A visit to Schoon de Companje
While in South Africa this past December, we had the chance to spend a few days in the Stellenbosch area; not far from Cape Town and in the middle of South Africa's winelands. Stellenbosch is a picturesque town in its own right, replete with many examples of the Cape Dutch arhictectural style. It is surrounded by vineyards and mountains and olive groves and lavender fields and is so beautiful as to make the flatlander tourist gape in wonder. You could, for instance, have lunch or dinner at a vineyard's restaurant and enjoy scenery like this:
Or you might, as we did, happen upon a delightful place for lunch while strolling about town:
The Oude Bank, or Old Bank, building houses Schoon de Companje, a group of artisans who make products ranging from breads/pastries to coffees to ice cream to meat and produce and a few others. It all began when Fritz Schoon started the Oude Bank Bakkerij in the Oude Bank building. Mr. Schoon learned the baking craft at the Ile de Pain bakery in Knysna, South Africa. Fritz runs the bread side of the bakery and his wife runs the pastry side. Over time, the Schoons determined that they wanted to foster a community of artisans and found friends who wanted to be part of that community.
My guess is that Schoon de Companje will probably continue to nurture additional artisans. Mr. Schoon is already encouraging local farmers to produce the grains that he mills on site for his flour, including rye which is not commonly grown in South Africa. He had previously purchased his flours from Eureka Mills, which I had blogged about here.
We, of course, were more interested in lunch than in history or provenance, so we made our way past the display of breads
to the cafe seating area which is housed between the retail area in front and the bakery in back:
The cafe features equal measures of rusticity and whimsy, finding expression in everything from the floor pattern to the tree reaching toward the skylight.
While waiting for our order to be filled, I looked around the bakery in the back:
The massive wood-fired oven, built from local stone, is visible in the first and last of these four photos of the bakery. Mr. Schoon, in the blue t-shirt and apron, is visible at the left in the second photo if this sequence. Sadly, I did not get an opportunity to speak with him.
When lunch arrived in the form of two sandwiches, we were ready to enjoy it. And enjoy we did! The breads are hearty and full of grainy flavor. The sour was present but not assertive. The crust and crumb were each firm but not tough. Mine, on the left, was made with the sourdough. My wife's, on the right, featured the pain rustique.
We did manage to find room for an ice cream cone before we left. Much of the "ice cream" one encounters in South Africa is the dairy (or not so dairy) equivalent of Wonder Bread. Fanny Chanel's ice cream is the real thing and an absolute delight. I'll have to admit that our pace back to the guest house was even more leisurely than our pre-lunch pace.
If you find yourself in South Africa, visit Stellenbosch. And if you find yourself in Stellenbosch, visit Schoon de Companje. You'll be happy with both.