We are so lucky that New Zealand cheesemakers are constantly producing new tastebud temptations, many of them Kiwi variations on European recipes dating back hundreds of years.
Six thousand years ago it was discovered that if milk was combined with acid, rennet or plant extracts, it coagulated. The ancient Greeks regarded cheese as the food of the gods, and one of the earliest references to sheep's and goats' milk cheeses (feta) was made by Homer around 700BC.
Gorgonzola, the famous Italian blue cheese, was first produced before 879. The earliest recorded French cheese is Roquefort, a blue cheese prepared from sheep's milk.
The annual national cheese awards showcase the varieties of New Zealand cheese now readily available. This year there were over 430 entries. One of my favourites, Kapiti Kikorangi, was once again the public's favourite, winning the New World Champion Favourite Cheese title.
It was one of the first blues to receive a medal, over 18 years ago, and its enduring popularity is testament to its consistency. It's perfect served with watermelon, or crumble it into mini tart shells and top with chutney and chopped fresh herbs.
If you find this blue a little too upfront, try another winner, Kahurangi Creamy Blue, a softer, more creamy cheese that is marvellous served with sliced feijoas.
Emmental - a traditional Swiss-style cheese - is another variety I love to have in the fridge. It has marble-sized holes, a pale yellow interior with a mild, nutty, sweet flavour, and a firm, silky texture.
It's a cheese you can serve to anyone and expect positive comments. Serve it on cheeseboards or add it to souffles or quiche (it melts readily).
For beer drinkers who enjoy a good sharp beer plus a bite of cheese, an aged cheddar such as Tuteremoana is the perfect match. My son professes to be a beer connoisseur, and when he's drinking stout it's his cheese of choice, served on his homemade crusty bread.
SMOKED HAVARTI, MUSHROOM & BACON PROFITEROLES
Havarti is a mild, semi-soft cheese that is excellent on cheeseboards or grilled or melted.
12 prepared profiteroles
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp olive oil
200g Swiss Brown mushrooms, diced
2 tsp Italian herbs
3 rashers streaky bacon
75-100g smoked havarti cheese
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Place the profiteroles on a tray. Bake for about 5 minutes to crisp.
Meanwhile, saute the onion and garlic in the oil until softened. Add the mushrooms and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Season.
Pan-fry the bacon until crisp. Cut into small pieces. Dice the harvati.
Remove the profiteroles from the oven and cut in half horizontally. Fill the bases with the mushroom mixture. Top with the bacon, cheese and profiterole caps.
Place in a muffin pan or on a baking tray. Heat for about 4 minutes, until the cheese has softened. Makes 12.
CHEESE SOUFFLE TART
A souffle mixture is cooked in a flan.
400g savoury short pastry
70g Pakari aged cheddar cheese, finely grated
5 Tbsp flour
150g semi-soft emmental cheese, coarsely grated
3 large eggs, separated
Salt and white pepper to taste
4 Tbsp chutney
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Lightly grease a 23cm loose-based flan tin.
Roll out the pastry to about 5mm thickness. Sprinkle with a third of the grated Pakari cheddar. Gently roll the cheese into the pastry.
Line the flan tin with the pastry, pushing it lightly against the sides. Do not trim. Chill for 10 minutes.
Line the flan with foil, pressing it on lightly. Bake for 15 minutes.
Remove the foil, then continue baking for another 10 minutes, until golden.
Meanwhile, melt the butter and stir in the flour. Cook for 30 seconds.
Gradually whisk in the milk, stirring until thickened. Simmer for 2-3 minutes.
Stir in a third of the Pakari cheese and the emmental, until melted. Stir in the egg yolks one at a time. Season.
Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold 2 tablespoons of the egg whites into the sauce. Mix well. Fold in the remaining egg whites.
Remove the cooked flan from the oven. Spread the chutney over the base. Cover with the souffle mixture. Sprinkle with the remaining Pakari.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until risen, golden and cooked.
Cool a little, then trim the edges. Serves 6-8.
BLUE CHUTNEY SPREAD
Great for spreading on crackers or crostini.
250g cream cheese
125g Kikorangi blue cheese, crumbled
cup each: chopped fresh dates, fruit chutney
1 Tbsp lemon juice
4 Tbsp finely chopped walnuts
Beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Add the blue cheese, dates, chutney and lemon juice. Mix well.
Place in a serving bowl and sprinkle with the walnuts. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Makes about 2 cups.
TWICE-BAKED CHEESY POTATOES
These are yummy and indulgent.
4 large red-skinned potatoes
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 cup aged Tuteremoana cheddar cheese, grated
cup each: grated emmental, sour cream
50g butter, softened
2 Tbsp finely chopped chives
tsp Tabasco sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 220C. Brush the potatoes with oil and place on a baking tray. Bake, turning once, until tender (about 45 minutes). Cool slightly.
Halve the potatoes lengthwise and scoop out the flesh with a spoon into a bowl. Leave a 5mm thick shell of skin and flesh.
Combine the scooped potato flesh with cup of the Tuteremoana, cup of the emmental, the sour cream, butter, chives, Tabasco, salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture into the potato halves and sprinkle with remaining cheese.
Bake until the cheese is browned and bubbly (about 10 minutes). Serves 4.
The Marlborough Express