After judges smelled, crumbled and tasted their way through almost 300 New Zealand cheeses, the medal winners of the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards 2020 have been announced.
Run by the New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association (NZSCA) for the 17th consecutive year, Australian Master Judge Russell Smith oversaw judging on Sunday 23rd February, working with a panel of 25 specialist judges.
NZSCA chair Neil Willman said the judges made special note of the quality and variety of cheese they assessed this year. He said changes to the way the Sabato Farmhouse Cheese and the Milk Test NZ Champion Cheesemaker were judged led to more premium quality entries. The inaugural ‘Ignite Colleges Chefs’ Choice’ received more than 30 different entries representing a broad variety of cheese types.
Particularly impressive this year was the number of cheeses assessed for ‘Big Chill Distribution Flavoured Cheese’ category. Retailers report double digit growth in flavoured cheese sales and kiwi cheesemakers are meeting this growing demand. Twenty-six cheeses received medals in this category – with nine receiving gold, eight collecting silver and the final nine receiving bronze. Flavours included distinctively New Zealand combinations like; Barrys Bay Coldsmoked Manuka Havarti, innovations such as Gibbston Valley’s Sheep Cumin and global flavour favourites like; Clevedon Buffalo Garlic and Thyme Marinated Cheese and Meyer Cheese Garlic & Chives.
Italian style cheeses continue their popularity with cheese lovers and cheesemakers alike. The quality in the ‘Cheeselinks Fresh Italian Style Cheese’ category was recognised with the judges awarding 21 medals – the highest number in the gold and silver medal categories with eight and 10 respectively.
For the first time the judges were looking for three Supreme Champions. These champions and the other ‘NZ Champions of Cheese’ trophy winners will be announced at a four-course gala dinner – featuring a selection of winning cheeses – at SkyCity Hamilton on Wednesday 6th May 2020. NZSCA is expecting 300 guests from throughout the country.
Kiwi cheese lovers are being called on to be part of the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards too. Foodies are asked to nominate their favourite place to buy New Zealand cheese in the 180 degrees Favourite NZ Specialty Cheese Shopping Experience. This award recognises the supermarket, specialty food store, farmers’ market or cheese shop which provides amazing service for those buying New Zealand cheese. Stores which receive the most votes will be assessed by a specialist panel of judges and one will be named ‘180 degrees Favourite NZ Specialty Cheese Shopping Experience’ at the Awards ceremony in May.