For cheese lovers like ourselves, being taken on a cheese road trip is like scoring a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory—except with cheese (and without catchy songs).
October will be NZ Cheese Month and, as a pre-taste of what’s to come, the NZ Specialty Cheese Association and Food Writers New Zealand have recently invited us to ‘Meet Your Makers: A NZ Cheese Month road-trip’.
Hosted by Miel Meyer of Meyer Gouda Cheese, chairman of the NZSCA, and blessed by a sunny, clear day, the one-day event celebrated the incredible diversity of our local dairy sector by acknowledging the work of retailers, manufacturers and farmers.
The first stage took us across the Auckland Harbour Bridge to Farro Fresh Constellation Drive. As Farro’s ten-year story goes hand in hand with the growth and diversification of our cheese market, the store seemed to be a natural stop. There we learned about the latest retail trends: while goat’s cheese has become a huge seller, NZ cheesemakers have been getting more adventurous and started to experiment with different kinds of milk.
The tasting kicked off with a selection of award-winning Over The Moon’s products, including their signature cheese Southern Cross, a unique blend of sheep, goat, cow and buffalo milk, and a brand-new semi-hard sheep’s cheese, The Black Sheep, with smoked paprika on the rind. Also on the platter was Burgundy Moon, another welcome re-release: rind-washed with Merlot grape skins and seeds, this seasonal cheese won’t be available until mid-March 2017. A special mention goes to their OMG Black Truffle Brie featuring a layer of dark truffle paste and Volcano, a special fresh cheese made from 100 percent Buffalo milk.
The morning continued with a special cheese tasting courtesy of Christchurch-based Barrys Bay Cheese, presenting its traditional English and Dutch-style creations.
Established in 1895 in an area known, at the time, for being home to eleven dairy factories, Barrys Bays has been the only one to survive the century mark. In 1970, aiming to expand their export reach beyond the UK, the company decided to add Dutch-style cheeses to their range, which had up to that point focused primarily on cheddar.
Husband-and-wife team Mike and Catherine Carey bought the business in 2005. Just a year later, as part of their planned expansion into the North Island, they started supplying the first, newly-opened Farro Fresh store.
“We’ve seen an increased appreciation of local products around the country, and a significant growth in terms of consumption,” said Mike Carey.
With a fantastic taste of Gouda and Maasdam still lingering in our mouth, our merry band of food writers headed off to Glenfield, eager to watch Italian-born Massimiliano De Caro showcase his mozzarella-making art. Before our enchanted eyes, he stretched, massaged and cut the curd by hand to form perfect balls, milky braids and even cute animal-shaped bocconcini, a traditional after-school snack for Southern Italian kids.
On the road again, our bus made a stop at Puhoi Valley Cheese, where head cheesemaker Franck Beaurain gave us a personal introduction to the award-winning brand. Treated to Puhoi’s 2016 Champion of Champion Kawau Blue and their new, upcoming Goat Blue cheese, we officially took off to cheese heaven.
But there was still one stop to make before our return to the big city. Surrounded by quiet beauty and emerald green hills, we met Whangaripo Buffalo’s lovely owners Phil and Annie Armstrong at their small farm in the Whangaripo Valley. The little house itself was a step back in time and an ideal place to conclude the day, sipping fresh buffalo milk or craft beer, while grabbing the last bits of cheese in the dimming light of the afternoon.