Monday 11 December 2023: The prestigious New Zealand Champions of Cheese Awards is back for 2024, with Master Judge Jason Tarrant pleased to welcome guest judge Rachael Sills. Rachael, a New Zealander, brings 27 years of international cheese expertise to the judging panel.

Rachael Sills career may have been destined. She grew up on a dairy farm in Mahuta, west of Dargaville and has become a recognised world cheese expert, specialising in cheese maturation and selection. Her career in fromage started on her OE which took her to London in 1995 where she started working at the legendary Neal’s Yard Dairy. In 2004 Rachael founded Käseswiss in Zürich, Switzerland. Käseswiss collaborates with Swiss alp cheesemakers and has become a leading authority in summer alpine cheese. Rachael is a regular judge for Swiss and global cheese competitions. She is looking forward to judging the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards for the second time after being part of the team in 2014.

Master Judge Jason Tarrant says a comprehensive awards category review followed the success of the 20th anniversary Awards in 2023. “We’re also striving to improve the Awards and to better represent our evolving industry and therefore we are pleased to implement exciting changes.”

The most important is allowing all milk types – specifically cow, sheep, goat, buffalo, and deer – to compete in each category. “This is recognition that these cheese types have come of age, they are no longer niche products but cheeses that can stand among the finest produced in New Zealand,” Jason says.

In 2024 goat, sheep and buffalo milk cheeses will be able to vie the coveted ‘Best in Class Award’ which will be presented to the highest-scoring cheese in each category. Additionally, Aged Cheddar categories have been revised to include three subcategories: less than 12 months, 13-24 months, and greater than 25 months.

Owned and managed the New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association, the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards are in their 21st year of recognising Aotearoa’s finest cheeses and shining a light on the best examples to guide consumers on purchase decisions with trophies and medals awarded to outstanding NZ Cheese.

However, NZSCA Chair, Simon Lamb says, “Sadly we are expecting fewer entries than in previous years. Over the past 12 months, three cheese companies have been forced to close their doors. In July, the government signed a trade deal with the EU that will force name changes for some common NZ cheese types and may result in cheaper imported cheese. It’s a challenging environment for NZ cheesemakers to operate in. Therefore, we’re pleased to host the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards to celebrate cheesemakers’ endeavour.”

The 2024 NZ Champions of Cheese Awards entries close on Friday 21 February 2024. Cheeses will be assessed by a panel of up to 30 judges at Wintec, Rotokauri Campus on Sunday 3 March 2024. Medal winners will be named on Tuesday 26 March 2024 with Champions announced at the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards Gala Dinner in Hamilton on Thursday 2 May 2024.

The NZ Champions of Cheese 2024 Trophies are:

NZ Champion of Champions (Commercial)

NZ Champion of Champions (Mid-sized)

NZ Champion of Champions (Boutique)

NZ Champion Cheesemaker

NZ Champion Original Cheese

NZ Champion Blue Cheese

NZ Champion New Cheese

NZ Champion Soft White Rind Cheese

NZ Champion Greek-Style or Danish-Style Cheese

NZ Champion Fresh Italian-Style Cheese

NZ Champion Fresh Unripened Cheese

NZ Champion Dutch-Style Cheese

NZ Champion European-Style Cheese

NZ Champion Farmhouse Cheese

NZ Champion Washed Rind Cheese

NZ Champion Aged Flavoured Added Cheese

NZ Champion Fresh Flavoured Added Cheese

NZ Champion Retail Cheddar Cheese

NZ Champion Bulk Cheddar Cheese

NZ Champion Goats’ Milk Cheese

NZ Champion Sheep Milk Cheese

NZ Champion Buffalo Milk Cheese

NZ Champion Export Cheese

Special Awards

Cheese Lovers’ Choice

Chefs’ Choice

Sustainability Award

Online entry is here.

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