The award winning Sundale Dairy in the East London Industrial Development Zone (ELIDZ) has joined forces with Just Milk, the largest organisation of dairy farmers in the country to acquire the iconic cheese operation, Cookhouse Creamery, previously owned by Dairy Belle.
The move puts Sundale firmly on the national map and cements their position on shelf with other big names in the industry. The acquisition builds on a R 4-million investment in a cheese factory at the East London plant in 2016.
Cookhouse is located in what can be considered the dairy belt of South Africa. A mere 24 kilometres east of Somerset East, it is the home of many dairy farming operations. The valley is fed by the Great Fish River, which provides for the agricultural crops and natural vegetation, supporting pasture fed grazing in this farming community. Cookhouse has also achieved much acclaim in the renewable energy sector as home to possibly the largest wind farm in Africa.
According to CEO, Pierre van Rensburg, “Our interest in Cookhouse is twofold. It allows us to extend operations beyond the borders of East London without compromising on our promise of producing authentic pasture fed dairy in its purest form. The site is also the original home of Dutch style gouda, which was first produced in South Africa on 10 Oct 1937 at Cookhouse. It enjoys a special place in the history of dairy in the country and we are proud to be a part of its continued legacy. Affixers agree that proper Dutch Gouda can only be produced from same day fresh milk, which is why Cookhouse is a natural fit for Sundale. For us to get Dutch style gouda right, we need to get it from the cow to the dairy on the same day. That’s why we focus on being close to our cows.”
According to Elize de Vos, General Manager at the Sundale Cookhouse Creamery, “at our peak, this facility employed 107 people. We look forward to developing it to the point where we can again become leading employers in the Cookhouse community.” She went on to say that “the community eagerly await the start of operations at the factory. They are very enthusiastic about the regeneration of the creamery and grateful for the jobs that the construction works have already created in the area.” Elize’s father was a cheese maker with Dairybelle for 42 years. She has worked at the creamery since 1993 and according to Van Rensburg, “her background in dairy technology and her intimate knowledge of the industry make her the ideal person to head operations for us here in Cookhouse.”
The milk produced for the cheese is procured from the Just Milk Riverside Farm which currently produces 12 million litres per annum. The initial production will yield gouda rounds, cheddar and mozzarella with plans to produce fixed weight cheddar and gouda packs in early 2019. Edgar Brotherton of Just Milk said that “The projections for the plant have allowed us to invest in a start-up farm, Riverview that will supply an additional four million litres per annum for the new dairy. The farms, all within a 30km radius of the Cookhouse Creamery, yield about 300 000l per day. This is dairy country at its best and our association with Sundale allows us to expand further.”
Sundale remains the largest employer in the ELIDZ and the Cookhouse operations are set to boost employment numbers even further. According to HR Manager, Brian Chitwa, “We have started recruiting and have invited applications from former Dairybelle employees. There has been an overwhelming response from the local community. All applicants will go through the recruitment process which will include interviewing, screening, taking of references, validation of qualifications, etc. We will start operations with a team of about 30 people, including engineers and personnel for the finance department.”
Massive upgrades are currently underway at the new Cookhouse facility and operations should be underway by mid-July.