What do Italians offer as collateral when seeking loans from the Italian bank Credito Emiliano (Credem)? Cheese, of course.
The company has registered the new culture as 45 South Blue and expects to market its first commercial batch of cheese made with it by the end of January.
Whitestone Cheese, a family business set up in 1987, says it credits much of its success to the milk from the sweet limestone soils of the Oamaru region.
Chief executive Simon Berry and cheesemaker Chris Moran had been taking swabs from natural limestone caves in the region in the hope of finding a new strain of Penicillium Roqueforti, as used in France for Roquefort cheese.
They had almost given up when the lab testing the samples reported finding a Roqueforti in a sample of mouldy hay from the Shenley Station at Fairlie.
Berry said that as a biodynamic farm that did not use use pesticide or herbicide, they had been afraid the mouldy hay would be toxic for their in-calf heifers. “So they got the all-clear and we found a Roqueforti.”
Berry said over 400 strains of Penicillium Roqueforti were known but because this is a new strain from this part of the world, Whitestone had registered it as its own.
The first commercial batch of cheese from the culture should be on the market by the end of January, branded Whitestone Shenley Station Blue in honour of the farm where it was found.
“The flavour of it is subtle but complex,” said Berry. “It starts off quite mild then the flavour develops a little bit differently. It tastes different, so we’re confident it’s going to be a lovely cheese.”
Meanwhile Berry said he and Moran are continuing to swab caves in the hope of finding more commercially useful moulds, including in one “stunning” local cave originally a tunnel cut through the local limestone for early Oamaru’s water supply and now in use as a farm stock water dam.
With samples now at the lab, Berry said they have some penicilliums but still don’t know the precise strains.
He said the new cave was “great,” with high humidity and water flowing through and dripping from the ceiling.