it work.” Not only that, they tripled production over the next decade, selling the farm in 2009 with a view of retiring. But barely three months into retirement came another of Dimitri’s prophetic announcements: “If we don’t find something to do you’re going to bury me!”
The next chapter of their lives brought them to Lions River, a tiny settlement of 970 souls in the heart of the Kwazulu-Natal Midlands where, it is said, the Queen Mother once brought the princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret, for tea on an inter-war tour of the Colony, where Gandhi was thrown off a train for attempting to ride first class, and where Nelson Mandela lived briefly in a house across from the station before he was captured.
“We were going to make Greek yoghurt,” says Rosemary, “because we missed it so much and it didn’t exist in the area. We didn’t know much about that either, except that we liked it. At one point, Dimitri said, ‘We need sheds,’ so we built sheds. No idea why.”
But once again, the Dimitriades family’s knack for turning inexperience into success saw them grow Gourmet Greek from a local yoghurt and feta outlet into one of the most beloved cheese factories in the Midlands.
The trick with Greek-style yoghurt is achieving its thick consistency, which is accomplished by straining out the whey from the yoghurt using nothing but gravity and a muslin cloth. True Greek-style yoghurt – even the low-fat kind – is never made using a thickening agent like sugar, starch, sweeteners or gelatin, and in general, 2.2 litres of milk is used to make 1 kg of yoghurt.
The Dimitriades family’s yoghurt is still a top seller, but through their daughter Filia’s passion for cheesemaking, they now produce nine exceptional cheeses, including black gold truffles, Boursin-type cheese, halloumi, brie and chie (a charcoal-infused brie), cheddar, cream cheese, feta, gouda, and pecorino.
To find out more about Gourmet Greek, or to pay them a visit, go to www.thegourmetgreek.com
Try everything once, I always say. As a chef, I find it so important to understand the ingredients I work with, so I found the process of making my own yoghurt really fascinating. A lot of people I know have never looked back after making their own yoghurt for the first time, and have never bought yoghurt again. But I have to say, with the sheer variety of top-quality yoghurts we get in France (and limited time on my hands) I’ve decided to leave yoghurt-making to the artisans! But if you’ve never made your own yoghurt, you have to try it. It’s an immensely satisfying experience. I found this recipe to be really simple and effective.
Makes about 1.9 litres
2 litres full cream milk
125 ml shop-bought yogurt (Greek style or Bulgarian yoghurt)
Pour the milk into a large saucepan. Warm the milk to right below boiling point at about 90°C.
Stir the milk as it heats up, ensuring it doesn’t scorch along the bottom of the saucepan. Also, don’t let the milk boil over.
Let the milk cool until it is just warm to the touch, about 40°C. Stir occasionally to prevent a skin from forming.
Scoop 250 ml of the warm milk into a bowl. Add the shop-bought yogurt and whisk until the mixture is smooth.
While whisking, pour this mixture into the warm milk. Switch the oven on, setting the dial to 50°C.
Cover the saucepan and place it in the oven.
Let it set for at least 4 hours or as long as overnight. Do not stir.
The longer the yoghurt simmers at 50°C (never boiling), the thicker and tarter it becomes.
Once the yogurt has set to your liking, remove it from the oven.
If there is any watery whey on the surface of the yoghurt, you can either drain it or whisk it back into the yoghurt.
The yoghurt will last for about 2 weeks in the fridge.
For your next batch you can use 125 ml of your own yoghurt to culture the next batch.