This time last week, I had eaten so much cheese my eyes were glazing over.
This time last week, I was at the MiINDFOOD CheeseFest having just grazed my way through most of New Zealand’s best cheeses.
I was lucky enough to get a trade/media pass which entitled me (and others) to a full hour of tastings and cheesemaker attention before the general public got in.
I caught up with Bri DiMattina, local foodie, and blogger. Bri was the winner of the Curds & Whey Champion Home Crafted Cheese and Cheesemaker Award at last year’s CheeseFest. Being my first CheeseFest I was stoked to be cruising around with someone from the exclusive cheese society. Bri gave me some great festival tips and we rubbed shoulders with important people in the cheese and food industry.
I got to chat to one of the judges, Sonia Cousins, whose credentials include Cheese Activist, Cheese Judge, and Cheese Writer. I learned that like professional wine tasters, cheese tasting judges spit. Spit! It came as bit of a shock but Sonia assured me that you couldn’t possibly swallow all the cheeses that have to be tasted and feel OK afterwards.
I also learned that the cheese were judged not on personal preference but for winning characteristics in their categories. For example, a cheese might be delicious (to you) but if it doesn’t have the desired qualities of it’s category, it probably won’t get a mention. The judges from each category also taste the winning cheeses from the other categories to come up with the supreme winners.
I’d already tasted a few of the winning cheeses the week prior at our little cheese and wine tasting party at home but was eager to try more. The Very Old Edam that my friends and I declared the best cheese at home, won the most coveted award at the CheeseFest. I was pretty stoked to have our favourite cheese up there as the judge’s favourite. I tasted it again just to make sure and then bought a hefty wedge.
I tried the Very Old Edam with a Japanese whiskey. I didn’t know whiskey paired with cheese was a thing. We drink good whiskey at home every now and then so I must remember to bust out some cheese next time.
I ended up buying a lot of cheese and I have no regrets. It would have been amazing if they had lockers or bag check. Carrying my haul of cheese around got tiring. First world problems, I know.
I also caught up with bloggers Rhiannon from In Rhi’s Pantry, Meagan of This Is Meagan Kerr and Doug from Traction Bike Blog. It’s always fun to have company when tasting cheese, regardless if your personal cheese preferences.
Tips for CheeseFest:
- There are amazing specials on cheese. Clear your fridge and bring a chiller bag (This excellent tip from Bri!).
- It’s damn near impossible to hold onto a plate, wine glass, camera, phone and bags at the same time. Choose wisely. Pockets are good.
- Don’t be afraid to skip an exhibit and come back later if they’re super busy. Go with the ebb and flow. It’s OK to do several loops. In fact, I recommend it. You can even come back to your favourites to buy and take home.
- Feel free to chat to the cheesemakers. They might be a little shy but they are incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about their craft.
- Taste the winning cheeses. Compare the judges’ palate to your palate.
- Don’t be afraid to try something new (like chocolate-coated blue cheese). You might be surprised.
I can certainly say that my cheese horizons have been broadened. I’ve been working on stinkier cheeses which I wasn’t a fan of, but after trying Mahoe Blue which is not a mild blue by any means, I think I’m getting there.
My favourite cheeses came from:
- Mahoe (Frieson-cross cows)
- Whangaripo (Buffalo)
- Crescent Dairy Goats (Organic goats)
- Retro Organics (Organic Jersey cows)
After the Cheesefest, I walked all the way home, lugging my bag of cheese. I hoped that hoofing home would justify the cheese I’d eaten. It probably didn’t and to make matters worse (or better), not long after, The Koala and I had a platter dinner with three award-winning cheeses and crackers, toast points and pate, chutney and cherry tomatoes. That night I dreamed of cheese.
I attended MiNDFOOD CheeseFest as media and while my ticket was gratis, I spent up large on cheese!
For more info about NZ cheeses, the Cheesefest and awards, check out New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association, www.cheeselovers.co.nz and CheeseLoversNZ on Facebook.
So good to see you! I definitely overdosed on the cheese, but it was totally worth it.