Friday, 29 May 2020 09:21

Quality milk, top craftsmen bring co-op cheese awards

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
The award-winning Kapiti Awa Blue. The award-winning Kapiti Awa Blue.

It was a great day for Fonterra at this year’s virtual 2020 NZ Cheese Awards.

The co-operative’s Lichfield-based cheesemaker Sam Pokaitara scooped the Champion Cheesemaker title. And the co-op capped off the awards ceremony, held on Facebook on May 6, by bagging a bunch of top awards, including the champion original cheese for its Kapiti Awa Blue.

Fonterra says the awards recognised its farmers’ top-quality milk and the co-op’s cheesemaking expertise.

A significant change for 2020 Awards was judging of the Champion Cheesemaker. Now cheesemakers enter three styles of cheese, which are assessed as one entry. The winner is the cheesemaker who receives the highest aggregate score across their three cheeses. 

Pokaitara, Lichfield’s brine salt cheese process project manager, was surprised to win the top award.

Pokaitara thought his colleague, Iain O’Donnell, was pulling a prank on him when he received a message from Iain saying he’d won.

“I didn’t believe him since we take the mickey all the time. When I found out it was true, I had a big grin on my face.

“Everyone on site has been calling me ‘champ’ – I don’t think I’m going to live this down.”

Sam Pokaitara.

Pokaitara has been working for the co-op for 15 years, primarily in cheese, and has developed a strong passion for making it.

As a process manager, he is responsible for the cheese manufacturing process from start to finish – from ordering ingredients and getting the milk on-site, to managing the recipes and troubleshooting to streamline the process.

“We make specialty cheese on a commodity scale, so every single block is top quality.

“At the brine salt cheese plant, it’s a highly mechanical process with thousands of moving parts. I love that it’s a different challenge every year.”

He says the secret to making the best cheese is top quality milk and experienced operators.

“Manufacturing world class cheese is only possible with the best quality milk from the mighty Waikato, and good operators who know what they’re doing.” 

 The awards are organised by the New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association (NZSCA), and the cheeses were judged at the end of February in a pre-COVID-19 environment.

NZSCA chair Neil Willman says for the first time the judges were looking for three supreme champions to recognise the scale and diversity of the New Zealand cheese industry from large global players through to medium-sized and boutique cheese producers.

Joining Fonterra as other supreme champions were Meyer Goat’s Milk Gouda (medium size producer) and The Drunken Nanny Black Tie (boutique cheese). The Black Tie is a pyramid shaped fresh goat cheese, coated with a sprinkle of black ash, from burnt grape vines imported from France made by The Drunken Nanny Ltd.

Willman says it was very pleasing to see that cheesemakers have responded to changes in the awards with increased entries this year.

The new Chefs’ Choice award attracted around 30 entries.

 “Additionally there is much anticipation about the winners of the expanded Champions of Champions awards, this year for the first time we’re thrilled to name three winners from very small, medium and large producers – a true reflection of the diversity of the New Zealand cheesemaking industry,” says Willman.

More like this

Is he the right Guy for Fonterra?

Former Primary Industries Minister and Fonterra board aspirant Nathan Guy believes his relationships with bureaucrats in Wellington will help the co-op’s farmers immensely.

Fonterra back in the black

Fonterra chief executive Miles Hurrell says 2019/20 was a good year for the co-op, with profit up, debt down and a strong milk price.


Longest running ag field days all go

The South Island Agricultural Field Days, held in Kirwee on the outskirts of Christchurch, will celebrate its 70th year in March 2021 with a bigger demonstration area.


New Feds man keen to build

New Feds board member, William Beetham wants the organisation recognised for its significant contributions to NZ farming and society as a whole.


Global movers and shakers

Dairy companies around the world are facing a dilemma – whether to expand or divest assets, says Rabobank’s Mary Ledman.

Live cattle exports in limbo

The fate of 28,000 cows in quarantine in New Zealand and supposedly destined for China in the coming weeks hangs…

Machinery & Products

Mowers get a makeover

Well known throughout New Zealand over the past 18 years, Pottinger has redesigned its rear-mounted Novadisc mowers to incorporate a…

Hardy spotlight

High quality, reliable lighting is essential for anyone involved in agriculture or the great outdoors.

Simmm twin water blasters

Italian made Simmm Power Cleaner 100/11 and Power Gun 100/11 single-phase (230 volt) electric water blasters are proving popular in…

OPD argument raging on

A stoush is brewing with the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) heavily criticising Farmsafe Australia’s recent Safer Farm Report.

» Latest Print Issues Online

Milking It

Cows and earthquakes

OPINION: It has long been suggested that animals have senses that humans don’t, and often behave differently than usual shortly…

Battle is on

OPINION: One of Australia’s biggest dairy businesses is back on the market after the Federal Government knocked back a bid…

» Connect with Dairy News

» eNewsletter

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter