As the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards Trophy-Winners were announced the specialty cheese industry is facing uncertainty with the announcement of a Free Trade Agreement with Europe.

New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association board member Daniel Shields said New Zealand has bowed to EU pressure and given way on key cheese names. Of particular concern is the loss of the cheese name Feta.  However, negotiators have agreed on a nine year lead time for this change. 

“It’s a mixed bag for New Zealand’s specialty cheesemakers.  Particularly concerning is that Europe has succeeded in including the right to restrict new names at a future date. This creates uncertainty and makes it hard for New Zealand operators to invest in their businesses with confidence when the threat of a loss of equity in the intellectual property of traditional cheese names looms.”

New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association (NZSCA) chair Catherine McNamara saying local cheesemakers are worried about their future.

“The loss of a generic name like Feta gives us grave concerns that other generic traditional cheese names such as Havarti and Haloumi will soon be up for discussion too.  It creates an uncertain environment for New Zealand specialist cheesemakers.  We are now calling on the government to support industry and to work with us to create a New Zealand naming system which can be protected and invested in.”

Aotearoa cheesemakers woke up to news of the EU Free Trade Agreement after spending last night in Hamilton celebrating the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards by awarding 29 trophies.

The trophies awarded at a Gala Awards Dinner at the Atrium in Hamilton followed judging of more than 380 cheeses from across Aotearoa at Wintec in late February. Master Judge Jason Tarrant led a panel of 36 judges to assess the cheeses. 

The four Supreme Champions are:

Open Country Dairy Ltd, Open Country Young Cheddar (Aged less than 6 months); Countdown Champion of Champion Cheese Award – Commercial. Open Country is New Zealand’s second largest dairy manufacturer. The company specialises in producing dry salt cheddar style cheeses from fresh New Zealand milk and exports throughout the world.  One of judges on the senior panel who assessed this award, Ross McCallum said “A superb cheese! An excellent example of a young cheddar with balanced flavour and body. It’s pleasing to see cheese of this quality from a large producer.”

Little River Estate, Little River Mt Richmond; New World Champion of Champion Cheese Award – Mid-sized. Little River Estate cheese is made in a dedicated factory on Neudorf Rd, Upper Moutere using Oaklands whole A2 milk. Little River does not use preservatives, fillers, thickeners, stabilizers, sweeteners or other unnecessary additives in any of their products. All products are hand-made using traditional methods with no compromise. Master Judge Jason Tarrant noted Little River Estate, Little River Mt Richmond; is “A very near perfect cheese scoring a consistent 99/100 across the judging panel. Superb.”

Last year when Little River Estate, Little River Mt Richmond was called Little River Estate Aged Swiss it was also a Trophy winner, when it was named NZSCA Champion European Style Cheese Award 2021.

Craggy Range Sheep Dairy, Maraetotara Manchego; Puhoi Valley Cheese Champion of Champions Cheese Award – Boutique. James and Kate Clairmont of Craggy Range Sheep Dairy at Tuki Tuki Valley out of Napier follow pasture-fed, ethical farming practices to create sheep milk products. This

Spanish-style NZ Manchego sheep cheese is made at Hōhepa Hawke’s Bay and aged at least 12 months to develop its balanced flavour. Master Judge Jason Tarrant said: “For a boutique producer to deliver such a high quality cheese shows our small scale industry is in great hands.”

Cathy Lang, Fonterra Co-operative Group; MilkTestNZ Champion Cheesemaker. Cathy, who has been a cheesemaker since 2005, is Lead Cheesemaker at Fonterra’s Bridge Street site in Eltham, Taranaki. Cathy is fascinated by cheesemaking which she describes as the perfect blend of science and creativity. Master Judge Jason Tarrant said: “Three fantastic cheeses showing the diverse skill of the Cheesemaker. Cathy (and her team) have produced three world-class cheeses that are still uniquely Kapiti. The Kahurangi Blue especially takes me back to a place in New Zealand where blue cheese history was once and continues to be made. Congratulations!”

For the first time The NZ Champions of Cheese Awards included the Countdown Sustainability Trophy, for the cheese company showing an outstanding commitment to all elements of sustainability. The inaugural Countdown Sustainability Trophy was awarded to Hōhepa Hawkes Bay.

The Hōhepa Homes Trust was founded 65 years ago to provide intellectually disabled people with opportunities and now employs 180 people. Presenting the sustainability award, the judges noted that not only did Hōhepa Hawke’s Bay have a positive impact on the environment by reducing emissions by downsizing its petrol and diesel fleet and moving to an electric quad bike, they are having a positive impact on people through working with the disability community.Hōhepa Hawkes Bay won six medals in this year’s NZ Champions of Cheese Awards.

For the third year the Rutherford & Meyer Chef’s Choice was awarded. Chefs Mat Mclean of Palate Restaurant and Andrew Clarke, Chef du Cuisine at Hamilton caterers Kerr & Ladbrook tasted around 30 cheeses assessing them for flavour and suitably and uses in cooking. Rutherford & Meyer Chefs’ Choice Trophy winner 2022 is Mount Eliza Cheese, Blue Monkey. Made by Chris and Jill Whalley at Mount Eliza Cheese, Kati Kati Bay of Plenty this blue cheese is crafted from pasteurised cow’s milk and vegetarian rennet.

NZ CHAMPIONS OF CHEESE AWARDS 2022 TROPHIES

NZ Champions of Cheese 2022 Supreme Awards are:-

  • Countdown Champion of Champion Cheese Award – Commercial; Open Country Dairy Young Cheddar (Aged less than 6 months)
  • New World Champion of Champion Cheese Award – Mid-sized; Little River Estate, Little River Mt Richmond
  • Puhoi Valley Cheese Champion of Champions Cheese Award – Boutique; Craggy Range Sheep Dairy, Maraetotara Manchego
  • MilkTestNZ Champion Cheesemaker; Cathy Lang, Fonterra Co-operative Group

NZ Champions of Cheese 2022 Category Trophies are;

  • Ecolab Champion Blue Cheese Award; Fonterra Brands New Zealand, Kāpiti Kahurangi Creamy Blue
  • Tetra Pak Champion Retail Cheddar Cheese Award; Fonterra Brands New Zealand, Mainland Tasty Light – Noble
  • Sealed Air Champion Bulk Cheddar Cheese Award; Open Country Dairy Young Cheddar (Aged less than 6 months)
  • AsureQuality Champion Dutch Style Cheese Award; Karikaas Natural Dairy Products, Vintage Gouda
  • IXOM Champion European Style Cheese Award; Little River Estate, Little River Mt Richmond
  • dish magazine Champion Sheep Cheese Award; Geraldine Cheese Company, Sheep Feta
  • Dominion Salt New Zealand Champion Export Cheese Award; Fonterra Brands New Zealand, Kāpiti Kikorangi Triple Cream Blue
  • Sabato Champion Farmhouse Cheese Award; Meyer Cheese, Fenugreek
  • Big Chill Distribution Champion Fresh Flavour Added Cheese Award; Over the Moon Dairy, Black Truffle Brie
  • Sansmart Champion Aged Flavour Added Cheese Award; Meyer Cheese, Smoked Gouda
  • IFF Champion Fresh Unripened Cheese Award; Zany Zeus Crème Fraiche
  • Cheeselinks Champion Fresh Italian Style Cheese Award; Massimo’s Italian Cheeses, Burrata
  • OJI Fibre Solutions Champion Goat Cheese Award; Meyer Cheese, Goats Milk Gouda
  • Kiwi Labels Champion Greek/Cypriot Cheese Award; Waimata Cheese, Waimata Chilli Haloumi
  • Wintec Champion New Cheese Award; Craggy Range Sheep Dairy, Maraetotara Manchego
  • Fonterra Co-operative Group Champion Original Cheese Award; Whitestone Cheese Co, Vintage Five Forks
  • CHR Hansen Champion Soft White Rind Cheese Award; Fonterra Brands New Zealand, Kāpiti Akatea Traditional Brie (small)
  • Thermaflo Champion Washed Rind Cheese Award; Fonterra Brands New Zealand, Kāpiti Rarama Washed Rind

The NZ Champions of Cheese 2022 Special Awards are:-

  • Countdown Sustainability Award; Hōhepa Hawke’s Bay
  • Good George Brewery Innovation Award; Belle Chèvre Creamery Raspberry Bonbons
  • New World Cheese Lovers’ Choice; Puhoi Valley Camembert
  • Rutherford & Meyer Chefs’ Choice Award; Mount Eliza Cheese, Blue Monkey
  • Curds & Whey Champion Amateur Cheesemaker & Cheese; St Peter’s College, SPC Blue
  • NZSCA Champion Butter; Fonterra Co-operative Group, Fonterra Cultured Butter Edgecumbe
  • Countdown Champion Yoghurt Award; Clevedon Buffalo Vanilla Bean Yoghurt

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