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Pepe Charlot French goats' cheese

Pepe Charlot is an authentic artisanal French goats' milk cheese range. Based in Johannesburg, cheesemaker Gerald Tanesse named it after his grandfather, who instilled the love of goats cheese in him as a child.

Linden, Johannesburg, Gauteng

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Story by Deni Archer

A Frenchman inherits his grandfather’s passion


As a child Gerald Tanesse spent a lot of time with his grandfather in the french countryside near the Swiss border. His Grandfather, Pepe, was passionate about goats’ cheese and had his own wooden ‘ripening box’ which he would check every day, usually talking to the cheese to “help it ripen”. “This was a little scary for me as a child,” Gerald laughs. Pepe also used to pop pieces of hard goats' cheese into Gerald’s mouth while they were walking down to the river for their daily fishing. This is how Gerald developed his own taste for the distinctive cheese. “Goats cheese has a wonderful flavour,” exclaims Gerald when asked to describe it, “better and more interesting than any other cheese.”

Gerald was born and bred in France. As an adult he looked to travel for some adventure. His dad was living in South Africa, working for Air France at the time so he decided to visit. That was in 1992, and in 1993 he moved to Johannesburg to join his dad - who promptly left two weeks later, but not before introducing him to a friend who would become his future mother-in-law. When he met her daughter, they did not have a common language between them, but despite this they were engaged just 51 days later.

Four-days to cheese master

Over coffee in his Craighall Park home, Gerald tells us how little cheese there was in South Africa when he first arrived. “After a time, I met a man in Linden who was making goats’ cheese under the brand Narnia Cheese” he relates. Gerald, who was involved in the media world at the time, expressed interest in taking over the business and two years ago this finally came to fruition. The handover was a four-day intensive cheese-making course, and then it was a matter of Gerald sourcing milk. He found that in a herd of 70 goats located in Pretoria.

A cultured cheese with a French identity

Pepe Charlot cheese (named after his grandfather) opened shop with batches of 100 litres of milk. This has now grown six-fold. The unpasteurised milk is collected twice weekly and delivered to the cheesery round the back of his home. Gerald’s talented cheesemaker Steven, who he has trained himself, has a narrow window of time within which to inoculate the milk with the cultures and rennet that aid the conversion process. “The culture gives the cheese its identity,” Pepe explains, “while the rennet works to coagulate the milk.” He also imports a variety of moulds from France, and when he visits his home country he takes courses and learns more about cheesemaking from the best.

Gerald explains that it’s a very careful maturation process that gives rise to the variety of french cheeses he produces, including chevrin, crotin and his signature cheese the ‘Pepe’ - a variation on the pyramid shaped Valencay. To help develop the South African palate for the stronger taste of goats cheese, Gerald has developed a small “entry” cheese he calls the ‘Petit Pepe’.

Goats’ cheese a ‘living’ product

Spending time learning about goats’ cheese with Gerald left us with a fascination for this delicate and complex product. Gerald’s parting comments as we left his home are spoken with a glint in his eye, “Watch out, between here and your car, this cheese will change its flavour, you know. It’s alive!”

Gerald has his own traditional cheese ripening box just like his Pepe used to have


Pepe Charlot goats' milk cheese range include: chevrin, valencay, crotin and cabecou


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