This could be heaven or this could be hell – Marmite cheese spread


20071104_marmitecheesetoaste_2Growing up in Port Elizabeth (in our house anyway), your bread toppings included the following choices: peanut butter, golden syrup or apricot jam; and if you had a savoury tooth rather than a sweet one Anchovette, Melrose cheese spread, Marmite and Bovril. Some of the family liked Marmite (made from yeast extract left over after the beer brewing process), some prefered Bovril (a beef extract) – it was that simple. My dad always preferred Marmite (and lots of it!), while my mom, brother and I preferred the less agressively yeasty taste of Bovril, but I didn’t mind Marmite. So if there was no Bovril, I’d quite happily have Marmite.

It was only when I arrived in England that I learned two things. Firstly, the English do not regard Bovril as a spread (well, they certainly don’t market it as one). When our first jar of Bovril ran out, I went to look for more and searched in vain up and down the spreads aisle of the local supermarket – no dice. I assumed that they must be of stock and left it on the shopping list for next time – when the futile exercise repeated itself. On the third visit, I asked a shop assistant, lamenting my previous two attempts. I thought I caught a funny look from him as he led me away from the spreads aisle… to where the stock cubes are kept. “There you go, Madam”, he said, pointing at row upon row of Bovril bottles. You see, in this country, Bovril is marketed as a beef stock, diluted with hot water to make bouillon. I’m sure that one of the old advertising campaigns on South African TV also had some girl winning her showjumping competition after a steaming mug of Bovril, which always struck me as a hideous idea for a snack – but it seems the English have never given up on the idea. Who would have known.

The other interesting that I learned was that there is a deep love-hate divide amongst the English about Marmite. You seldom hear somebody say “oh, it’s OK, but I don’t have it that often”. It’s either “Iloveitloveitloveitloveit!” and they buy Marmite T-shirts and novelty pens; or they pull faces and make retching noises at the mere mention of the word. Some don’t even want to smell it on their lover’s breath! The entire UK Marmite site is, in fact duplicated in “Love” and “Hate” versions. Astonishing.

But I digress. On my recent trip to South Africa I did what I always do and wandered the 20071104_marmitecheesejareaisles of a supermarket for a while, just to see what products had disappeared and what was new. What can I say – I’m a sad that way. One of the things that caught my eye and instantly entranced me was the bottle you see pictured above: Marmite cheese spread! One of the things I make sure I eat lots of when I go home is cheese spread – it’s not nearly as popular over here and even if it were, you wouldn’t get it in biltong flavour ;-) Often I will spread a slice of toast with cheese spread and then spread a thin layer of Marmite on top, savouring the creaminess of the cheese and the sharp yeastiness of the Marmite. So this jar seemed to me to hold the promise of that taste sensation all in one happy package. I had to have it.

Having smuggled it back into the UK and sampled it last weekend, I can happily report that if you like cheese spread and like Marmite, you will like this. Granted, it’s not a beautiful colour – if anything, it looks like dulce du leche, but of course it tastes like cheese spread, with the kick of Marmite. Delicious. And when I did a little more research into Marmite Cheese (made by Unilever Bestfoods Robertsons) in South Africa, I discovered to my amazement that this appears to be a uniquely South African product. There is no mention of it on the UK site or anywhere else I can find on the Internet, leading me to believe that this is a South African original.

If you love cheese and Marmite, this could just be the ideal spread that you’ve been waiting for all your life.  If you hate Marmite, this is hell could be hell on toast Earth.  You decide :)

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  1. says

    Fabulous Post. Really funny. Have you heard of Vegemite? A unique Australian concoction, similar to marmite but also very different. There is an official vegemite site, but more fun to look at is this one on sampling a vegemite sandwich. Also, wikipedia has some information on vegemite and cheese. Hilarious.
    Only Australians have stomachs tough enough to eat vegemite.
    (For some reason I couldnt put links into the post. so have just included the URLs)

  2. says

    I grew up in a Marmite loving family. Marmite thinly spread on toast was what we ate when we’d been sick or any other time we wanted a savoury snack. marmite on buttery crumpets was a sublime winter treat.
    Coming to SA from the UK I discovered that the Marmite here is subtly different from the UK one – a slightly sharper taste whereas the UK one is a tad mellower – I’ve adjusted to the culture shock and passed the taste onto my children. Two out of three kids also love Marmite and choose it for their school sandwiches – youngest is of the ‘yeuch’ persuasion though.

  3. says

    Hi howzit! I came across your blog yesterday… I’m a PORT ELIZABETHAN too, presently wandering around the Middle East. Delighted to come across a fellow PE blogger!
    And of course, LOVE Marmite !

  4. says

    I haven’t come across this marmite/cheese spread yet..I’m wonderfing about it? I never liked any of these things we put on our bread when we lived in SA. When we moved to Europe, I couldn’t stock up on enough of it…especially bovril and today I pay a fortune for a little bottle of it at the “Epicerie”! All for the sake of not having my roots disappear…

  5. Fern says

    Vegemite and cheese sandwiches are a staple in an Aussie kids lunch box. About 20 years ago, the makers of Vegemite came up with a cheese and Vegemite slice… like an individualy wrapped cheese single. It was a nasty gray color, but apparently tasted OK. For some reason, they were only around for a couple of years… never to be seen again.
    BTW… I am totally in the hate camp… hubby is in the love camp… the whole breath thing really is an issue!

  6. says

    Marmite being an acquired taste (and me not having grown up in the UK), I can only handle small quantities of the stuff at once. Not sure I’d fall in love with the cheese spread. But then I really liked the ‘Marmite butter sandwich’ recipe from Nigella’s book, so you never know:)

  7. says

    you are such a Saffer. Biltong flavoured cheese spread ?!!! I love marmite, and used to love Bovril as a child, but have somehow been put off by BSE scares etc. It is the idea of how it is produced in factory conditions that I can now no longer get past. Cheese spreads, however, I have never been able to get past, and marmite cheese spread? Cue: pull faces and retching noises…

  8. says

    I’m an American…. I live in France…. I like Marmite. I eat it sometimes. I don’t love it; I don’t hate it; just like it.
    Please don’t use my real name or tell anyone I told you this. If my British friends find out…well, I can only imagine….
    I’ve only seen Bovril as a drink – but I liked that, too.

  9. says

    Marmite cheese spread – what an invention! I have someone who has promised to give me his limited-edition guiness marmite but hasn’t come up with the goods yet, and I’m way too eager to try it. I’m a total marmite convert despite being an American and never having had anything like it before I can here. Marmite and cheese is just heaven, so I can only imagine how wonderful it is already combined in one spread.

  10. katsa says

    my mom told me that she saw recently in pick ‘n pay (where else?) that bovril SA are doing chilli bovril. i don’t know what i make of this!
    jeanne – the same thing happened to me in ireland when looking for bovril, i had to be told that it lives not in spread land, but next to coffe and tea in the beverage aisle as everyone knows you drink bovril, not put it on your bread?! that’ll teach me…

  11. Natalie says

    I’m from the UK and grew up eating Bovril on toast. I also like Bovril and cheese sandwiches and even Bovril and Honey!!
    I think Bovril is a more Northern England thing but we certainly do eat it on toast even if it is sold in the stock and gravy section!!
    My husband and I will be moving to SA soon and I can’t wait to make sure our children carry on the Bovril tradition.