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Hunt begins for New Zealand’s big cheese

Wednesday 17 Feb 2010 3:31 p.m.

A nationwide search is on for the best cheese made in New Zealand. Cheesemakers throughout the country are milking, cutting, pressing and maturing with fervour as they prepare over 430 specimen cheeses for judging in the 2010 Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards later this month.

Organiser of the 2010 Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards Vikki Lee Goode says the stage is set for a very exciting competition this year.

“If the entry levels and enthusiasm we are seeing from NZ cheese companies is anything to go by, we are in for an amazing contest, she says.  

“Consumer demand for specialty cheese has never been stronger; we have a number of new cheese companies entering the awards for the first time and greater interest than ever in knowing more about this Kiwi favourite.”

Judging will take place over an entire day at The Langham Hotel in Auckland on Sunday 28 February as judges prepare to assess more than 2 tonnes of specialty cheese. A total of 24 expert assessors, including some of New Zealand’s most renowned food experts and writers will sniff, taste and scrutinise their way through nineteen different categories of cheese.

The panel will be lead by a new Master Judge, Russell Smith from Australia. Smith is no stranger to the Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards having judged the competition for the last two years but this will be his first time leading the panel. Smith is one of Australasia’s most experienced cheese judges and a renowned cheese educationalist.

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 name supreme winners of the Cuisine Artisan Award for small boutique producers and the Yealands Estate Champion of Champions for larger producers.

Goode says the need for two supreme awards reflects the progress of the NZ cheesemaking industry and allows those producing one cheese a day, with a small herd of animals, to compete fairly with larger operations producing cheeses readily available to the public.

“The reality is that all the specialty cheese we make is very labour intensive and the craft of cheesemakers is a key ingredient no matter how big or small the output.

“These days Kiwis can take delight in having a broad range of cheeses to choose from. One look at the diverse categories in the awards and it is clear cheesemakers are making almost every type of cheese. As consumers show their willingness to try new things, cheesemakers are responding with cheeses made from cow, goat, sheep and buffalo milk, and even combinations of these” says Ms Goode.

The Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards, now in their seventh year are a celebration of NZ cheesemaking. Winners will be announced at a glittering gala dinner at The Langham on Tuesday  March 2. The public will be able to sample and purchase their favourites when all the cheese in the competition are displayed for tasting at CheeseFest, at The Langham Hotel from 5-8pm on Wednesday March 3. Tickets for this event are available from www.eventfinder.co.nz.

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