S. African artisanal cheesery hopes virus will boost Slow Food

South African cheesemaker Danie Crowther shows a chili string cheese during a tasting in Clarens in the front shop of Noah’s Cheese. (AFP)
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Updated 20 July 2020

S. African artisanal cheesery hopes virus will boost Slow Food

  • In the longer run, coronavirus ‘likely to boost demand for locally produced foods’

CLARENS, South Africa: Cheddar-making was put on hold when coronavirus struck an artisanal cheesery on the outskirts of Clarens, a town tucked into the foothills of the Maluti mountains of central South Africa.

Hard cheeses requiring months of ripening were no longer viable, and the small business battled to stay afloat as sales plummeted.

Cheesemaker Marietjie Crowther only managed to produce small amounts of her signature smoked mozzarella and chilli-infused “string cheese.”

Rare buyers were found among the few butcher’s shops and delis that stayed open during the virus lockdown.

But with restrictions eased and customers trickling back, Marietjie and her husband Danie believe coronavirus could boost demand for locally produced foods in the long run.

“I have noticed that some retailers tell us they want to focus more on local products,” said Danie, who co-owns Noah’s Cheese with his wife.

“To rely on food from far away doesn’t make sense anymore,” he explained.

“The cost in terms of the environment, the risk when a disaster like this happens, is too high.”

Eating locally is the favored goal of locavores — foodies who believe in produce grown from nearby sources, in the belief that it retains nutrients and flavors that may be lost through transport and carries a far smaller carbon footprint.

But local food of this purity can be near-impossible to achieve in a world of long, complex supply lines and dependence on fossil fuels.

The small cheesery says it has overcome these concerns.

Nestled at the bottom of a rock formation named after Mount Ararat, Noah’s Cheese runs entirely on solar energy and sources its raw materials from surrounding land.

Marietjie Crowther works with a wooden stick the preparation for a ‘pasta filante’ cheese in Clarens, South Africa. (AFP)

The mozzarella is smoked with wood from a neighboring apple farm. Condiments are made with fruit pulp left over from nearby gin breweries.

That unusual setup helped the firm survive the crushing impact of coronavirus.

“We didn’t have a fixed cost on electricity,” said Danie. “We are not reliant on (imported) produce ... It is here, it is local.”

Noah’s Cheese is a member of the Slow Food movement, which originated in Italy during the 1980s to protect local food cultures and traditions.

The short supply chains and small-scale nature of Slow Food production has seen new interest from consumers concerned about food provision during lockdown.

“They realized when this COVID hit that they were stuck in the city, where there is no way you can produce food for yourself,” said Marietjie.

“People suddenly became more aware that we must use what is in our area,” Danie added. “Even those who do not necessarily know about the Slow Food movement.”

For Noah’s Cheese, the challenge will be to tap into that budding market.

The Crowthers relied heavily on festivals to sell their products and seek business partners — all of which have been canceled for the rest of the year.

Clarens has missed the bulk of its tourist season, which peaks over Easter, and travel between provinces remains banned.

“I would say more than two-thirds of our market was lost overnight,” said Danie. “So it’s a difficult thing to adapt to.”

The couple have worked hard to find new delis and are currently negotiating shelf space with a local supermarket chain.

They also have high hopes in the launch of an online shop next week that will deliver cheese directly to customers stuck at home.

South Africa has a growing market of foodies seeking more sophisticated flavors than factory-made feta and gouda.

Artisanal cheeseries have entered the scene to meet this demand, adapting classic techniques from France and Italy to local ingredients.

“The taste for cheese in South Africa is ... still at a very early stage,” said Danie.

“We are young industries,” he added. “But we make exceptional cheeses.”

Ramadan harvest begins in Saudi Arabia’s city of roses

Updated 55 min 36 sec ago

Ramadan harvest begins in Saudi Arabia’s city of roses

  • Smallest vials sell for SR400 ($106).
  • Harvest falls during Ramadan this year

TAIF: Every spring, roses bloom in the western Saudi city of Taif, turning pockets of the Kingdom’s vast desert landscape a vivid and fragrant pink.
In April, they are harvested for the essential oil used to cleanse the outer walls of the sacred Kaaba in Makkah.
This year, the harvest falls during Ramadan.
Workers at the Bin Salman farm tend rose bushes and pick tens of thousands of flowers each day to produce rose water and oil, also prized components in the cosmetic and culinary industries.
The perfumed oil has become popular among the millions of Muslims who visit the Kingdom every year for pilgrimages.
Patterns of plants and flowers have long been part of Islamic art.
Known as the city of roses, with approximately 300 million blooms every year, Taif has more than 800 flower farms, many of which have opened their doors to visitors.
While workers pick flowers in the fields, others labor in sheds, filling and weighing baskets by hand.
The flowers are then boiled and distilled.
“We start boiling the roses on high heat until they are almost evaporated, and this takes around 30 to 35 minutes,” Khalaf Al-Tuweiri, who owns the Bin Salman farm, told AFP.
“After that we lower the heat for around 15 to 30 minutes until the distilling process starts, which lasts for eight hours.”
Once the oil floats to the top of the glass jars, the extraction process begins.
The oil is then extracted with a large syringe to fill different-sized vials, the smallest going for SR400 ($106).

Binladin International carries out largest debt restructuring in the region

Updated 16 April 2021

Binladin International carries out largest debt restructuring in the region

  • As much as 75% of Binladin's debts are held by Saudi banks
  • Formal agreement with creditors may be reached by end June

RIYADH: Saudi Binladin International Holding is carrying out the largest debt restructuring in the Middle East, close to SR33 billion ($8.7 billion), with as much as 75 percent involving Saudi banks, said CEO Khalid Al Gwaiz on Thursday.
The company has obtained principal approvals from creditors for the debt restructuring and hopes to reach a formal agreement with them by the end of June and a final agreement by September, Al Gwaiz told Al Arabiya.
Binladin has an integrated transformation program that includes budget structuring and changes to its business model with the aim of helping it cope with recent developments in the market, he said.
The regional construction sector has been hit hard by the weakening of oil prices since 2014 and the associated decline in the real estate sector which has plunged some of the industry’s biggest names into financial distress.
Binladin has identified about SR1 trillion of opportunities in the Kingdom’s construction market linked to huge government projects that will allow it to pay creditors, Al Gwaiz said.

Ever Given insurance company says $900m compensation claim is unjustified

Updated 16 April 2021

Ever Given insurance company says $900m compensation claim is unjustified

  • Insurer says it made a generous offer on April 12
  • Crew of Ever Given remains on board ship

RIYADH: The insurance company for the Ever Given, which blocked the Suez Canal for almost a week in March, said it was disappointed by the court order to detain the vessel until $900 million compensation is paid after it had already made a generous offer to settle the claim.

The offer to the Suez Canal Authority was made in cooperation with the Japanese company that owns the ship on April 12th, Al Arabiya reported. However, the ship, its cargo and crew are being held until an agreement is reached, said the insurance company, UK Protection and Indemnity Club.

The Economic Court in Ismailia, Egypt, approved a request submitted by the Suez Canal Authority on Monday, to seize on the ship until $900 million is paid to cover the cost of freeing the ship and the disruption to traffic on the canal.

The insurer described the figure as “huge” and unjustified and said it is working with all concerned parties to ensure the release of the ship, its cargo and 25-person crew.

The Ever Given, currently in the Great Bitter Lake region, will move to Port Said for further examination, the insurance company said.

Saudi NESCO to replace 74,000 streetlamps with LEDs in Riyadh

Updated 16 April 2021

Saudi NESCO to replace 74,000 streetlamps with LEDs in Riyadh

  • Replacing lights will cut power consumption by 70%

RIYADH: The National Energy Efficiency Services Company (NESCO) will replace 74,000 traditional “sodium” lamps with other smart systems (LED) lights, in 8 municipalities of the Riyadh region.

Agreements between NESCO, also known as Tarshid, and municipalities were signed on Wednesday, SPA reported.

The LEDs will reduce power consumption by more than 70 percent, avoiding more than 48,000 metric tons of carbon emissions, equivalent to planting 810,000 trees.

The agreements aim to set unified standards for street lighting at the international level, in accordance with the Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization (SASO).

Tarshid has completed 12 previous agreements with the region’s municipalities, and will soon sign 27 agreements to include the remaining 47 municipalities, CEO Walid bin Abdullah Al-Ghariri said.

Saudi Public Transport Authority launches 15 business centers across the Kingdom

Updated 16 April 2021

Saudi Public Transport Authority launches 15 business centers across the Kingdom

  • Cities served will include Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah and Dammam

RIYADH: Saudi Public Transport Authority has launched business centers in 15 cities across the Kingdom, to provide licensing and customer support services.
The cities include Riyadh, Makkah, Madinah, Jeddah, Dammam and Al-Ahsa, as well as Qassim, Tabuk, Hail, Arar, Al-Jouf, Al-Baha, Asir, Najran and Jizan, SPA reported.
The Authority seeks to enhance the logistics sector in the Kingdom in line with Vision 2030 goals, said General Supervisor of Operations at the Public Transport Authority Fahad Albadah.
The business centers will allow clients to implement multiple services through the digital package provided by the Naql gateway, Albadah said.