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NZ Champion’s of Cheese Awards

The recent NZ Champions of Cheese Awards recognised numerous excellent offerings from our country’s fabulous cheesemakers, including those from fledgling cheesemaker Catherine Oakley (above). Fiona Smith was one of the judges, and reports back on some of the highlights…

For years, the Dutch cheesemakers have come out on top at the NZ cheese awards, and for good reason: New Zealand is home to a number of second and third generation Dutch cheesemakers, who consistently turn out cheese perfection. This year was no exception with Meyer Smoked Goat Gouda winning the Commercial Champion of Champions award and Mercer cheese 50/50 taking out the Artisan champion of champions. Both cheeses are Gouda style but quite new to the NZ cheese scene. The Meyer is a goats milk gouda that has been smoked, it has a smooth creamy texture and well rounded, sweet piquant flavours. The smokiness is mild and balanced, adding a whole layer of flavour to the cheese. This is no mean feat, I have judged many smoked cheeses and they can be overpowering and acrid, really just there as a gimmick, adding nothing to the taste. Meanwhile, the Mercer 50/50 is an aged cheese using a blend of cow and goat milks – the result is a complex, sweet and nutty cheese.

There were awards for the big guys, including Fonterra and Puhoi, and for small producers such as Northland’s Grinning Gecko, a very popular winner on awards night. This year also saw some great new cheesemakers enter, with one of them, Catherine Oakley (pictured above) of Winsam Farm, taking out the title of Cheesemaker of the Year and scoring a perfect 100 for her Just Ewe Winsam Farmhouse cheese.

The new cheese category was full of really interesting cheeses this year, many of which I had never come across before. And while they may not have received gold, or even silver, medals, they showed that we have cheesemakers who are pushing the boundaries and trying new and delightful things. Let’s hope they keep improving those cheeses and we could see some really interesting winners in the next few years.

And while the awards recognised a number of harder to find, artisan-made winning cheeses, it’s good to know that you can still just pop down to your local supermarket to pick up NZ’s champion cheddar, Mainland Tasty.