One trip to any supermarket in New Zealand and it is evident to see just how expansive the cheese market is. Usually there is a bulk section where the majority of the 500g-1kg blocks of staples such as cheddar and edam are sold. Then there is an ever-increasing range of speciality cheeses both from New Zealand artisan producers, as well as those from further afield.
Cheddar cheese is the absolute workhorse in New Zealand; the majority of this cheese is sold in its youth and has quite a mild flavour. Cheddar is used in all forms of cooking from Macaroni Cheese to topping your 'world famous in New Zealand' homemade burgers. The classic wine match for this cheese is a fruity red wine.
If the cheddar is un-aged, I would look to a refined Hawke's Bay Syrah like Trinity Hill Hawkes Bay, or if the cheese has a little age you could look to something with a tad more structure such as St Hallett's Faith Shiraz from the Barossa Valley in Australia.
For something slightly different, and one of my all-time favourite wine and food matches, slice some granny smith apples, add cuts of cheddar and consume this with a youthful New Zealand sparkling. Try a bottle of Te Hana Sparkling Reserve Cuveé - the palate is rich in apples and pears, which match well with the granny smith, while the natural effervescence tackles the creaminess that the cheddar adds.
Brie and camembert seem to be on the majority of cheese plates at restaurants, and are a usual inclusion at most dinner parties. New Zealand-made versions often cut hard due to drying out - this is why it's important to buy the best quality examples where possible. Let the cheese be exposed to room temperature for a good portion of time before serving so the middle 'oozes'.
Try brie and camembert with Champagne - the white mould 'crust' mingles well with the yeasty character of the wine. If Champagne is a little decadent on a Tuesday night, Chardonnay would be an obvious alternative. Wither Hills Wairau Valley Chardonnay, with its restrained spice and toasted cashew notes, would make a great nutty match.
Blue vein is my all-time favourite cheese! My wife hates it, and for the first 22 years of my life, I was the same. This was until I had a dinner at a restaurant called Fiddlers in Tasmania's St Helens where, I tried for the first time 'King Islands Roaring Forties Blue'. The cheese was medicinal in its character and it hooked me in an instant.
With blue cheese I love dessert wines and port. Croft Tawny or Ruby Port would be perfect and, being port, will last over many blue cheese sessions. I try and avoid red wine when matching as it is estimated that more than 50% of people will get a metallic note from the combination. If you do feel the need to match a red wine, try something with soft subtle tannins like the Wither Hills Wairau Valley Pinot Noir - this wine is luscious and juicy and should make for a great match.
We then move to the more exotic cheeses, which are gaining huge popularity due to their cooking diversity and complexities in flavour. Haloumi fits in this space, and is revered for its ability to hold its shape while being pan-fried. Excellent as a non-protein addition to salads, try Haloumi with a Huntaway Reserve Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc - full of nettle characters, this zingy sauvignon blanc would be a perfect match for those looking for a lighter dinner option.
Parmesan is a cheese we use quite often in New Zealand, and it's worth paying the premium for the Italian-made options. As good as this cheese is at adding depth to your favourite dish, it is brilliant just on its own. Try an Italian red if you can access one, or the Huntaway Reserve Pinot Noir with its spiced cherry and plum flavours would also be a treat.
At a recent wine and food educational session, I had feta as one of the food options to be matched with a number of different wines. I asked the class to present back which wine and food match they thought was best and why. I expected there to be a natural suggestion of sauvignon blanc with its tight acidity noted as a 'great match', but was pleasantly surprised when pinot gris came back as the preferred option. I put this down to texture - great pinot gris oozes texture, which helps account for the natural saltiness of the feta.