First-time entrant wins Cheesemaker Of The Year award
Kerikeri cheesemaker Cathy Oakley had to be pushed and cajoled by multiple people to enter this year's NZ Champions of Cheese Awards. But the effort paid off for the first-time entrant who was named Cheesemaker Of The Year, scoring a perfect 100 for the farmhouse sheep cheese she makes with partner Rod Clarke.
The couple's Just Ewe Winsam Farmhouse cheese also won the NZ Chefs Association Champion Sheep Cheese award.
"It's a bit of a shock," Oakley says. "It's really an honour to have that."
The best New Zealand cheeses were judged by 34 international and local cheese experts, from more than 370 entries. The 21 category winners were announced at a gala dinner in Auckland on March 14.
Oakley and Clarke have a small flock of 150 ewes which they milk daily from September to March. They concentrate on hard cheeses such as their farmhouse cheddar and they also make feta and halloumi.
The couple say they got involved in making sheep cheese "by accident".
"I was milking a few goats for the fun and made a bit of cheese for home," Oakley says. "We saw an ad for East Friesian sheep in 2009 and bought five to see what they were like."
Two years later they moved up north to Kerikeri.
"At that point it was Rod who decided it'd be more economical to go into sheep milking rather than goats. He located some more pure bred ewes and we have bred from them."
Winsam Farm is now a registered stud. The couple own 35 acres and lease a further 250 acres. They both take part in milking, while Clarke does most of the pasteurising leaving Oakley "to do her magic".
Now in its 14th year, the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards are held annually by the NZ Specialist Cheese Association, to honour excellence in cheese making.
Other Northland winners were Grinning Gecko, who picked up the CHR Hansen Champion Soft White Rind Cheese Award with their brie, while head cheesemaker Zev Kaka-Holtz won the Mad Millie Aspiring Cheesemaker Award.
Mahoe Farmhouse Cheese secured two bronze awards for their natural and greek yoghurt.