Mix the innovation of Otago Polytechnic’s EduBits micro-credentials with the expertise of award-winning Oamaru company Whitestone Cheese. Add the desire of an employer to upskill staff. The result: a New World delicatessen crew raring to pass on their new-found cheese knowledge to customers.

This week, deli staff members at New World’s Long Bay supermarket on Auckland’s North Shore were the first in-work learners to graduate from the Whitestone Cheese Co. Affineur Academy. (They are photographed above right: Andy Kilsby from Edubits awards Eleanor McKibbon and Maia Wood of New World Long Bay with their Whitestone Cheese Co. Affineur Academy qualification).

An EduBits-based online micro-learning and assessment experience aimed at upskilling hospitality workers and cheese enthusiasts, the Affineur Academy is the result of extensive collaboration between Otago Polytechnic and Whitestone.

Otago Polytechnic’s is New Zealand’s leading provider of accessible work-based skills assessments via its ever-growing and varied suite of EduBits. “Basic Affineur Skills” is one of 120 micro-credentials.

The first in a suite of cheese-related EduBits to be rolled out, “Basic Affineur Skills” provides a rich introduction to cheese, covering cheese-related history, natural processes, facts, flavour matchings, handling techniques and ideas, and includes exclusive access to a video tutorial by celebrated New Zealand chef Josh Emett on how to design and prepare the perfect cheese board.

Having achieved the Basic Affineur Skills EduBit, the New World Long Bay deli staff members are now able to share their cheese knowledge and handling skills with customers and clients.

New World Long Bay supermarket co-owner Marcus Te Brake said this is of great value to not only his staff but to his business as a whole. “There is value in my deli staff being able to converse with customers on the subject of cheese. It presents upselling opportunities.

As a business owner, this additional knowledge provides a marketplace edge. It contributes to the overall ‘customer experience’ and adds credibility to our fresh foods offerings. “It has also resulted in an increase in general engagement from the respective team members. They are definitely more confident.”

The EduBits’ “bite-sized” method of professional development enables employees to upskill while in-work, which make them stand out from other professional development options. “They are highly approachable.”

Whitestone Cheese managing director Simon Berry, who took the idea for the Affineur Academy to Otago Polytechnic cookery senior lecturer Chris Smith after spotting a gap in the market, said some of his own staff are about to graduate with the Basic Affineur Skills EduBit. This is about walking the talk. It’s a matter of credibility.

“For example, Whitestone’s National Sales & Trade Marketing Manager, Franco Sessa, has just been awarded his Basic Affineur Skills EduBit,” said Berry.

“Franco now has a digital credential proving this knowledge. In fact, it’s part of his email signature. This is powerful messaging for Whitestone, both as a brand and as an employer. We are developing the market so people who handle cheese have a greater understanding – they can go on to provide consumers, in both home and restaurant environments, a greater cheese experience.”

Chris Smith said the Affineur Academy EduBit is empowering at both an individual and industry level.

“Being a chef, I guess one of the really curious things about making a cheese board is nobody really knows what to do. We just kind of cut up a few cheeses, put them on a plate with a selection of nuts and crackers and whatever else. It’s always pretty basic.

“We’re trying to do is raise the profile and knowledge around cheese, which thus enhances others’ experience,” said Smith.

“In short, it’s about getting the people who handle cheese – for example, deli staff or chefs – to know more about the product and what to match it with, and to relay that knowledge to the customer.”