In a country where we are quite literally spoiled for choice when it comes to milk-made goods, it's impressive to learn that this year's panel of judges at New Zealand Champions of Cheese Awards could distinguish a winner.
Boasting one seriously scrumptious round-up of local artisan cheeses, the nation's finest purveyors were officially crowned during the annual Champions of Cheese Awards in Auckland on Thursday night. From bloomy rind to Mahoe blues, aged cheddar to ricotta, this year's entries not only delighted the judges, but showcased the breadth of talent from local cheesemakers.
More than 2000 kilograms of cheeses were sniffed, savoured and sampled by 28 judges in Auckland last month. Now, the winners have been recognised with judges dishing out 23 trophies, 41 gold medals, 66 silver medals and 53 bronze medals to a stellar line-up of cheese purveyors.
Countdown Champion of Champions Cheese – Commercial, was awarded to The Cheese Barn Organic Cumin Seed Gouda, while the Puhoi Valley Champion of Champions Cheese – Artisan was awarded to Clevedon Buffalo Ricotta.
Master Judge Russell Smith said the quality of New Zealand cheese "continues to improve" adding that Kiwis should be proud of the local cheese available from their supermarket, cheesemonger or farmers’ market.
For more than 20 years Kelvin and Cathy Haigh have owned and run The Cheese Barn in the Thames-Coromandel district. The couple make BioGro certified-organic cheeses and yoghurts that are unhomogenised, gluten free, have no GMO, no artificial additives, no antibiotics or growth hormones and no chemical sprays.
"This Cumin Seed Gouda was an absolutely superb cheese and that’s why it’s been named champion," said Master judge, Russell. "The flavour profile exhibited all the best characteristics of this traditional style. The piquancy of the cumin blending beautifully with the slightly sweet yet savoury notes of the cheese.”
Clevedon Buffalo Ricotta enjoyed a similar response, taking out this year's supreme title.
Owned and operated by Richard and Helen Dorresteyn, Clevedon Buffalo Co. is in Clevedon, just south of Auckland. The first to commercially farm buffalo in New Zealand, the Dorresteyns own 150 head of Riverine water buffalo and use their milk, which contains more protein and calcium and roughly half the cholesterol of cow’s milk, to make a delicious range of mozzarella, bocconcini, yoghurt, marinated cheese and ricotta.
“What an amazing feat for a fresh style of cheese to win Champion. This indicates just how good this ricotta really is," said Judge Russell. "Sweet with just a hint of savoury all balanced by a superb texture from the buffalo milk. Ricotta just doesn't get any better than this.”
Alongside Thursday night's winning line-up were local favourites Meyer Cheese, who took home three trophies including Milk Test NZ Champion Cheesemaker Award for Geert Meyer, Eurofins NZ Champion European Style Cheese Award for Meyer Maasdam and Martinborough Vineyard Champion Flavoured Cheese Award for their Meyer Cracked Pepper.
NZ CHAMPIONS OF CHEESE AWARDS 2018 – FULL LIST OF WINNERS:
- Countdown Champion of Champions Cheese Award – Commercial: The Cheese Barn Organic Cumin Seed Gouda – The Cheese Barn
- Puhoi Valley Champion of Champions Cheese Award – Artisan: Clevedon Buffalo Ricotta – Clevedon Buffalo Co
- Milk Test NZ Champion Cheesemaker Award: Geert Meyer – Meyer Cheese
- Green Valley Dairies Champion Fresh Un-Ripened Cheese Award: Clevedon Buffalo Ricotta – Clevedon Buffalo Co
- Kiwi Labels Champion Feta Cheese Award: Zany Zeus Creamy Feta – Zany Zeus
- CHR Hansen Champion Soft White Rind Cheese Award: Thorvald Sheep Milk Camembert – Thorvald
- 180 degrees Champion Goat Cheese Award: Talbot Forest Goat Parmesan – Talbot Forrest Cheese
- Sheep Milk NZ Champion Sheep Cheese Award: Thorvald Sheep Milk Curado – Thorvald
- Thermaflo Champion Washed Rind Cheese Award: Puhoi Valley Cellar Range Washed Rind – Puhoi Valley Cheese
- Ecolab Champion Blue Cheese Award: Puhoi Valley Matured Kawau Blue – Puhoi Valley Cheese
- Eurofins NZ Champion European Style Cheese Award: Meyer Maasdam – Meyer Cheese
- AsureQuality Champion Dutch Style Cheese Award: Barrys Bay Aged Cumin Gouda – Barrys Bay Traditional Cheese
- Ministry for Primary Industries Champion New Cheese Award: Clevedon Buffalo Cherry Mozzarella – Clevedon Buffalo Co
- Fonterra Co-operative Group Champion Original Cheese Award: Over the Moon Southern Cross by Neil Willman – Over the Moon Dairy
- Tetra Pak Champion Cheddar Cheese Award: Fonterra Lichfield NZMP Strong Cheddar – Fonterra Co-operative Group
- Emerson’s Farmhouse Cheese Award: Thorvald Sheep Milk Camembert – Thorvald
- Martinborough Vineyard Champion Flavoured Cheese Award: Meyer Cracked Pepper – Meyer Cheese
- Renco New Zealand Champion Export Cheese Award: Kapiti Kikorangi – Fonterra Brands NZ
- AUT School of Hospitality and Tourism Aspiring Cheesemaker: Thomas Fredrickson – Mercer Cheese
- New World Cheese Lovers’ Choice Award: Kapiti Kahurangi Creamy Blue – Fonterra Brands NZ
- Cheese Lovers’ Choice Favourite NZ Cheese Company Award in association with New World: Whitestone Cheese Co
- Cas-Pak Products Ltd Champion Cheese Packaging Award: Clevedon Marinated Buffalo Cheese – Clevedon Buffalo Co
- Curds & Whey Champion Home Crafted Cheese & Cheesemaker: Tony Hamblyn, Karaka Brick Gold
To learn more about the New Zealand Champions of Cheese Awards, see their website here.