October is fast approaching, as are the long summer nights and the accompanying continuous observations that the days are, in fact, getting longer. What better time to enjoy a plate or two (or three) of New Zealand-made cheese?

That’s right, October is New Zealand Cheese Month, and by all appearances, Kiwis are demanding decent dairy. Specialty cheese has grown by 7.3 percent in value and volume compared to last year, and the same data shows that the total value of sales of cheese in New Zealand is up by 2.9 percent.

These figures come from the New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association, which each October hosts NZ Cheese Month to celebrate the hard work and dedication of the country’s cheesemakers.

NZSCA chair Neil Willmann – the chief of cheese – said the figures are proof that Kiwis are embracing their local cheese industry, and their tastes are getting more adventurous.

“It’s a reflection of the change to a more international style of eating,” said Willmann. “New Zealanders are wanting to explore different tastes and flavours and our cheesemakers are offering a broader range of cheeses to meet this demand.”

“As well as making the traditional cheddar we’ve grown up loving, NZSCA members are making speciality cheeses which haven’t been seen before in New Zealand such as; Mexican cheeses like Cajeta and Oaxaca, or Italian favourites such as Mozzarella, Ricotta and Mascarpone and interestingly other Italian styles which are less familiar in New Zealand such as Scamorza, Stracciatella, and Stracchino.“

In order to gauge what’s in vogue when it comes to cheeses, Fennec & Friends spoke to some of the industry’s experts.

Cookbook author and food expert, Lauraine Jacobs
Goat Cheese

“I love the way we have really begun to embrace goat cheeses. Especially the soft fresh cheese that’s perfect for cooking or to add a dollop to top a salad. It always used to seem pretty goaty but now there are lovely refined fresh herbal flavours that stand out.

New Zealand is making some of the most beautiful cheeses in the world, some steeped in tradition others reinventing the wheel.  Goats cheese is no longer something people turn their noses up at while buffalo and sheep milk cheese is infiltrating our dairy dominated country. Chefs love being able to introduce their diners to something new and to be able to tell a story and our local cheesemakers are making this very easy to do. “

Farro Deli Manager, Charlie Cai
Beyond cows’ milk cheese

“We’ve been really excited with the variety and number of non-cows’ milk cheeses being produced locally. We’re seeing the likes of marinated buffalo cheese from Clevedon and seasonal fresh goats cheese from small herds in Marlborough and Wairarapa. Overall we’ve noticed customers’ taste for sheep, goats and buffalo milk cheeses continues to grow.”

Owner of Nourish magazine and chair of Waikato Food Inc, Vicki Ravlich-Horan
Cheese Melts

“Waikato Food Inc recently ran our inaugural Melt Challenge and it was a huge hit among chefs and the public.  New Zealanders have grown up on cheese toasties, granted these were usually made from white bread and a slice or two from a 1kg block of cheddar.  The Melt Challenge and others like it shows classic comfort food from our childhoods don’t need to be foods we hide from, but foods we celebrate as we illustrate how far food has come in the past 20 (or for some of us 30/40) years.”

Restaurant owner and executive chef of Palate Restaurant (Hamilton), Mat Mclean
Cheese as the vegetarian superfood

“Cheese is always the hero of our vegetarian dishes and the huge growth in demand for vegetarian cuisine is seeing us use more and more cheese. We select cheese by the season and in the spring and summer, our dishes are all about fresh cheeses like Mozzarella and Ricotta. Whereas in the cooler seasons we favour aged hard cheeses. In the 15 years I have been back in New Zealand I’ve been excited to see the huge lift in the quality of New Zealand speciality cheese. Cheese is a ‘personal favourite love’ for me to cook and to eat.”

Owner of C’est Cheese, Featherston – winner of Huntley & Palmers Favourite
NZ Specialty Cheese Shopping Experience 2019 – Paul Broughton
Consumers looking for cheese provenance

“Over the last few years, we have seen a huge increase in consumer awareness relating to New Zealand artisan cheese. People want to know the provenance of the product they are buying and are very keen to hear the stories behind NZ’s very talented bunch of cheesemakers. We are very fortunate to have a diverse and extremely dedicated cheesemaking community and its very satisfying to now see the public wanting to be more engaged with their cheesemakers.”

New World Category Manager Delicatessen and Meal Solutions, Rebecca Tuhakaraina
Cheese Platters

“Prepared or convenience foods are sparking huge interest with New World customers. One of these is our of range of delicious Cheese Platters, from the tried and true tasty classics in the Classic Cheese platter to the locally crafted Kiwi Cheese platter. As well as receiving a great solution to help cater for groups, customers can also receive advice on serving suggestions and the best beverages to pair with cheese from our friendly deli staff.”