It was Cartwheel Creamery’s night at the 20th annual NZ Champion of Cheese Awards in Hamilton, with the boutique Manawatū cheesemaker taking out three coveted trophies.
Adrian Walcroft of Cartwheel Creamery made a 12-year journey from being named the country’s top hobby cheesemaker in 2012, to claim this year’s top professional cheesemaking accolade, Milktest NZ Champion Cheesemaker.
Champion Cheesemaker is selected by a special judging team who assess three different styles of cheeses made by each entrant, to choose a winner whose cheeses are the best across the board. Bestowing the accolade on Adrian Walcroft the judges noted, “Lovely lingering flavours, cheeses are all true to style. All three cheeses are beautifully made.”
Cartwheel Creamery was also awarded two other Trophies; Puhoi Valley Champion of Champions (Boutique) for its Cartwheel Creamery, Opiki Ma and CHR Hansen Champion Soft-Ripened Cheese also for Cartwheel Creamery, Opiki Ma. Made with goat milk, Opiki Ma is a soft white mould cheese – traditionally called a camembert-style – with a hint of mushroom flavours and a luxurious melting texture.
Cartwheel Creamery’s accolades were among 27 trophies awarded in recognition of the country’s finest cheeses at the 20th annual NZ Champions of Cheese Awards held in Hamilton on Thursday 4 May 2023.
Another big winner was one of the country’s most well-known cheese brands; Fonterra Brands New Zealand, Kāpiti, which collected six trophies:
• ECOLAB Champion Blue Cheese, Kāpiti Kahurangi Creamy Blue;
• Filtercorp Champion New Cheese, Kāpiti Ash Rind White;
• Thermaflo Champion Washed Rind Cheese, Kāpiti Rarama Washed Rind;
• Big Chill Distribution Champion Fresh Flavour Added Cheese, Kāpiti Kirīmi Chilli & Garlic Triple Cream Cheese;
• Tetra Pak Champion Retail Cheddar Cheese, Kāpiti Te Tihi Premium Aged Cheddar;
• Dominion Salt Champion Export Cheese, Kāpiti Kānuka Havarti Smoked;
• Kāpiti Kahurangi Creamy Blue won the popular vote in the New World Cheese Lovers’ Choice – for the 11th time in 20 years!
Congratulating Fonterra Brands New Zealand Kāpiti, Master Judge Jason Tarrant noted how impressed the judges were when assessing the New Cheese category. “It’s exciting for our industry to see so many new cheeses and it bodes well for the future that there is so much innovation and new product development,” says Tarrant.
Reflecting on two decades of the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards, Tarrant said: “Looking back its heartening to see while the industry has evolved it’s also maintained high quality brands and much-loved cheeses. Trophy winners at the inaugural Awards including; Fonterra Brands NZ Kāpiti, Puhoi, Whitestone Cheese, Fonterra Brands NZ Mainland and Zany Zeus all continue to make premium NZ cheese. We’re seeing innovation from these companies as well as new industry entrants, all of whom are evolving New Zealand cheesemaking.
“While we draw upon European traditions, Kiwi cheesemakers are now confident to give their products unique New Zealand names such as trophy-winning, Kāpiti Kirīmi Chilli & Garlic Triple Cream Cheese, include local ingredients such as kawakawa and make unique styles of cheese such as trophy winner Whitestone Cheese Co, Drunken Windsor Blue. It’s exciting to cast our thoughts forward another 20 years and consider what industry innovation may look like!”
In other significant trophy wins, Open Country Dairy Extra Mature Cheddar was named Countdown Champion of Champions (Commercial) – the second year running Open Country Dairy Extra Mature Cheddar has been recognised as Countdown Champion of Champions (Commercial). Open Country is New Zealand’s largest independent dairy processor and exports to 50 countries across the world.
Family-owned Waikato company Meyer Cheese received two trophies; dish Champion Sheep Milk Cheese for its Meyer Cheese, Sheep Milk Gouda and New World Champion of Champions (Mid-sized) for its Meyer Cheese, Fenugreek. Meyer has been a regular on the winners’ podium over the past 20 years amassing dozens of trophies. It’s the third year in a row they have won the Farmhouse Champion – an accolade which recognises the cheesemaker that makes its cheese on the same site as it milks its flock.
Another regular winner over the past two decades, Oamaru’s Whitestone Cheese was also recognised this year. Whitestone Cheese Co, Drunken Windsor Blue was awarded the Fonterra Co-operative Group Champion Original Cheese. This cheese, which is soaked and cured in Irish whiskey, captured the judges attention with their notes saying; “Very nice aroma, whiskey not overpowering. Very delicate creamy blue. Beautifully made and well-crafted innovative cheese….fantastic cheese idea!”
Sustainability Trophy for Hōhepa Hawkes Bay
For the second consecutive year Hōhepa Hawkes Bay was awarded the Countdown Sustainability Trophy, for showing an outstanding commitment to all elements of sustainability. Presenting the Trophy, judge Tami Schiefelbein, Countdown Manager of Human Rights and Sustainable Sourcing said “Sustainability is a clear pillar of your organisation, and can be witnessed in the values, mission, and activities that are embodied in all the work that you do…This year, we were particularly impressed by your new commitment to achieve SPCA certification, and your commitment to animal welfare during cyclone Gabrielle. In addition, we loved to see that you have implemented solar electricity in your operations.”
Hōhepa cheesemaking skill was also rewarded with Hōhepa Hawke’s Bay, Hōhepa Vintage Danbo receiving the IXOM Champion European Style Cheese Trophy. Hōhepa Homes Trust provides intellectually disabled people with opportunities and employs 180 people.
New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association runs the annual competition with Association Chair Simon Lamb thanking the industry sponsors who have made the past 20 years celebrating NZ cheese possible. In particular, he recognised Countdown, New World, Innovative Packaging, ECOLAB and Fonterra which have sponsored the Awards consistently since 2004.
Lamb said that the Awards had helped grow recognition of the quality of NZ made cheese and that was reflected with increased demand for locally produced cheese.
Trophy winners were chosen from the top 162 NZ Champions of Cheese medals, which were announced a month ago after two days of intensive judging at Wintec Te Pūkenga, Rotokauri Campus. Trophy and medal winners for NZ Champions of Cheese 2023 are available on the CheeseloversNZ website.
NZ Champions of Cheese Awards 2023 Trophies
NZ Champions of Cheese 2023 Supreme Awards are;
• Open Country Dairy Extra Mature Cheddar; Countdown Champion of Champions (Commercial)
• Meyer Cheese, Fenugreek; New World Champion of Champions (Mid-sized)
• Cartwheel Creamery, Opiki Ma; Puhoi Valley Champion of Champions (Boutique)
• Adrian Walcroft, Cartwheel Creamery; MilkTest NZ Champion Cheesemaker
NZ Champions of Cheese 2023 Category Trophies are;
• Whitestone Cheese Co, Drunken Windsor Blue; Fonterra Co-operative Group Champion Original Cheese
• Fonterra Brands New Zealand, Kāpiti Kahurangi Creamy Blue; ECOLAB Champion Blue Cheese
• Fonterra Brands New Zealand, Kāpiti Ash Rind White; Filtercorp Champion New Cheese
• Cartwheel Creamery, Opiki Ma; CHR Hansen Champion Soft-Ripened Cheese
• The Cheese Barn, Organic Halloumi; Kiwi Labels Champion Greek/Cypriot Style Cheese
• ViaVio Cheese, Burrata; Cheeselinks Champion Fresh Italian Style Cheese
• Fonterra Anchor Food Professionals, Anchor EasyMix Cream Cheese; Wintec Te Pūkenga Champion Fresh Unripened Cheese
• Fonterra Co-operative Group, NZMP Brine Salt Gouda; AsureQuality Champion Dutch Style Cheese
• Hōhepa Hawke’s Bay, Hōhepa Vintage Danbo; IXOM Champion European Style Cheese
• Meyer Cheese, Mild Gouda; Sabato Champion Farmhouse Cheese
• Fonterra Brands New Zealand, Kāpiti Rarama Washed Rind; Thermaflo Champion Washed Rind Cheese
• Meyer Cheese, Fenugreek; Interchem Agencies Champion Aged Flavour Added Cheese
• Kāpiti Kirīmi Chilli & Garlic Triple Cream Cheese; Big Chill Distribution Champion Fresh Flavour Added Cheese
• Fonterra Brands New Zealand, Kāpiti Te Tihi Premium Aged Cheddar; Tetra Pak Champion Retail Cheddar Cheese
• Belle Chevre Creamery, Zalloumi; OJI Fibre Solutions Champion Goat Milk Cheese
• Meyer Cheese, Sheep Milk Gouda; dish Champion Sheep Milk Cheese
• Fonterra Brands New Zealand, Kāpiti Kānuka Havarti Smoked; Dominion Salt Champion Export Cheese
• Open Country Dairy Extra Mature Cheddar; Sealed Air Champion Bulk Cheddar Cheese
NZ Champions of Cheese Awards 2023 Special Awards:
• Hōhepa Hawke’s Bay; Countdown Sustainability Award
• Kāpiti Kahurangi Creamy Blue; New World Cheese Lovers’ Choice
• Fonterra Brands New Zealand, Kāpiti Bridge Street Blue; Rutherford & Meyer Chefs’ Choice
• David Colman, Over The Moon Dairy Company; Innovative Packaging Aspiring Cheesemaker
• Giovanni Rodgers; Curds & Whey Champion Amateur Cheesemaker & Cheese