Gay van Hasselt is a busy lady. At five every morning, seven days a week, when most of us are still shamefully snoring away, she’s already up and at it, orchestrating the milking of 30 of the happiest Guernsey cows you have ever come across in your life, and then turning that milk into award-winning dairy products that are making waves throughout the South African foodie world.

“For me, everything starts with the passion I have for my animals. This leads to the high quality of our raw product – our milk. I know each of my cows personally, so I can tell by just looking at them if their colour is off or something is wrong. We really focus on happy, healthy cows,” Gay explains.

Meet the original dynamo behind Gay’s Guernsey Dairy, a family-run business in Prince Albert. It all started in 1990, when Gay was a cash-strapped mother of two with three cows in a paddock. Not one to sit around, this feisty entrepreneur started slinging raw milk at R1 a litre, until an overzealous neighbour ratted her out to the authorities. This is when she went legit and started to turn the business into a proper dairy.
It would probably have stayed a milk-only enterprise if it wasn’t for the unfortunate cancellation of a rather substantial milk order that forced Gay to learn how to make cheese – fast. Cue a two-day course at Elsenberg, a few buckets with holes drilled in the bottom and an old chest freezer, and boom, Gay was in the cheese-making business. These days her award-winning range includes a creamy mozzarella, feta, mild gouda, mild and strong cheddar as well as a hard, Parmesan-style cheese.

“What’s important when you have a niche business, is not to get beyond oneself. When you chase profit at all costs and grow it beyond a point where you can control the quality of your product, you lose your identity. This way you lose the essence of what your business was about to start with,” Gay says.
This is why she chooses to keep her herd at its current size of 30 cows, which she can manage comfortably without neglecting her animals, business, employees or children. Speaking of which, the latter all have a firm hand in the business at it stands today. Gay’s four children are all involved in various aspects of the family dairy and farm.
Jordi is at the helm of the associated angora- and mohair farm, with his sister Francis in charge of marketing and mohair product development (look out for some awesome carpets coming soon!). Eugene is being groomed to take over the day-to-day running of the dairy when Gay is ready to take on a less demanding role, and Jean is apprenticing in machinery and mechanics to ensure that things keep ticking over in that department.

When & where?
Gay’s Guernsey Dairy is located at 4 Church Street in Prince Albert. Here’s a gorgeous hand-drawn map to get you there. Alternatively, here’s the boring Google Maps link.
The diary is open 7 days a week, at slightly unusual time intervals. This is to accommodate Gay’s employees, who have very early mornings and long days and are given a good break over breakfast and lunch to keep up their strength. It also allows them to run the factory and retail aspects of the business concurrently.
Opening hours: 07:00 – 09:00, 10:00 -12:00, 16:00 – 17:30 on weekdays; and 07:00 – 10:00, 16:00 – 17:30 on Saturdays and Sundays.

Eatsplorer recommends: The yogurt, oh man, the yogurt is nothing like anything you’ve ever tasted before. First off, it’s absolutely pure. It contains no additives, preservatives or stabilisers. Just full cream Guernsey milk, cultures and a little skim milk powder. You can have it plain with a drizzle of honey (and possibly die of bliss), or try some of the flavoured varieties (think black cherry, vanilla and toffee) and completely put yourself off of store-bought yogurts forever.
You must also try the mozzarella. In South Africa, mozzarella is normally made with low fat milk to emulate the fat content of buffalo milk, but Gay makes it with good old full cream Guernsey milk and it will change your life. Tear up a few basil leaves, cut up a tomato, drizzle with good olive oil and boom – you’ve got a meal that will have even the most stoic Italian in tears.

To join a cooking class featuring Gay’s amazing produce book here.

 

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Production: Eatsplorer / Photography: Kleinjan Groenewald / Writing: Anna-Bet Stemmet