AUT hosts NZ Champions of Cheese judging
Top cheese experts have tasted their way through 280 entries to find the winners of the 2019 NZ Champions of Cheese Awards. Organised by the New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association, the judging was held at the AUT School of Hospitality & Tourism.
This year Mediterranean-styled cheeses and sheep milk cheese have made a splash. The Association has run the Awards since 2003 and this year Kiwi cheese makers will be vying for one of 26 cheese trophies.
NZSCA chair, Neil Willman says one of the exciting changes for the judging this year has been the growth in Italian-style cheese, with 28 different cheeses judged.
“It’s a reflection of the change to a more Mediterranean style of eating. The Italian cheese category includes the more well-known Italian favourites such as mozzarella, ricotta and mascarpone but interestingly there are other styles which are less familiar in New Zealand, such as Scamorza, Stracciatella and Stracchino in this section.”
Also of note this year is the increase in sheep milk products being judged, mainly because of the introduction of a new sheep milk category. Last year the panel had to assess six sheep’s milk cheeses, this year 15 sheep milk cheeses and three sheep milk yoghurts have been entered.
Associate Professor Craig Pritchard a facilitator for Sheep Milk NZ, a Massey University-led initiative to promote sheep milk, says the increase in sheep milk cheese entries is brilliant.
“We’re absolutely blown away – what this tells us is that sheep milk cheese has captured the imagination of the New Zealand cheesemakers. It’s great to see that the small number of dedicated cheesemakers creating only sheep milk cheese have been able to inspire other makers across the country to try their hand at sheep milk cheese.”
Neil Willman said he was delighted Master Judge Russell Smith of Australia will again preside over the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards judging. “Russell judges at the world’s greatest cheese shows and so brings an international perspective. Russell is supported by a talented panel of 21 cheesemakers and industry experts from throughout the country.”
Mr Willman said the Association was particularly pleased to introduce a new category for Champion Fresh Italian Style Cheeses and to reintroduce the judging of butter and yoghurt. This year we have judged 19 butters and 15 yoghurts from producers across the country. Additionally, Included in the judging were 20 cheeses made by dedicated home cheesemakers.
Mr Willman made special mention of the Awards sponsors. “The NZ Champion of Cheese Awards wouldn’t be possible without these businesses which support our industry and we are grateful for their generous contributions”.
The NZ Champions of Cheese 2019 trophies are:
- Countdown Champion of Champions (Commercial)
- Puhoi Valley Champion of Champions (Boutique Cheese Producer)
- Milk Test NZ Champion Cheesemaker
- Fonterra Champion Original Cheese
- NZ Food Safety Champion New Cheese Award
- ECOLAB Champion Blue Cheese
- CHR Hansen Champion Soft White Rind Cheese
- Kiwi Labels Champion Feta Cheese
- Green Valley Dairies Champion Fresh Unripened Cheese
- Massey University Sheep Milk NZ Champion Sheep Cheese
- Thermaflo Champion Washed Rind Cheese
- Caspak Champion Packaging Award
- Eurofins Champion European Style Cheese
- Delta Wines Champion Flavoured Cheese
- Sacco Systems Champion Fresh Italian Style Cheese
- Tetra Pak Champion Cheddar Cheese
- Big Chill Champion Farmhouse Cheese
- Good George Brewing Champion Goat Cheese
- Champion Export
- Champion Dutch Style Cheese
- Innovative Packaging Aspiring Cheesemaker
- New World Cheese Lovers’ Choice
- Curds & Whey Champion Homecrafted Cheese & Cheesemaker
- Huntley & Palmers Favourite NZ Specialty Cheese Shopping Experience
- Champion Butter
- Champion Yoghurt
NZ Champions of Cheese Gold, Silver and Bronze medal winners will be named on Monday 25 March 2019. The announcement of 26 Trophy Winners will on Tuesday 21 May at a three-course gala dinner – featuring some of the winning cheeses – at the Distinction Hamilton Hotel and Conference Centre.
Cheese lovers can be involved in the Awards by nominating their favourite NZ speciality cheese retailer at the NZSCA website https://nzsca.org.nz/. Alternatively, consumers can vote for their favourite New Zealand cheese in the New World Cheese Lovers’ Choice Vote from 25 March to 30 April.
 Scamorza Cheese: Scamorza is made in the same way as mozzarella but is a drier, firmer cheese. Scamorza is shaped in a ball or pear and available in plain and smoked varieties. It melts well and is less watery than fresh mozzarella.
 Stracciatella means “torn apart” in Italian. As cheese it refers either to thin strands of mozzarella soaked in fresh cream or fresh cream thickened with thin strands of mozzarella.
 Stracchino – a creamy, spreadable soft, white cheese. It has fresh and pleasantly sour flavour with notes of fresh milk. Stracchino has a very short ageing period.