Te Aroha couple wins supreme cheese award

JAIMIE SMALL
Last updated 14:49 06/03/2014
Te Aroha cheese winners

AWARD WINNERS: Champion cheesemaker Jeanne van Kuyk and her husband John.

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A Te Aroha goat farmer took out the award for Champion Cheesemaker at this year's New Zealand Champions of Cheese Awards.

Jeanne van Kuyk, who runs Aroha Organic Goat Cheese with her husband John, won the Milk Test NZ Champion Cheesemaker Award on Tuesday.

One of the van Kuyks' cheeses, the Aroha Raw Milk Rich Plain cheese, won the Tuatara Brewing Champion Goat Cheese Award.

Van Kuyk said the secret to creating a champion cheese was "two words: love and passion".

Love and passion may be the foundations of Aroha Organic Goat Cheese's success, but there's a lot of innovation and hard work going on behind the scenes.

The operation consists of the van Kuyks and the 30 milking goats, or as she likes to call them, "the girls".

"We know every goat," she said.

Wherever possible, the couple avoid using excessive machinery. The goats are milked on a small mobile milking unit, custom built for the farm.

"The goats love it. They jump up in the stall and we milk four at a time," Mrs van Kuyk said. The point of difference comes from producing raw milk cheese, a product that she said was common in Holland, where she grew up.

"We are the first ever in New Zealand to produce raw milk cheese."

The process to become certified to produce this cheese for retail sale took three years. All other cheeses in New Zealand are made from pasteurised milk, which is heat treated to avoid unwanted pathogens.

Working with raw milk requires the highest standards of care, both of the milk and the goats themselves.

"It all goes back to hygiene, really. Hygiene and good health."

The Ministry of Primary Industries certified Aroha Organic Goat Cheese in December 2012, and the farm has now had 1 seasons of producing raw milk cheese alongside its operation of pasteurised cheese.

Van Kuyk said pasteurised cheese lost beneficial vitamins, nutrients and enzymes. Raw milk is more natural.

"Different elements contribute to a healthier product," she said.

Van Kuyk said the flavour is also "a little bit richer".

Both the raw milk and pasteurised cheeses were entered in the competition and both received a gold medal. The raw milk version went on to win the champion goat cheese award.

Other award-winning cheeses from the Waikato were:

Innovative Packaging Champion Soft White Rind Cheese Award

OMG Double Delight - Over The Moon Dairy Company

Thermaflo Champion Washed Rind Cheese Award

Galactic Gold - Over The Moon Dairy Company

NZ Chefs Association Champion Sheep Cheese Award

Mercer Pecorino - Mercer Cheese

Ministry for Primary Industries Champion New Cheese Award

Vintage Cumin Gouda - Meyer Gouda Cheese

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- Waikato

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