March 2023: The country’s top cheeses have been recognised with 162 receiving medals following the 20th year of judging for the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards.
Medals are almost equally split with; 57 Gold, 55 Silver and 48 Bronze being awarded following two days of intensive judging at Wintec Te Pūkenga, Rotokauri Campus in early March.
Master Judge, Jason Tarrant, presided over the panel of 30 judges who came from throughout New Zealand and Australia. Judges are a mix of cheesemakers, cheese retailers, food technologists and food writers who sniffed, tasted a range of New Zealand-made cheese across 20 categories including; ewe milk, washed rind, blue cheese, Dutch style, fresh Italian style, Greek-Cypriot style and cheddar. Judges were supported by a further 20 stewards.
Jason Tarrant congratulated all the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards medal winners saying this year’s competition was hotly contested and every medal awarded was hard won after being assessed by the judges who worked in panels of three.
“Looking back over 20 years of the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards it’s wonderful to see many of the same winners from the inaugural awards in 2004 have been recognised again this year,” he said. 2004 trophy winners included Puhoi, Whitestone Cheese, Fonterra Brands NZ Kāpiti, Fonterra Brands NZ Mainland and Zany Zeus. This year Kāpiti was awarded 28 medals, Zany Zeus achieved nine medals, Whitestone Cheese received eight medals, Puhoi attained seven medals and Mainland three.
Jason Tarrant noted, “judges were particularly impressed with the Filtercorp 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. Fonterra Brands New Zealand, Kāpiti deserves a special shout for receiving four medals in this category – two Gold Medals, one Silver and one Bronze medal.”
As is the case each year, one of the most contested accolades was the AsureQuality Dutch-Style Cheese with 15 medals awarded. Jason explained that Dutch-Style cheeses have attained a special place in New Zealand following the arrival of emigrants from Holland in the 1970s and 1980s who brought their cheesemaking recipes and skills with them. Other categories applauded by judges for delivering quality NZ cheese were CHR Hansen Soft Ripened Cheese in which 12 medals were awarded and Cheeselinks Fresh Italian Style Cheese which was recognised with 18 medals. Jason explained fresh Italian cheeses are growing in popularity with NZ cheese lovers who are a bit more adventurous and well-travelled than 20 years ago, when the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards began.
New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association runs the annual competition with association Chair Simon Lamb thanking the stewards and judges who volunteer their time. He also made special note of the Awards sponsors, many of whom – such as Countdown and New World – have been with the Awards for its 20-year history.
“Hundreds of volunteer hours judging and industry sponsors of the NZ Champion of Cheese Awards make this annual celebration of locally produced cheese possible. We recognise how important these partners are to help the Association assess the country’s top cheeses, recognise technical excellence in locally produced cheese and ultimately drive consumption of NZ cheese.”
Medal winners for NZ Champions of Cheese 2023 are available on the CheeseloversNZ website. Champions announced at the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards Gala Dinner – celebrating 20 years – at the Atrium in Hamilton on Thursday 4 May 2023.
The NZ Champions of Cheese 2023 Trophies are: