The search for New Zealand’s next big cheese has begun. The country’s only national cheese competition, the 2011Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards, has welcomed its most impressive number of entries to date, from more cheese companies across the country.

With four new cheesemakers entering the awards this year, a record number of hobbyist cheesemakers (amateur producers), the rise in Haloumi as a new Kiwi favourite, and the use of a variety of different milks, the stage has been set for an exciting competition. It reflects the dynamic and diverse industry that characterises one of our biggest export industries.

Cheesemakers throughout the country are rolling up their sleeves as they produce and prepare around 450 specimen cheeses for judging in the 2011 Cuisine Champions of Cheese Awards, now in their eighth year. Winners will be announced at a gala dinner for the industry on Monday 1 March, 2011 at The Langham, Auckland.

“Judging by the number and quality of entries, the interest in speciality cheese has never been greater,” says Vikki Lee Goode, organiser of the 2011 Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards. “Not only is consumer interest at an all time high but we’re also seeing exciting new players and cheeses emerging alongside more established cheese companies.”

On Sunday 27 February expert cheese assessors from around the country will taste more than two tonnes of specialty cheese. A total of 28 judges, including some of New Zealand’s most renowned food experts and writers, will consume and critique hundreds of different cheeses.

The panel will be led again by Master Judge, Russell Smith from Australia. Smith is one of Australasia’s most experienced cheese judges, and is no stranger to the Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards. He has been a judge for the past two years.
The Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards are a celebration of local cheesemaking honouring the technical excellence in the manufacture of NZ cheese.

Every cheese will be examined by both a technical and an aesthetic judge and graded strictly to pre-determined bronze, silver and gold standards. Judges will also determine a Champion cheese in each category before selecting the two best cheeses in the competition to be named supreme winners of the Cuisine Artisan Award for small boutique producers, and the Yealands Estate Champion of Champions for larger producers.

Award organisers say there have been some stand out entries in this year’s awards. In particular the original cheese making category has inspired some interesting entries.

“There’s a cheese made by Gruff Junction that’s inspired by the Christchurch earthquake called Darfield. It’s a soft pyramid of goat cheese with a layer of black ash in the middle, which symbolises the fault-line, and when you cut the pyramid, the knife drags the ash against the white curd and looks like a seismograph,” says Vikki Lee Goode.

Vikki Lee says 2011 marks the most entries in the hobbyist category than ever before, with 30 entries received, 30 per cent up on last year.

“Consumer interest in making your own cheese is strong. The number of cheese making courses being offered is on the rise, and more people are contemplating making their cheese at home, just as they make their own bread. Access to cheese equipment is also a lot easier now.”

“We’re also seeing hobbyist cheesemakers from past years who have now developed into fully-fledged cheesemakers with their own companies. The hobbyist category in these awards encourages and supports amateurs to take the next step,” adds Ms Goode.

Haloumi is a popular entrant to the 2011 Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards. Eight years ago there was only one Haloumi cheese entered into the awards. Now there are ten entries from ten different companies.

“Award entries this year really reflect the maturing of Kiwi taste buds. Over the past decade, we have become more adventurous and now New Zealanders are eating a more diverse range of cheese styles.”

“The number of cheeses being made from new milk varieties is impressive which follows a global trend. “Today we have wonderful New Zealand cheese made from cow, goat, sheep and buffalo milk, and blends of these. There’s a growing number of cheeses entered into the Flavour Added category of the awards, cheeses being smoked or made with the addition of nuts, herbs and seeds. They all have their own unique flavours, reflecting our New Zealand terroir,” she says.

With farmers markets flourishing, the growing range of cheese at delis and the support of supermarkets, New Zealand specialty cheese is now more available than ever before.

Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Award winners will be announced at a glittering gala dinner at The Langham, Auckland on Tuesday 1 March 2011.

The public are invited to sample and purchase awards cheese at the ultimate event for cheese lovers, Monteith’s CheeseFest, where cheese in the competition is displayed for sampling at The Langham, Auckland from 5-9pm on Wednesday 2 March 2011.

Tickets for this event are available from

2011 Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards categories:

  1. The Langham Champion Fresh Unripened Cheese Award
  2. Countdown Champion Feta Cheese Award
  3. Innovative Packaging Soft White Rind Cheese Award
  4. SGS New Zealand Champion Goat Cheese Award
  5. Monteith’s Champion Sheep Cheese Award
  6. NZ Labs Champion Washed Rind Cheese Award
  7. Ecolab Champion Blue Cheese Award
  8. NZ Labs Champion Washed Rind Cheese Award
  9. QCONZ Champion European Style Cheese Award
  10. Bureau Veritas Champion Dutch Style Cheese Award
  11. NZ Food Safety Authority Champion New Cheese Award
  12. Fonterra Champion Original Cheese Award
  13. AsureQuality Champion Flavoured Cheese Award
  14. GEON Champion Cheddar Cheese Award
  15. Goodman Fielder Champion Export Cheese Award
  16. New World Champion Favourite Cheese Award
  17. NZSCA Cheese Packaging Award
  18. Curds & Whey Champion Hobbyist Cheese
  19. Katherine Mowbray Champion Hobbyist Cheesemaker Award
  20. NZ Cheese School Champion Cheesemaker
  21. Cuisine Champion Artisan Cheese
  22. Yealands Estate Champion of Champions Award

Prepared on behalf of the NZ Specialist Cheesemakers Association by Goode PR, Auckland. For further information, images or interviews: please contact Belinda Abernethy ( on (09) 480 9948 / 021 509 062 or Sarah Moore ( on (09) 481 0962 / 021 680 340.

Media release – 25 Feb 2011

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