Whangarei Cheese takes top prize in the UK

Whangarei Cheese takes top prize in the UK

Grinning Gecko’s Kau Piro cheese – Maori for “stinky cow” – won a top award at the International Cheese and Dairy Awards in Nantwich UK for its young cheesemaker, Zev Kaka-Holtz.

Catherine McNamara, who founded Grinning Gecko with her husband, James, five years ago says: “Winning another medal at the world’s most prestigious international competition, after the medal for our Grinning Gecko Brie in 2016, is completely mind-blowing.”

The International Cheese and Dairy Awards in Nantwich were established in 1897 and this year drew almost 5,000 entries from 27 countries. Compared to newcomers Grinning Gecko, the two cheeses that beat their cheese into bronze place come from companies founded in 1884 and 1932 respectively.

It’s not only the Kiwi company that’s comparatively new, the cheesemaker is a newcomer too.

Grinning Gecko cheesemaker Zev Kaka-Holtz, who won the bronze medal for Novice Cheesemakers with up to five years’ experience, only started making cheese three years ago. He admits to only knowing Chesdale cheese when he joined Grinning Gecko late in 2015, but showed his aptitude for cheesemaking right from the start. Within five months, he was on the winners’ podium at the NZ Champion of Cheese Awards, having helped make the category champion Grinning Gecko Brie and narrowly missed out on category champion for the Kau Piro that he helped develop. A year later, Zev won the Aspiring Cheesemaker of the Year in New Zealand.

“The Maori side of me just wants to look after people by giving them good food,” says Zev. “I’m a geek, I like the chemistry side of getting things precise. My aim is to make cheese I would be happy to feed my kids.”

Apart from three gold medals and being named category champion soft white rind cheese three years in a row with Grinning Gecko Brie, Zev also had early success with his Kau Piro, taking out the gold medal in 2016. Now this same cheese has won him a bronze medal against the best young cheesemakers in the whole world.

“Zev’s latest win is a testament to his passion and commitment,” says Catherine. “Winning on the world stage at the International Cheese and Dairy Awards against emerging talent from all around the cheesemaking world is a massive achievement.”

About Grinning Gecko

Artisan cheesemakers Grinning Gecko Cheese Company in Whangarei makes some of New Zealand’s finest soft cheeses. Owners James and Catherine McNamara began production in January 2013 and has been winning medals since the very first year. All their cow’s milk cheese is handmade on the day of milking from certified organic milk sourced from a local farm. In 2018, Grinning Gecko added goat cheese to their range, made from sustainably farmed goat’s milk.

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