Thursday, 21 April 2022 11:55

Niche goat milk cheese wows judge

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
Jennifer Rodrigue with Belle Chevre range of goat cheese produced on their small farm. Jennifer Rodrigue with Belle Chevre range of goat cheese produced on their small farm.

Winning medals at the annual cheese awards has become a norm for small goat milk cheese company, Belle Chevre Creamery.

Meaning 'Beautiful Goat' in French, Belle Chevre is a 16ha property at Waipu, 40km south of Whangarei. Owners David and Jennifer Rodrigue have been crafting goat milk cheeses since 2019, winning many medals in the annual New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association (NZSCA) Champions of Cheese Awards.

This year Belle Chevre scooped a gold medal for its Raspberry Bonbons in the Big Chill Distribution fresh flavour added cheeses category.

The cheese was singled out by Master Cheese Judge Jason Tarrant, who led the 36-member judging panel.

Tarrant says it woud be remiss not to mention Belle Chevre Creamery's Raspberry Bonbons which was awarded a gold medal in the Big Chill Distribution Fresh Flavour Added Cheeses.

"Belle Chevre Creamery's Raspberry Bonbons were so unexpected: hats off to them for presenting a cheese with the wow factor," he said.

"It was the perfect coming together of a cheesemaker and a chef, creating a goat cheese, raspberry and chocolate combo which delivered on flavour, presentation and innovation."

Jennifer told Dairy News that Belle Chevre was happy to win another gold medal. She says one of their first and favourite products is the soft goat cheese called Chevre.

"Ours is very creamy, but not goaty in any way, due to the delicate handling of the milk and immediate processing.

"Our Chevre is good in any salad or on its own as a spread or on crackers when rolled in herbs, nuts, drizzled with olive oil or honey - it is extremely versatile."

This cheese also won a gold medal in the NZSCA awards in 2020 and is the basis of the Raspberry Bonbons.

"Raspberry and dark chocolate are our two favourite flavours for any sort of dessert or treat so it was a natural to try and do something along those lines," she says.

David Rodrigue Belle Chevre Creamery FBTW

David Rodrigue with two of Belle Chevre milking goats on the farm.

"We integrate fresh as freeze dried raspberry powder into the cheese along with a bit of honey, ball it into 25 gram balls and dip them in Whittaker's dark chocolate, and garnish with more freeze dried raspberry crumble.

"Our choice of ingredients is simply a desire to deal with local, New Zealand companies as much as possible.

"We are a paddock to plate business so the food miles on our products are just from the farm to the local retailer, restaurant or markets where we sell."

Other cheeses include the pyramid-shaped called Manaia Ma, named after our local iconic Mount Manaia and ashed cheese, Picnic at the Cove, which received a silver medal this year.

In 2020 Belle Chevre's marinated goat cheese got a silver medal and bagged a gold medal the following year. The Zalloumi - a halloumi style cheese - won gold in 2020.

The business was born out by David and Jennifer's deire to be self sufficient on 16ha.

"We wanted dairy but weren't prepared to deal to the volume of a cow and all these years later feel better about goats for our land and environmental issues," says Jennifer.

The property was bought in 2015. Two in milk Anglo Nubian does were bought and initially hand milked.

Jennifer says they have always liked goats as an animal, goat's cheese and meat.

"We soon fell in love with tehm to the point that meat as not going to be a focus of our business and after those first two females had three more doelings between them we figured we had better find something to do with the milk.

"So I learned to make some simple cheeses. I found that the science of cheesemaking and creativity filled both sides of my brain and the physical labour of harvesting our own milk rounds out the perfect pre-retirement endeavour for our stage of life.

"Since many cheeses that are traditionally and specifically made with goat milk are French, it wasn't long before we started calling the place Belle Chevre."

The business was registered with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) in 2019 and started trading.

Belle Chevre Creamery will have 25 does on the stand in the new season which begins in July.

Melodious Swiss Bells

Goats milked at Belle Chevre are like pets to their owners.

"We care deeply  about each and everyone, they have names and are also adorned with Swiss bells like in most places in Europe," says Jennifer Rodrigue.

"We like the melody it adds to our life and fits in well with out 'bell' theme. It is also very helpful if and when they find a gate left open to know where the goats have wandered off to."

Jennifer says taking care of our goats is their first priority.

"We have reached out to more experienced goat breeders through the NZ Dairy Goat Breeders Association and really benefited from several mentors that have been ever so generous with their time and expertise.

"We are now buying in new genetics via bucks from elsewhere in New Zealand. Staying on top of hoof maintenance is always an issue as is managing internal parasites."

Belle Chevre Goat FBTW

Goats on Belle Chevre farm are adorned with Swiss bells like in most places in Europe.

The goats at Belle Chevre are dried off after Easter each year, giving the does "a nice maternity break".

Kidding is done between July and September.

At peak production leading into the Christmas customer demand, about fifty litres of milk is produced on once a day milking.

Jennifer says cheese is made daily.

"Small batch processing with fresh milk is the secret to the taste and quality of our products.

"We keep all practices as close to the traditional methods as possible."

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