Cheese experts converged in Auckland on Sunday 24th February to taste their way through more than 280 entries to find New Zealand’s top cheese. The NZ Champions of Cheese Awards, organised by the New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association (NZSCA), have been running since 2003 and this year Kiwi cheesemakers are vying for one of 26 cheese trophies.

NZSCA chair, Neil Willman says one of the exciting changes for the judging this year is the growth in Italian-style cheese, with 28 different cheeses to be judged. “It’s a reflection of the change to a more Mediterranean style of eating. The Italian cheese category includes the more well-known Italian favourites such as mozzarella, ricotta and mascarpone but interestingly there are other styles which are less familiar in New Zealand. I’m looking forward to seeing Scamorza, Stracciatella and Stracchino in this section.”

Also of note this year is the increase in sheep milk products being judged, mainly because of the introduction of a new sheep milk category. Last year the panel had to assess six sheep’s milk cheeses, this year 15 sheep milk cheeses and three sheep milk yoghurts have been entered.

Associate Professor Craig Pritchard, a facilitator for Sheep Milk NZ, a Massey University-led initiative to promote sheep milk, says the increase in sheep milk cheese entries is brilliant.

“We’re absolutely blown away – what this tells us is that sheep milk cheese has captured the imagination of the New Zealand cheesemakers. It’s great to see that the small number of dedicated cheesemakers creating only sheep milk cheese have been able to inspire other makers across the country to try their hand at sheep milk cheese.”

Master Judge Russell Smith

Willman said he was delighted Master Judge Russell Smith of Australia is again presiding over the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards judging. “Russell judges at the world’s greatest cheese shows and so brings an international perspective. Russell is supported by a talented panel of 21 cheesemakers and industry experts from throughout the country.”

Willman said the Association was particularly pleased to introduce a new category for Champion Fresh Italian Style Cheeses and to reintroduce the judging of butter and yoghurt. “We will this year be judging 19 butters and 15 yoghurts from producers across the country.” Additionally, included in the judging are 20 cheeses made by dedicated home cheesemakers.

Willman made special mention of the Awards sponsors. “The NZ Champion of Cheese Awards wouldn’t be possible without these businesses which support our industry and we are grateful for their generous contributions.”

Medals and Trophies

NZ Champions of Cheese Gold, Silver and Bronze medal winners will be named on Monday 25 March 2019. The announcement of 26 Trophy Winners will take place on Tuesday 21 May at a three-course gala dinner – featuring some of the winning cheeses – at the Distinction Hamilton Hotel and Conference Centre.

Cheese lovers can be involved in the Awards by nominating their favourite NZ speciality cheese retailer at the NZSCA website

Consumers can vote for their favourite New Zealand cheese in the New World Cheese Lovers’ Choice Vote from 25 March to 30 April.


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