New Zealand Cheesemaking – a brief history

It is one of the greatest culinary joys and super addictive; this October at the Big Foody Food Tours, we are celebrating CHEESE!
New Zealand is one of the world’s top dairy producing nations and carries a history of providing high quality dairy produce, especially milk powder and cheese.
The combination of fertile soils, mild climate and endless grass pasture is the perfect combination for dairy farmers, resulting in happy cows producing creamy and more yellow colour milk than their grain fed housed counterparts in other countries.
From our big co-operatives to our small cheese mongers, we produce some of the finest cheese in the world and we love to show it off on our Auckland Food Tours.
New Zealand’s dairy industry has always been export oriented. The first dairy export can be attributed back to 1885 to a Taranaki entrepreneur who sent 2 kegs of Eltham butter to England. As a Brit, Elle grew up in the UK with the New Zealand butter Anchor which was promoted on television by a cheerful jingle with the lyrics “Anchor Butter from green, green grass” New Zealand cheddar was one of the most delicious sold at the supermarket.
But what is exactly is cheese and how does the somewhat plain tasting milk, get turned into this delicious, hugely gratifying addictive goodness?
Simply put, (believe it or not), the naturally occurring bacteria in the milk feeds on the sugar contained in the milk and the lactose, whereby creating lactic acid. The acid causes the milk protein, casein, to separate into solid lumps of curd and watery whey.
By compressing the curd, you end up with a sharp, coarse cheese, which is the earliest form of cheese, eaten by our ancestors many, many years ago.
No one can say for sure, who and where the first cheesemakers were, but residues have been found from 2300 BC in a pot in Egypt. It is around this time, that evidence of cheesemaking was also found in China, America and the Pacific- it was afterall, a means of preserving milk for use all year round.
From this simple, most accidental form of cheesemaking, the basics of cheesemaking are primarily when bacteria is introduced into milk and the conditions are manipulated under which the bacteria grow, to yield the product so desired to be made. The millions of bacteria are the reason behind the milks extensive transformation into cheese.
Sometimes new varieties are created by accident, some are successful and some are not!
New Zealand’s first blue cheese was manufactured in 1951 at the now Bridge Street site of the multinational co-op Fonterra in the Taranaki.
Brie and Camembert styles have been made in New Zealand on an experimental basis since 1911, but it was not until the late 1970’s that successful production began. One of the first companies to produce Bries and Camemberts was the Puhoi Cheese company.
Once the 1980’s hit, New Zealand saw a rise of boutique cheese makers. On our tours we taste cheese made by over thirty different cheese makers. From Biddy in Eketahuna who has 5 cows (who we all know by name) to the mighty dairy giant Fonterra. For those who love cheese it’s a great experience.

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