Two New Zealand cheesemakers of Dutch origin have stepped outside their traditions with two new cheeses that have claimed the top prizes at the 2017 NZ Champions of Cheese Awards.
The Smoked Goat Gouda by Meyer Gouda Cheese was judged as the Countdown Champion of Champions (Commercial), and Fifty Fifty by Mercer Cheese was awarded as the Puhoi Valley Champion of Champions (Artisan).
Both Meyer Gouda Cheese and Mercer Cheese are from Waikato and both have won top honours in the past with traditional Dutch style cheeses. This year it is their innovation with new cheeses that has set them apart from the hundreds of entries submitted for judging.
Both the Champion of Champions cheeses were gold medallists in the Ministry for Primary Industries New Cheese category.
The best New Zealand cheeses were judged by an unprecedented contingent of 34 international and local cheese experts, from more than 370 entries. The twenty-one category winners were announced at a gala dinner at the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards, held at the Grand Millennium in Auckland on Tuesday 14 March, following a two-day cheese competition.
Master Judge and Australian cheese guru Russell Smith, says “Dutch Kiwis have a growing reputation for making inspirational cheeses with New Zealand milks. The 2017 champions are great examples of this expertise.”
“The Smoked Goat Gouda by Meyer Gouda Cheese is an absolutely gorgeous goat cheese, and a pleasure to eat,” Smith says of the Countdown Champion of Champions (Commercial) cheese winner.
“It has a smooth creamy texture that delights the palate with sweet and mild piquant flavours,” he adds.
Smith was also clearly impressed with Fifty Fifty by Mercer Cheese, describing it as “a beautifully aged gouda, with complex sweet and savoury flavours coming from the combination of cow and goat milk.”
A rare cheese, Mercer Cheese only makes it on occasional years when the last of the summer milks are right for this type of Gouda to be produced, and then aged.
2017 was notable for the inclusion of three new cheese companies entering into the awards, including Winsam Farm. This new player to the cheese scene produced an incredible feat, scoring a perfect 100 for their Just Ewe Winsam Farmhouse cheese. The result lead its cheesemaker Catherine Oakley of Winsam Farm to be named the Cheesemaker Of The Year (Milk Test NZ Champion Cheesemaker), with her first ever entry.
Just Ewe Winsam Farmhouse was also the NZ Chefs Association Champion Sheep Cheese. Russell Smith described the outstanding cheese as “a semi hard sheep cheese with a delightful texture and feel in the mouth. It’s delicate savoury and mildly spicy flavours finish off this delightful newcomer to the New Zealand cheese scene.”
While new cheeses dominated the top three prizes of the night, 2017 saw a popular Kiwi blue cheese take out a number of categories. Kapiti Kikorangi from Fonterra Brands NZ won the Ecolab Champion Blue Cheese Award, the Renco New Zealand Export Cheese Award and Fonterra Champion Original Cheese Award.
Officially the most decorated blue cheese in Awards history, Kapiti Kikorangi was described by judges as a truly exceptional and distinctive cheese. “The very seductive creamy texture of this cheese is combined with sweet, spicy blue flavours,” Smith says.
Another Kapiti blue also secured the public vote once again, to win the New World Champion Favourite Cheese Award – a competition where New World shoppers had the opportunity to judge their personal favourite. The Kapiti Kahurangi Creamy Blue from Fonterra Brands NZ proved the winner for the second year running in the public vote, owing to its delightfully smooth texture, delicate blue veining, and mild savoury flavour.
“The people have spoken,” Smith said, commenting on the developing sophistication of New Zealanders’ palate in selecting such a full favoured cheese as their favourite.
Another notable win from a classic Kiwi cheesemaker, Puhoi Valley Cheese, was the Puhoi Valley Feta which was awarded the Kiwi Labels Champion Feta Cheese Award. Puhoi Valley Cheese also went home with the Thermaflo Champion Washed Rind Cheese Award with the Puhoi Valley Cellar Range Washed Rind. Three of the four golds awarded to washed rind cheeses went to Puhoi Valley Cheese.
Now in its 14th year, the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards are held annually by the NZ Specialist Cheese Association, to honour excellence in cheese making.
A full list of all award winners and medalists is available here.