New Zealand’s growing international reputation has helped secure the strongest international judging panel yet for the 2016 New Zealand Champions of Cheese Awards.

Top critics from USA, UK and Australia will join local experts to judge more than 420 entries over a two-day competition this month.

Master Judge Russell Smith, one of Australasia’s most experienced international cheese judges and educationalists, said, “The Kiwi dairy industry is revered around the globe and we are also growing a reputation for quality cheeses and innovative cheesemakers, making the event a drawcard for high-calibre judges.”

“This year we have John Antonelli, Lee Smith, Clare Ferguson and Ueli Berger joining 27 local experts to provide a robust and talented panel.”

New Zealand speciality cheese is becoming known for its quality and innovation, so much so that a Meyer Gouda cheese was named among the ‘Top 75 Best Cheeses of the Year’ in the latest issue of US magazine, Culture. Lassa Skinner, a judge in the New Zealand awards last year, named ‘Smoked Gouda’ in her best cheese list.

“Having international experts visit New Zealand and experience our industry really will help put us on the map, and bring even more credence to the association’s sought-after accolades,” says Smith.

Each entry will be examined by a technical and an aesthetic judge as a duo, and strictly graded to pre-determined gold, silver and bronze standards.

New Zealand’s largest exporters, small artisan cheesemakers, home-crafted cheeses and yoghurt and butter producers will vie for the highly regarded 23 champion titles. The winners will be announced at a gala dinner at The Langham in Auckland on Tuesday 1st March.

The Aspiring Cheesemaker award, created in 2015 to acknowledge the future of New Zealand cheese making, will return for the second year.

The following day (Wednesday 2nd March) the public are invited to sample award-winning cheeses from all over New Zealand and meet the cheesemakers who produce them. Countdown CheeseFest, billed as at the ultimate event for cheese lovers, takes place at The Langham from 5pm to 8:30pm. Tickets are available for $30 per person at or $35 at the door.

Kiwi cheese lovers can be the judge by voting for the New World People’s Choice Award selected entirely by public votes through the New World website.

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