Blue cheese has made a triumphant return in the 2016 New Zealand Champions of Cheese Awards taking out a supreme title for the first time in five years and the coveted people’s choice award.

Puhoi Valley Kawau Blue by Puhoi Valley Cheese won the highly sought-after Countdown Champion of Champions Cheese Award for large cheese producers, with Kapiti Kahurangi from Fonterra Brands NZ winning the New World Champion Favourite Cheese Award by public vote.

Twenty three category winners were announced at a gala dinner at The Langham, Auckland last night (March 1st), following a two-day competition where over 420 entries were examined by international and local cheese experts.

Officially the best big cheese in the country, Puhoi Kawau Blue was described by judges as an excellent example of a mild to medium flavoured blue cheese. “This has great rind development and superb even blue distribution. The texture is creamy with a great balance of spicy, savoury and sweet flavours,” Master Judge, Russell Smith said.

Puhoi Kawau Blue is the result of over 30 years’ experience perfecting blues by Puhoi’s head cheesemaker Franck Beaurain. Smith says you can literally taste the experience in the cheese. “This is an incredibly skilled cheesemaker who has clearly fine-tuned his skills over the years.”

Whilst Puhoi Kawau Blue is sold to New Zealand restaurants through food service, the public can enjoy this exact cheese under its retail name – Puhoi Valley Gorgonzola Style Blue.

Dutch-style cheese still features strongly in the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards with Mercer Cheese Extra Mature Gouda winning the Puhoi Valley Champion Artisan Cheese Award for smaller producers. This year saw a hat-trick for Mercer Cheese with their third consecutive supreme artisan win.

“This aged cheese has big flavours which are tangy, savoury and fruity resulting in a mouthful of sensations you just can’t ignore,” Smith said.

Dutch-influence also saw Jeanne van Kuyk from Aroha Organic Goat Cheese win the Milk Test NZ Champion Cheesemaker Award. Jeanne is the first female artisan cheesemaker in awards history to take out the title.

Aroha Organic Goat also collected the 180 degrees Champion Goat Cheese Award for its Aroha Raw Milk Jubilee. “This is a superbly crafted aged goat cheese exhibiting an extraordinary depth and length of flavour,” Smith said.

Not only did judges score this cheese a perfect 100 score, the only gold medals (3) awarded in this category were given to Aroha Organic Goat Cheese.

The golden moments continued for goat cheese with Puhoi Valley Fresh Goat by Puhoi Valley Cheese the first goat cheese in awards history to win the Renco New Zealand Champion Export Cheese Award. Puhoi started exporting this cheese to Australia late last year, and also sell it locally in supermarkets.

Puhoi Valley Cheese continued their stellar run in this year’s awards with Puhoi Valley Kawau Blue winning the Ecolab Champion Blue Cheese Award and Puhoi Valley Cellar Range Washed Rind winning the Thermoflo Champion Washed Rind Cheese Award.

The overall quality of washed rind cheese judged this year was noted as “phenomenal”, with the Master Judge describing them as the best example of this style. Five golds were awarded to washed rind cheeses with three of these won by Puhoi Valley Cheese.

Washed rind category winner Puhoi Valley Cellar Range Washed Rind also received a rare perfect score of 100. “This cheese is filled with highly aromatic, pungent, ‘in your face’ aromas followed by surprising mild sweet and savoury notes with a truly luscious texture,” Smith said.

Another notable winner was Hawkes Bay’s Origin Earth. The company won the Kiwi Labels Champion Feta Cheese Award for its Origin Earth Feta and the Cheeselinks Champion Flavoured Cheese Award for its Smoked Sheep Cheese.

Soft white rind varieties were also singled out by the judging panel for special praise, and described as “luscious and oozing,” typifying the best examples of this category.

Welcomed to the Awards last year, the Food for Chefs Champion Butter Award was won by Westgold Unsalted Butter produced by Westland Milk Products from the West Coast of the South Island. “This is the sort of butter you just want to slather more and more on. It’s a very good example of a technically well-made butter resulting in an even, smooth texture and delicate sweet flavours,” Smith said.

Also in its second year, the Green Valley Dairies Champion Yoghurt Award was won by Symbio Probalance Blueberry Wholegrain Yoghurt from Fonterra Brands NZ.

The New Zealand public continued to show their sophisticated palate for blue with Kapiti Kahurangi from Fonterra Brands NZ taking out the New World Champion Favourite Cheese Award for the second year running. This is the fifth consecutive year a Kapiti blue cheese has won the public vote.

This Wednesday (2nd March) the public are invited to sample award-winning cheese from all over New Zealand and meet the cheesemakers who produce them. Countdown CheeseFest, billed as at the ultimate event for cheese lovers, takes place at The Langham from 5pm to 8:30pm. Tickets are available for $35 at the door.

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