The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

A visit to Schoon de Companje

pmccool's picture

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.



isand66's picture

Wow!  What a fantastic trip this must have been for you and your wife.  Thanks for sharing.  You certainly made me want to go visit that's for sure.

Too bad you didn't get to speak to the owner/head baker but it was nice that they let you into the kitchen.



pmccool's picture

And the rand was 16 to the dollar, which made things very nice for us although the South Africans were reeling financially.  If the opportunity arises, do visit.  You will find much to like and none of the language barrier you face in China.

I looked for an opportunity to speak with Mr. Schoon but he was busy with others and I did not wish to interrupt him.  it would have pleased me to chat with him.


dabrownman's picture

The similarities are uncanny.  What a nice day to spend at a leisurely pace.  The bread had to be very good with that flour using local grains.  The trip sounds fantastic!  The perfect bakery also sells, breakfast and lunch, ice cream, chocolate, pizza, smoked meats and adult beverages made in site.  They are on their way to getting there. 

pmccool's picture

Stellenbosch would be at, or very near, the top of the list of places we would want to settle.  We very much enjoyed this visit and only regretted that we could not stay longer.

Schoon de Companje has a lot going on.  It will be marvelous if they can spark an interest in others to do the same thing in many other places besides Stellenbosch.  South Africa's agriculture is as diverse as its climates and terrains and the products are very high quality.  The challenge will be for South Africans to recognize the treasure that they have, as opposed to settling for mass-produced sugar bombs, and to build a society where nearly everyone can earn a wage that lets them enjoy the good things.