Friday 5 May 2023: 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 or camembert-style – with a hint of mushroom flavours and a luxurious melting texture with lingering flavour.
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 last night (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. It’s trophy haul was;
Congratulating Fonterra Brands New Zealand, Kāpiti, Master Judge Jason Tarrant noted how impressed the judges were when assessing 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.
Reflecting on two decades of the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards, Jason 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 announced in front of 300 industry professionals at a Gala Dinner in Hamilton; 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 t0 50 countries across the world. In awarding the top accolades the judges said; “Sweet, savoury…excellent flavour profile, great cheese, well balanced for age, good intensity.”
Family-owned Waikato cheese company, 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. After the assessing the cheese the judging panel commented “A lovely cheese lovely appearance with seeds…Flavour is lovely, almost a honey flavour and sweet curry Also lovely creamy balance.”
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!’
For the second consecutive year Hōhepa Hawkes Bay was awarded the Countdown Sustainability Trophy, for the cheese company 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.
The biannual Innovative Packaging Aspiring Cheesemaker was awarded to David Colman who has worked as an apprentice cheesemaker with Over The Moon Dairy Company in Putururu since 2021. A former chef, David says his greatest achievement at Over The Moon Dairy is creating a new flavour for the company’s triple cream brie; ‘Pink Peppercorn’. It won a gold medal at the 2022 NZ Artisan Awards and is now sold in New World and Farro as well as in Over The Moon Dairy’s two Waikato cheese stores.
At the same as former amateur cheesemaker Adrian Walcroft of Cartwheel Creamery was named NZ Champion Cheesemaker, the NZSCA launched its competition for the Curds & Whey 2023 Amateur Cheesemaker. Entry is open to anyone who loves making NZ cheese, from school pupils to hospitality students and enthusiastic home chefs. NZ Champions of Cheese Awards Master Judge Jason Tarrant and a specialist panel will assess the entries during NZ Cheese Month in October, with the winner being named at the end of NZ Cheese Month in October. Entry details are on the CheeseloversNZ website.
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 (originally under Foodtown and Woolworths banners), New World, Innovative Packaging, ECOLAB and Fonterra which have sponsored the Awards consistently since 2004.
Simon Lamb said that over the past 20 years 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 were announced a month ago after two days of intensive judging at Wintec Te Pūkenga, Rotokauri Campus in early March. 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;
NZ Champions of Cheese 2023 Category Trophies are;
NZ Champions of Cheese Awards 2023 Special Awards: