Shopping for Cheese in Addis Ababa

Cheese Counter at Planet Cheese

As the butter crisis continues (the constant hunt for butter has become a crisis in our household) it’s heightened my appreciation for the journey that food makes from field to plate. I’m no expert, but have been told that the lack of butter at the moment is down to the belg (small rains in February/March) being late, which has resulted in less grass for the cows and subsequently a smaller production of milk. Hence no butter.

Whilst it’s frustrating and a hit many farmers really can’t afford to take, there’s something important about feeling the direct relation between weather and food – it makes it far more real.

This ongoing hunt for butter has brought dairy to the forefront of my mind (I love food) and so to cheese. My love of cheese is almost as big as my love of cheese jokes. What can I say, they make me laugh. I naively didn’t think about cheese before coming to Addis. I figured I’d be able to get it, and I can, but it’s not the tasty, salty, crumbly, fatty, creamy cheese I was used to in London. And that’s probably no bad thing, except that I miss it.

So, I’ve been on a cheese hunt recently, having been told about Planet Cheese in Old Airport.

Planet Cheese was established just under a year ago by an Italian cheese lover. The moment he started telling me about what was available, I could tell he knew his stuff. They stock all kinds of tasty cheese – roule, halloumi, gouda, manchego, cloth wrapped cheddar, goats cheese – and pride themselves on pasteurising all milk used so everything is suitable for pregnant women, and they use no rennet, so everything is vegetarian friendly.

Whilst a lot of the cheese comes from Kenya, they have three plants in Ethiopia, from which they make their own yoghurt, mozzarella, and ricotta.

For those that can eat cheese on its own, this is all good. For those that need a vehicle, they sell beautiful looking cheese biscuits and onion jam – heaven!

How do you find this heavenly place? Just down from Laphto Mall, opposite Home Depot you’ll find their small deli next to Cupcake Delight in Bayne Building. They open seven days a week, 8am – 8pm.

Following my visit to Planet Cheese, I questioned friends about where they go to get tasty cheese – turns out we’re all going to similar places! Our little local shop off Kebena roundabout (and many other small supermarket shops) stock the tasty Holland Dairy Gouda; Salem’s Children Village occasionally have a delicious goats cheese (and spinach and parmesan pies); and the famous Luigi out in CMC makes his own cheddar.

At restaurants, the cheese board at La Louvre is excellent (especially with a basil cocktail in hand) and in the past week, Taza Café have just added their delicious cheese scones to their menu – melt in the mouth heaven. They’re made with a spicy Gouda, and Sara who runs Taza, is a big advocate for Holland Dairy and the cheese waves they’re making in Ethiopia.

For everyone who told me you can only import good cheese here, check out some of these places, and I hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If you don’t get to Planet Cheese for their crackers, here are some you can easily make (you can substitute poppy seeds for more sesame seeds), recipe courtesy of my partner’s family, the Gills.

Poppy and Sesame Seed Crackers

  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp poppy seeds
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 60g unsalted butter, cold and chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 180 C and line 2 baking sheets with baking paper
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Stir in the seeds and pepper. Rub in the butter to make your mix like breadcrumbs.
  3. Make a well in the centre and add 100 ml iced water. Mix with knife, then hands, to make a firm dough (be careful not to overmix)
  4. Form the dough into a rough ball then cut in half. Wrap one half in clingfilm and pop in the fridge. Roll the other half between two sheets of baking paper until 1-2mm thick. Cut into rounds (6cm cutter is best but I use a glass here)
  5. Place on baking sheet, prick with a fork all over and repeat with the rest of the dough
  6. Chill for 20 mins and then bake for 20-35 mins until golden brown
Written by Adam Fenton