It's been three years since the free trade agreement (FTA) was signed with South Korea and New Zealand cheese is making a significant impact on their shelves.
Two years ago, he made headlines by scooping the NZ champion of champions with his ‘50/50’ cheese, made from sheep and cows’ milk. And at the NZ Specialty Cheese Awards he has won many other awards for artisan cheeses he makes at his Mercer Cheese factory in Onewhero.
Now Alferink’s cheesemaking skills have put him on the global stage. In November, he picked up a bronze medal at the World Cheese Awards in Norway for his Vintage Gouda -- his first gong at the global event.
The cheese was Waikato Gouda from Mercer Cheese, entered by James Thomas, owner of online cheese retailer NZ Cheese Ltd.
Alferink, who sells the cheese as Mercer Vintage from his shop in Mercer, has always made vintage gouda cheese.
He told Dairy News that Thomas, a former employee at Mercer Cheese, decided to enter the World Cheese Awards.
“I found out after the judging day that we won a bronze medal,” he says.
Alferink says he’s happy to win a global award for his cheese but quickly adds that he doesn’t make cheese to win awards.
He says there are many hard working cheesemakers in NZ and, as in sport, only winners get to share the limelight.
Alferink makes 25 tonnes of cheese every year at his small factory. Most cheeses are either sold at his shop or sold to restaurants in Auckland.
Since October last year, he has exported to Australia; he hopes to sell one tonne of cheese in Australia this year through Calendar Cheese, a leading Melbourne distributor.
Alferink says the success of his cheeses depends on more than just the skills of his cheesemaking team. He singles out Onewhero dairy farmers Bryce and Rosemarie Costar, who farm 500m down the road and supply fresh milk for his business.
“It’s essential to start with good, fresh and top quality milk when making cheese,” he says. “And we get it fresh: when they are milking in the morning our tanker is there ready to pick up the milk.”
Alferink also thanks Fonterra; the Costars supply the co-op but are allowed to sell 20% of their milk to their neighbor.
He buys cheese cultures from Chr. Hansen, a global bioscience company with an office in Hamilton.
“Everyone helps me make top quality cheeses,” he says.
Getting everything right
Albert Alferink says the secret to his award-winning vintage gouda is getting everything right.
The curd has to be heated long enough to get it dried.
“There’s no flavor in the cheese for months; the taste develops over a year,” he says.
“There’s very little salt in the Vintage Gouda; young cheese needs salt for flavor but older cheeses develop their own.”
Alferink (67) is semi-retired and leaves most of cheesemaking to his protégé Thomas Fredrickson.