Tue, Sep 27, 2022 10:27 AM

For the love of cheese


Tessa Jaine

Marlborough’s wine might take all the headlines but our cheese is also making a name for itself – the fact the two go so well together is just a tasty coincidence. Megan Smith takes a look at our cheese scene ahead of the South Island Cheese Festival in Marlborough next month.

Like the acclaimed author, Avery Aames said: "Life is great. Cheese makes it better!" I'm 100% in agreement with her. I must say that my palette and great love of cheese have improved dramatically from the cheddar sticks my mom packed for school lunches to what is now a passion for complex, hard and soft cheeses that are delicately wrapped in shiny paper, bearing intriguing French, Dutch, and Italian names. Do not start with the beauty of pairing them with some of the finest wines the vineyard-rich Marlborough region has to offer. That is a story for another day!

If cheese is your thing, robust wines, sunshine, idyllic days spent in the countryside, or exploring the culinary delights created by locals, then you should clear your diary of all commitments on Saturday, 8 October, for the South Island Cheese Festival held at the Clos Henri Vineyard from 10am to 4pm. With more than ten NZ artisan cheese makers enticing the public with their goods, there is guaranteed to be a slice of cheese for everyone. There will also be non-cheese food stalls featuring bread, crackers, pate, meats, and fruit for creating your own picnic to savour on the large lawn with a glass of wine or cider in hand.

Hannah Lamb, the event owner, came up with the concept of organising a cheese-focused event after spending many years working in the industry. "I spent a lot of time attending food and wine shows and saw no focused events in the country other than small cheese and wine tasting sessions. I decided to set up the South Island Cheese Festival to give cheese companies an event where cheese lovers could gather. Those attending the festival can expect an incredible range of NZ-made cheeses from all over the nation with varied milk types ranging from goats, cows, sheep, and buffalo in different styles."

Organiser of this years Cheese Festival, Hannah Lamb.

The success of the first South Island Cheese Festival, held in 2021 over Waitangi Weekend, has undoubtedly paved the way forward in offering an even more significant event with exciting things planned for future events. "The festival will expand over the next three years, becoming a multi-day event with workshops, tasting sessions, and collaborations with local wineries, restaurants and food producers," says Hannah. The event does not only hold importance for visitors but cheesemakers alike. "The festival is the only event in the country that focuses on cheese and provides the opportunity for NZ cheese companies to come together, collaborate, network, and taste each other's products."

The enthusiasm to create and share with others did not start with Hannah but is a shared zeal that runs deep in her family. Her parents are, after all, Simon and Hellene Lamb, owners of Cranky Goat Ltd. Their journey began ten years ago when they took a cheesemaking hobby and turned it into a business, initially making feta and soft cheeses using goat's milk. Hellene says: "We had a source of goat milk available locally when we started. Little did we realise that goat cheese is the most difficult to make as the milk is the most delicate and unforgiving." As of 2020, Cranky Goat Ltd expanded to include their Moody Cow range. "We both decided to have a career change because we wanted to work locally from home. Little did we realise where this was going to take us. Initially, we were producing 180kgs a month. We are now producing around 1.5 tonnes a month!" For the Lambs, it's onwards and upwards, hoping to hand it over to future family generations."

Cheese Festival goers at last years Cheese Festival.

Hellene is keen to share her background in cheesemaking with those who want to dabble in some cheesemaking themselves. "In the words of Nike: Just do it. Have a go and if it doesn't work, try again. You probably have all the ingredients to make the best cheese you have ever tasted. Once you've made it, the difficult part is repeating it. Over the years, I've made lots of cheese called Oops and Oops - that didn't work, but most of them still tasted great. Cheesemaking is a way of life that involves long hours and hard work but with great reward and sense of achievement when you get it right and finished cheese meets your expectations."

For those keen to relish a slice of Cranky Goat, you'd be happy to know it's available throughout NZ. However, the best place to get it is the Blenheim Farmers Market, The Karaka Kitchen, New World, The Vines Village, and Super Value in Renwick. Hellene also speaks highly of The Junction in Richmond, Nelson.

Another cheese fundi, Virginnia Thomas, operations manager for Thorvald and Little River Estate Cheese, reiterates where Hellene left off. "At The Junction we encourage people to try before they buy. One of the coolest things about cheese is that it changes from batch to batch based on the seasons, the composition of the milk, and even the touch of the cheesemaker, so it's always worth having a wee taste even if you think you know the cheese well. For those new to different styles of cheese, Virginnia encourages everyone just to dive in. “Our country has phenomenal sheep, goat, and cow milk and talented cheesemakers putting a real kiwi spin on traditional recipes. The speciality cheese industry is relatively young, and the styles coming through are exciting. The festival is a marvellous way to showcase all that the local cheesemaking industry has to offer."

With all this cheese talk, I thought to attempt making my own, a basic 30-minute recipe hastily Googled. I should've stopped there, knowing that producing my own 'artisanal cheese' in that time frame was too good to be true, not that anyone should not be inspired to give it a go. However, while stirring a boiling pot of milk, I realised that my love for cheese and culinary adventures were fuelled. This led me to chat with Dan Jennings, director of The Artisan Hub, a monthly artisan cheese subscription service, who answered my question: "How do I get access to all that New Zealand cheesemakers have to offer?" Simple says Dan, "head over to the Artisan Hub website, choose the size of cheese(s) you want to try from over 30 varieties, and we will deliver anywhere in New Zealand, right to your doorstep. The Artisan Hub does the curation, so the cheeses are always high quality but may challenge our subscribers' tastes. Tasting notes and pairing suggestions on each cheese are provided, helping subscribers become more familiar with the wonderful New Zealand cheesemakers and their products." And word for those wanting to step into their own and become a recognised cheesemaker? "Give it a go and follow your inspiration. Europe has great cheeses, but New Zealand produces some of, if not the best milk in the world, so create a flavour that you think best reflects your 'terroir'."

Simon Lamb, owner of Cranky Goat and Moody Cow.

So, with all this cheesy information, and wherever you find yourself on the spectrum of all things cheese or love a springtime festival and fantastic food, stop in at the South Island Cheese Festival. Grab your tickets for $10 via Eventfinda or for $15 at the gate on the day.

Side note: Those keen to explore cheesemaking can visit Urban Cheese, based in Christchurch, which specialises in cheesemaking supplies and equipment, plus offer several cheesemaking courses. Fresh cultures for cheese and yoghurt making can be purchased from the Culture Cupboard, based in Nelson.

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