One of the country’s newest cheesemakers and one of its most-established have taken out the two supreme prizes in this year’s Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards.

Mercer Extra Mature Gouda with Cumin, by Mercer Cheese, won Yealands Estate Champion of Champions Award, for large cheesemakers, and Galactic Gold washed rind cheese, by Over the Moon Dairy Company, won the Cuisine Champion Artisan Cheese Award, for smaller producers.

More than 400 cheeses were entered in this year’s awards, announced at a gala dinner and awards ceremony at SKYCITY Convention Centre in Auckland tonight.

Mercer Cheese is one of the country’s most established specialty cheesemakers. It was set up by Dutch immigrant Albert Alferink in the early 1980s, just as New Zealanders’ cheese tastes were expanding beyond the cheddar-style cheeses they had grown up with.

Alferink started making Dutch-style cheeses from cows he milked himself at the back of the Meremere Power Station, in the Waikato, and then in 1983 opened the Mercer Cheese Shop. He’s since stopped milking his own cows – instead buying milk in from a neighbouring farmer – to concentrate on producing the cheeses that have become increasingly popular with his loyal and growing customer base.

Mercer cheeses won more than 30 medals in previous years, and last year produced the country’s top Dutch-style cheese, its Mature Gouda.

In 2009 he has taken the award for Champion Dutch-style cheese again this time for Mercer’s Extra Mature Gouda with Cumin. He has also gone one step further by scooping the supreme Champion of Champions award and in addition, Albert has been named the NZ Cheese School Champion Cheesemaker.

Awards master judge Neil Willman says Mercer’s Extra Mature with Cumin is “a truly delightful cheese”.

“This is a superb aged Gouda, with a full, rich, well-balanced and rounded flavour. The cumin seeds and their flavour were in perfect balance with the cheese flavours.”

The supreme award for smaller cheesemakers, the Cuisine Champion Artisan Cheese, has this year gone to Over the Moon Dairy Company, for its Galactic Gold washed rind cheese.

Established in Putaruru in January last year by Sue Arthur, Over the Moon produces just 9000kg of cheese annually, in 18 different styles. Galactic Gold is described as an orangey-yellow cheese with a sticky rind, strong flavour and creamy texture.
“This cheese displayed all the hallmarks of a classic French washed rind and would be at home on any French cheeseboard,” says Willman. “It has a creamy unctuous texture, an attractive rind and a superb yet complex washed-rind flavour, with elements of pungency, earthiness, sweetness and nuttiness.”

The hundreds of cheeses in the Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards were judged in 19 categories, covering all milk and cheese types, best cheesemaker and even packaging.

Willman says this year’s entries showed an even greater depth of quality than in previous years.

“This highlights that standards continue to improve, despite the difficult climatic conditions the dairy industry experienced last year.”

The public can sample the award winners, and many of New Zealand’s best cheeses, at Cheese Fest, from 5-8pm on March 4 at the SKYCITY Convention Centre, Auckland.

2009 Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards WINNERS

EMBARGOED UNTIL 10PM, 3 March 2009

Yealands Estate Champion of Champions Award
Mercer Extra Mature with Cumin – Mercer Cheese

Cuisine Champion Artisan Cheese
Galactic Gold – Over the Moon Dairy Company

SKYCITY Champion Fresh Unripened Cheese
Puhoi Valley Crème Fraiche – Puhoi Valley Cheese

Foodtown Woolworths Champion Feta Cheese
Salt of The Earth – Crescent Dairy Goats

Innovative Packaging Champion Soft White Rind
Kaimai Double Cream Camembert – Kaimai Cheese Company

SABATO Champion Goat Cheese
Aroha Rich Plain – Aroha Organic Goat Cheese

NZSCA Champion Sheep Cheese
Curio Bay Pecorino – Blue River Dairy Products

New World Champion Washed Rind Cheese
Galactic Gold – Over the Moon Dairy Company

Ecolab Champion Blue Cheese
Te Mata Creamy Blue – Te Mata Cheese Company

Hally Labels Champion Cheddar
Kapiti Tuteremoana Cheddar – Fonterra Brands NZ

NZSCA Champion European Style Cheese
Kapiti Karu – Fonterra Brands NZ

NZSCA Champion Dutch Style Cheese
Mercer Extra Mature with Cumin – Mercer Cheese

NZ Food Safety Authority Champion New Cheese
Rawhide – Neudorf Dairy

Fonterra Champion Original NZ Cheese
Old Gold – Crescent Dairy Goats

NZSCA Champion Flavoured Cheese
Aroha Cumin – Aroha Organic Goat Cheese

NZSCA Champion Export Cheese
Kapiti Kikorangi – Fonterra Brands NZ

New World Champion Favourite Cheese
Bouton D’or Cow Feta – Goodman Fielder

NZSCA Champion Cheese Packaging
Whitestone Cheese Tin – Whitestone Cheese

Curds & Whey Champion Hobbyist Cheese
Cumin Gouda

Katherine Mowbray Champion Hobbyist Cheesemaker
Kyle Brennan

NZ Cheese School Champion Cheesemaker
Albert Alferink – Mercer Cheese

 

Prepared on behalf of the NZ Specialist Cheesemakers Association by Goode PR, Auckland. For further information, images or interviews: please contact Petra Mihaljevich on 021 509 062 or (09) 480 9948 or petra@goodepr.co.nzor Stephanie Lowe on 021 389 559 or (09) 480 9948 or stephanie@goodepr.co.nz.

Media release – 03 Mar 2009

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