New Zealand cheesemaking is on a roll, judging by the number and diversity of entries in the 2009 Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards.

“More than 400 cheeses have been entered in this year’s awards, showing that a year of controversy over the cost of cheese and increasingly gloomy economic news has not been able to dent industry growth”, says awards organiser Vikki Lee Goode.

“The diversity of this year’s entries reflects the growing sophistication of Kiwi tastes in cheese and the increasing maturity of our industry,” says event organiser Vikki Lee Goode.

“For example, for the first time this year we have two entries of Georgian-style cheeses: sulguni and inguli,  from Colchis, a small artisan company set up in Aucklandby Georgian immigrants.

“As well, we’ve seen an increase in the number of entries of boutique styles such as buffalo milk and sheep milk cheeses.”

The Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards, now in their sixth year and the only awards of their kind in New Zealand, are being held from March 1-4 at Auckland’s SKYCITY Convention Centre. Entrants range in size from New Zealand’s largest business, Fonterra, right down to one- or two-person artisan cheesemakers.

At the very small end the cheesemaking spectrum, the hobbyist category has attracted 10 entries, nine of them from new cheesemakers.

“The sophistication of cheeses in this category is very encouraging,”  says Diana Hawkins, chairwoman of the NZ Speciality Cheese Association. “They are all quite complex and require real cheesemaking skill – they are not just simple fresh cheeses.”

Another encouraging trend is for cheesemakers to graduate from hobbyists into commercial cheesemakers, showing how the awards help to develop the industry, says Goode.

“A great example of this is Waikato company Cloudy Mountain, and cheesemaker Cathy Lang,”  she says. “She entered in 2007 as a hobbyist, entered two cheeses in the main awards last year and this year has entered five cheeses.”

The hundreds of cheeses in the Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards will be judged in 19 categories, covering all milk and cheese types, best cheesemaker and even packaging. They will culminate in two supreme awards:  the Cuisine Artisan Award for small boutique producers and the Yealands Estate Champion of Champions for larger producers.

The team of 25 judges will be led by master judge Neil Willman, Australia’s only fulltime cheese educator and trainer who has, for 26 years, been responsible for all the cheese education and training programmes at Gilbert Chandler College, Australia’s only dedicated dairy college. Judging for the 2009 Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards takes place on March 1, with the awards announced at a gala dinner on March 3.

The public will be able to sample the award winners, and many other of New Zealand’s best cheeses, at Cheese Fest, from 5-8pm on March 4.

2009 Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards categories:

  1. SKYCITY Champion Fresh Unripened Cheese
  2. NZSCA Champion Feta
  3. Innovative Packaging Champion Soft White Rind
  4. SABATO Champion Goat Cheese
  5. NZSCA Champion Sheep Cheese
  6. New World Champion Washed Rind Cheese
  7. Ecolab Champion Blue Cheese
  8. Hally Labels Champion Cheddar
  9. NZSCA Champion European Style Cheese
  10. NZSCA Champion Dutch Style Cheese
  11. NZ Food Safety Authority Champion New Cheese
  12. Fonterra Champion Original NZ Cheese
  13. NZSCA Champion Flavoured Cheese
  14. NZSCA Champion Export Cheese
  15. New World Champion Favourite Cheese
  16. NZSCA Champion Cheese Packaging
  17. Curds & Whey Champion Hobbyist Cheese
  18. Katherine Mowbray Champion Hobbyist Cheesemaker
  19. NZ Cheese School Champion Cheesemaker
  20. Cuisine Artisan Award
  21. Yealands Estate Champion of Champions Award

Prepared on behalf of the NZ Specialist Cheesemakers Association by Goode PR, Auckland. Prepared on behalf of the NZ Specialist Cheesemakers Association by Goode PR, Auckland. For further information, images or interviews: please contact Vikki Lee Goode on (09) 480 9948 or vikkilee@goodepr.co.nz or Stephanie Lowe on (09) 480 9948 or stephanie@goodepr.co.nz

Media release – 10 Feb 2009

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