The Great Eketahuna Cheese Festival in the Eketahuna Community Centre.

BECKIE WILSON
beckie.wilson@age.co.nz

It was a day of cheese in Eketahuna on Monday – talking cheese, smelling cheese, and, of course, eating cheese at the Great Eketahuna Cheese Festival.

The celebration of the country’s small cheese producers took in the hard, the soft, and the blue, made from goats’ milk, sheep milk, and raw milk.

Cheesemakers came from far and wide for the event, which was kicked off by Food Safety Minister Damien O’Connor announcing a new Food Safety Template for Cheesemakers.

Food Safety Minister Damien O’Connor sampling cheeses at The Great Eketahuna Cheese Festival. PHOTOS/BECKIE WILSON

It was a “common sense” and simpler approach to food safety regulations, he said.

Under the Food Act and the Animal Products Act, cheesemakers are required to submit a plan for food safety risks.

The new template was “a good step forward” for the industry, he said.

The minister wished local cheesemaker and an event co-organiser Biddy Fraser-Davis a happy 76th birthday, and the new template was probably the welcome gift.

Mrs Fraser-Davis thanked everyone for coming to support all cheese producers on Monday.

For the past 16 years, she had been a champion for improved regulations, and cheaper compliance costs through the Ministry of Primary Industries.

Monday marked the end of the road for that crusade.

French Ambassador Florence Jeanblanc-Risler, a guest at the festival, said artisan cheese had a “huge future in New Zealand”.

Tasmanian-based Bruny Island Cheese Company owner Nick Haddow said the event celebrated cheese in a “regional character”.

Mr Haddow was the first raw cheese maker in Australia and has spent plenty of time travelling and learning about cheese.

As a guest speaker, Mr Haddow discussed his own journey and the potential of raw milk cheese.

“Most cheese in the world are shit because great cheese, to me, reflects a moment in time and a place, in a way commercial cheese doesn’t,” he said.

He hoped the Eketahuna event would grow and become a very important national event.

Amanda Goodman, owner of Martinborough’s goat cheese company, the Drunken Nanny, was “proud” the region was being recognised for its small cheese producers.

Mt Eliza Cheese owner Jill Whalley.

Plenty of people from all over the world, including England and France, had already sampled her cheese on Monday morning.

The new template released by Mr O’Connor would help all small cheesemakers, she said.

“We struggled a lot when starting up.

“There was scarce information, and to have it collated and readily available will be an advantage.”

Marlborough Sounds family business Cranky Goat was represented by owner Simon Lamb, who said such festivals were important for small cheesemakers.

“It’s about us as individual cheese companies – we have a very little voice but as a collective it’s strong,” Mr Lamb said.

The Lamb family used the festival as a chance to talk to other cheesemakers rather than seeing them as competition, he said.

Mt Eliza Cheese, owner Jill Whalley, from northern Bay of Plenty, said apart from the national cheese awards, this was the only national cheese fair.

“This is about cheesemakers coming together and we are looking forward to celebrating our work in a way the wine industry has come together,” she said.

Mrs Whalley would like to see the festival tour the country’s provinces to get them a taste of the country’s cheese and show them that “cheese is not just for wealthy urban societies”.

Dr Paul Neaves, a dairy microbiologist from the United Kingdom, said the festival “means a great deal” to the country and industry.

Dr Neaves, a guest speaker, said the event will be very successful and is a way of saying “thank you” to the industry.

Other cheese producers at the festival included Kingsmeade Cheese, Meyer Cheese, Biofarm Organic Products, Cartwheel Creamery, Wee Red Barn, as well as MPI with an information stand.