Friday 1 March 2024: The prestigious New Zealand Champions of Cheese Awards is back for 2024, with Master Judge Jason Tarrant pleased to be guiding thirty judges through an assessment of more than 250 NZ-made cheeses.

Jason Tarrant notes there are a few changes to this year’s judging on Sunday 3 March. For the first time all milk types – cow, sheep, goat, buffalo, and deer – will 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,” he says.

Goat, sheep and buffalo milk cheeses will be vying for the coveted ‘Best in Class Award’ which will be presented to the highest-scoring cheese in each category, in another change to the Awards this year. Additionally, Aged Cheddar is now aged across three age groups: less than 12 months, 13-24 months, and greater than 25 months.

Immediately following the judging of the NZ Champions of Cheese, Master Judge, Jason Tarrant, will fly to the USA to judge on Tuesday 5 March in the World Championship Cheese Contest®, one of the world’s most respected cheese competitions, held by the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association.

Among this year’s 30-strong panel is guest judge Rachael Sills. Rachael, a New Zealander, brings 27 years of international cheese expertise to the judging panel. Rachael 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 Alps 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 a decade ago in 2014.

Owned and managed by 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.

NZSCA Chair, Simon Lamb has welcomed the strong number of entries in the annual competition. He says winning awards is one way local cheesemakers can stand apart from imported products and encourage consumers to buy NZ-made. “Like many Kiwis, cheesemakers are finding business conditions tough. Over the past 18 months several boutique cheese companies have shut down their businesses. We’re pleased to host the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards which provide an opportunity to stop and celebrate cheesemakers’ endeavour.”

The 2024 NZ Champions of Cheese Awards gold, silver and bronze 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:

Woolworths; Champion of Champions (Commercial)

Champion of Champions (Mid-sized)

Puhoi Valley; Champion of Champions (Boutique)

MilkTest NZ; Champion Cheesemaker

Fonterra Co-operative Group; Champion Original Cheese

ECOLAB; Champion Blue Cheese

Champion New Cheese

CHR Hansen; Champion Soft White Rind Cheese

Dish magazine; Champion Greek-Style or Danish-Style Cheese

Cheeselinks; Champion Fresh Italian-Style Cheese

WINTEC Te Pūkenga; Champion Fresh Unripened Cheese

AsureQuality; Champion Dutch-Style Cheese

Champion European-Style Cheese

Danisco Australia; Champion Farmhouse Cheese

Thermaflo; Champion Washed Rind Cheese

Champion Aged Flavoured Added Cheese

Big Chill Distribution; Champion Fresh Flavoured Added Cheese

Tetra Pak; Champion Retail Cheddar Cheese

SEE; Champion Bulk Cheddar Cheese

OJI Fibre; Best in Class Goats’ Milk Cheese

Sabato; Best in Class Sheep Milk Cheese

Innovative Packaging; Best in Class Buffalo Milk Cheese

Dominion Salt; Champion Export Cheese

Special Awards

Chefs’ Choice

Woolworths; Sustainability Award

Curds & Whey; Amateur Cheesemaker

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