A new cheese blend of cow and sheep milk has won the inaugural Ignite Colleges Chef’s Choice Award at the 2020 New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association’s (NZSCA) NZ Champion of Cheese Awards.

Chefs Jasbir Kaur of Ignite Colleges, Drew Lautenbach of Hallertau Brewery and Cordis Hotel executive chef Volker Marecek tasted around thirty cheeses, assessing them for flavour, suitability and use in cooking, selecting Mercer Cheeses’ Mercer Fifty Fifty as the winner.

This cheese, made by Albert Alferink in Onewhero near Hamilton, is a blend of cow and sheep milk and is believed to be the first of its kind in New Zealand.

Run by the New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association (NZSCA) for the 17th consecutive year, Australian Master Judge, Russell Smith, oversaw judging pre-lockdown on Sunday 23 February, working with a panel of 25 specialist judges.

Covid-19 prevented the planned Gala Awards Dinner so the Trophy winners were announced on the Association’s Facebook page @CheeseloversNZ at 4 pm on Wednesday 6 May. View the video announcement here. NZSCA chair Neil Willman said for the first time the judges were looking for three Supreme Champions to recognise the scale and diversity of the New Zealand cheese industry from large global players through to medium-sized and boutique cheese producers.

Of the 2020 Awards, NZSCA Chair, Neil Willman said, “It was very pleasing to see cheesemakers have responded to changes in the awards with increased entries this year. Additionally there is much anticipation about the winners of the expanded Champions of Champions awards, this year for the first time we’re thrilled to name three winners from very small, medium and large producers – a true reflection of the diversity of the New Zealand cheesemaking industry.”

“It’s also pleasing to see the cheese sales growth through supermarkets during lockdown. However, some smaller producers have had their sales severely reduced. As lockdown eases I urge all New Zealanders to show them support and buy New Zealand cheese!”

The 2020 NZ Champions of Cheese Awards Supreme Champions are:-

Countdown Champion of Champions Commercial Cheese; Fonterra Brands (NZ), Kāpiti Awa Blue; New World Champion of Champions Cheese from a Medium-sized Producer; Meyer Cheese, Meyer Goat’s Milk Gouda and Puhoi Valley Champion of Champions Boutique Cheese; The Drunken Nanny Ltd, The Drunken Nanny Black Tie.

Kāpiti Awa Blue is a regular NZ Champions of Cheese award winner, cementing its place as a premium New Zealand cheese. Awa Blue is Kāpiti’s strongest blue and has a sharp, salty, blue flavour. This sharp flavour is created by using a little less cream which ensures the cheese delivers a bold punch with a moist, crumbly body. While Kapiti has expanded its range since it was established, its commitment to excellence remains, proven by its long history of accolades from the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards.

Meyer Cheese is no stranger to the Supreme Champion awards – having been named a Supreme Champion on multiple occasions. Meyer Cheese is family affair, after being established in Waikato in 1976 by Fieke and Ben Meyer, it now run by their sons; Miel as general manager and Geert as headcheesemaker. Geert was named NZ Champion Cheesemaker in 2018 and 2019. Meyer Goat’s Milk Gouda is made with 100% goat’s milk giving it a sweet flavour and creamy texture.

All The Drunken Nanny’s fresh goat cheeses are made on the Goodman family farm 16km south of Martinborough. They’ve hand-selected, bred and raised the herd of dairy goats whose milk goes into making The Drunken Nanny’s cheeses. All their milking is on site, and the cheese is made daily in their purpose-built cheese room alongside the milking stand. The Black Tie is a pyramid shaped fresh goat cheese, coated with a sprinkle of black ash, from burnt grape vines imported from France.

A significant change for 2020 Awards was judging of the Champion Cheesemaker, now cheesemakers enter three styles of cheese which are assessed as one entry. The winner is the cheesemaker who receives the highest aggregate score across their three cheeses. The MilkTestNZ Champion Cheesemaker is Sam Pokaitara from Fonterra Co-operative Group. Sam is employed at Fonterra Lichfield in South Waikato where he has worked for 14 years.

The full list of NZ Champions of Cheese 2020 Trophy Winners follows.

NZ Champions of Cheese 2020 Supreme Awards are:

· Countdown Champion of Champions Commercial Cheese; Fonterra Brands (NZ), Kāpiti Awa Blue

· New World Champion of Champions Cheese from a Medium-sized Producer; Meyer Cheese, Meyer Goat’s Milk Gouda

· Puhoi Valley Champion of Champions Boutique Cheese; The Drunken Nanny Ltd, The Drunken Nanny Black Tie

· MilkTestNZ Champion Cheesemaker; Fonterra Co-operative Group, Sam Pokaitara

NZ Champions of Cheese 2020 Category Trophies are:

· Fonterra Co-operative Group Champion Original Cheese; Fonterra Brands (NZ), Kāpiti Awa Blue

· New Zealand Food Safety Champion New Cheese; Nieuwenhuis Farmstead Cheese, Nieuwenhuis Farmstead Moonstone

· ECOLAB Champion Blue Cheese; Mahoe Cheese, Mahoe Farmhouse Blue

· DUPONT Danisco Champion Fresh Unripened Cheese; Fonterra Co-operative Group, Anchor Food Professionals Cream Cheese

· Kiwi Labels Champion Greek/Cypriot Cheese; Clevedon Buffalo Co, Clevedon Buffalo Feta

· CHR Hansen Champion Soft White Rind Cheese; Thorvald, Thorvald Little River Brie

· AsureQuality Champion Dutch Style Cheese; Barrys Bay Cheese, Barrys Bay Edam

· NZSCA Champion Retail Cheddar Cheese; Fonterra Brands (NZ), Kāpiti Tuteremoana Te Tihi Aged Cheddar

· NZSCA Champion Bulk Cheddar Cheese; Fonterra Co-operative Group, Fonterra Stirling NZMP Mild Cheddar

· Cheeselinks Champion Fresh Italian Style Cheese; ViaVio Cheese, ViaVio Burrata

· Big Chill Distribution Champion Flavoured Cheese; Barrys Bay Cheese, Barrys Bay Smoked Rinded Cheddar

· Sabato Champion Farmhouse Cheese; The Drunken Nanny Ltd, The Drunken Nanny Black Tie

· Thermaflo Champion Washed Rind Cheese; Over the Moon Dairy, Over the Moon Galactic Gold

· Delta Wines Champion European Style Cheese; Karikaas Natural Dairy Products Ltd, Karikaas Maasdam

· Dish Champion Sheep Cheese; Thorvald, Thorvald Curado

· Renco New Zealand Champion Export Cheese; Fonterra Co-operative Group, Fonterra Lichfield NZMP 3MC

· Good George Brewing Champion Goat Cheese; Meyer Cheese, Meyer Goat’s Milk Gouda

· Curds & Whey Champion Homecrafted Cheese and Cheesemaker; Makauri Gold, Tony Hamblyn

The NZ Champions of Cheese 2020 Special Awards are:

· Ignite Colleges Chefs’ Choice; Mercer Cheese, Mercer Fifty Fifty

· Innovative Packaging Champion Butter; Fonterra Co-operative Group, Mainland Semi-Soft Butter

· NZSCA Champion Yoghurt; Clevedon Buffalo Co, Clevedon Buffalo Natural Yoghurt

Due to the Covid-19 lockdown the New World Cheese Lovers’ Choice Award will be voted by cheese lovers later in the year. As the 180 degrees Favourite NZ Specialty Cheese Shopping Experience requires mystery shopping, judging will occur after lockdown and the winner will be announced during New Zealand Cheese Month in October.

NZSCA wish to make special acknowledgement of the tremendous support received from their Awards sponsors despite the challenging circumstances created by Covid-19.

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