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Best Cheeses Of The Year: Australasia


australasia

There’s great cheese nearly everywhere you look these days, whether you’re planning to summer in the south of France or ski the slopes of Canada. Over the next few weeks, we’ll take you to five popular tourist regions—the Alps, the Anglo-Celtic Isles, Australasia, Canada, and the Mediterranean—complete with recommendations for places to visit, fun facts, and of course, some of the best wedges and wheels in the area.


When you think of Australia, do you imagine golden sandy beaches, outback desert landscapes, or lush tropical rainforests? Sure, those are all present, but in between those extremes are verdant dairy pastures with cows, sheep, goats, and water buffalo grazing on green grass year-round. Across the ditch in New Zealand, similarly lush pastures fringe the South Island’s glacial peaks and fiordlands, as well as the active geothermal zones of the North Island.

Until about 1980, most Aussies and Kiwis had a universal love of just one cheese: mass-produced cheddar, which was commonly enjoyed on sandwiches made with sliced white bread. But then something interesting happened: A wave of Dutch migrants landed in New Zealand, bringing cheesemaking traditions from their homeland, and some young, well-traveled Australians decided to recreate the traditional cheeses of Europe at home. There are now more than 100 varieties of specialty cheese being produced Down Under—by family-run artisanal and farmstead cheese businesses and large, global manufacturers alike. So no matter where you go, sumptuous wedges and wheels await.

SMOKED GOAT GOUDA
Meyer Gouda Cheese, Hamilton, New Zealand

Brothers and second-generation cheesemakers Miel and Geert Meyer added two trophies to their (heavily laden) awards shelf this year for their Smoked Goat Gouda. It’s a step away from the more traditional Dutch-style cheeses the company is known for, but it still managed to nab the Champion of Champions in the commercial division as well as Champion New Cheese at the New Zealand Champions of Cheese awards. The wheel offers a smooth texture and subtle smoky flavor that plays well with the underlying caramel notes from the goat’s milk.

australasia

Fifty Fifty

FIFTY FIFTY
Mercer Cheese, Mercer, New Zealand

If you’re heading south of Auckland, be sure to take a detour off State Highway One to stop at the quaint yellow tasting room and shop at Mercer Cheese. Fifty Fifty—an aged gouda style—has crowd-pleasing clusters of crunchy tyrosine crystals and a complex blend of sweet and savory flavors. If you see it, act fast: It’s made only when the late-season milk is deemed just right for this type of cheese.

JUST EWE WINSAM FARMHOUSE
Winsam Farm, Kerikeri, New Zealand

Cheesemaker and sheep farmer Catherine Oakley was named Champion Cheesemaker at the 2017 New Zealand Champions of Cheese awards after her debut entry, Just Ewe Winsam Farmhouse, achieved a rare perfect score. The semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese—which also won the Champion Sheep’s Cheese trophy—is inspired by Welsh Caerphilly and has a delightfully toothsome texture, with beautifully balanced savory flavors and a mildly piquant finish.

GRINNING GECKO BRIE
Grinning Gecko Cheese Co., Whangarei, New Zealand

While the Northland region may be better known as the cultural and spiritual birthplace of New Zealand, Grinning Gecko Cheese Co. is putting the area firmly on the country’s curd map, too. Handmade from certified organic cow’s milk, the voluptuously smooth brie won Champion Soft White Rind Cheese for the third year in a row, and head cheesemaker Zev Kaka-Holtz won the Aspiring Cheesemaker Award. No wonder: the round’s earthy aroma and mushroomy flavor are hard to beat

Australasia

Venus Blue

VENUS BLUE

Prom Country Cheese, Moyarra, Australia

Burke and Bronwen Brandon are unique. Not only are they among a small handful of Australian farmstead cheese-makers who specialize in seasonal ewe’s milk cheeses, they’re also the only Aussie makers using indigenous cultures sourced from their own milk. The resulting Venus Blue is a stunning example of balancing subtlety with complexity. The striking veining contributes piquant and meaty notes to the underlying sheep’s milk sweetness, while a bread-like finish lingers on the palate.

DIAVOLETTI
That’s Amore! Cheese, Thomastown, Australia

Meaning “little devils” in Italian, these cheeses are a reflection of the fun and good humor of their creator, Sicilian-born Giorgio Linguante. Sold in pairs that are tied with a string like miniature caciocavallo rounds, these supple, stretchy handfuls are flavored with liquid smoke and stuffed with a chile-spiked olive. You’ll banish any ideas of bland provolone-style cheese as you bite into one of these smoky, fiery mouthfuls—especially if you slice ’em in half and grill until browned and bubbling.

MIL LEL SUPERIOR PARMESAN
Warrnambool Cheese & Butter Factory, Warrnambool, Australia

Unlike many Australian cheeses called “parmesan,” the Mil Lel Superior brand is made using traditional Italian methods and aged for 18 months, which lend it balanced fruity and umami notes plus a crystalline crunch. It’s also one of only a few Australian cheeses available both pre-packaged and cut-to-order. So whether you need a quick block to grate over a bowl of your favorite pasta or a rustic-looking chunk to serve on a cheese board, this Champion Australian Hard Cheese is at your service.

australasia

Diavoletti

EMPORIUM SELECTION WASHED RIND
Unicorn Cheese Factory, Nowra, Australia

This stinky, orange umami-bomb is made exclusively for Aldi supermarkets at the Unicorn Cheese factory south of Sydney. Frenchman Gilbert Pesenti founded Unicorn Cheese in 1977, making it the longest continuously running producer of French-style specialty cheeses in Australia. When fully ripe, this washed rind has all the gooeyness of a mature Époisses. Imagine a spoonable version of maple-smoked bacon—this cheese is it.

FUN FACTS:

  • The Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, meaning “land of the long white cloud.”
  • New Zealand has the world’s largest number of indigenous flightless birds, including the iconic kiwi.
  • There are as many cows as humans in Australia (although more are utilized for meat than milk), and roughly 30 times as many sheep as people in New Zealand
  • Traditional Cheesy Dishes: Jaffles and Cheese Rolls:  A grilled cheese and tomato sandwich, or jaffle, is traditionally made in a jaffle iron, a hinged cast-iron mold that crimps the edges of the sandwich while toasting the bread and melting its contents. Jaffles are enjoyed all over Australia for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack, and transcend all notions of age or class. Indeed, Aussies’ love of the cheese and tomato toastie is so universal, you can even get one at McDonald’s.Cheese rolls are a popular after-school snack for children (who refer to them as “mousetraps”) and a morning-after staple for university students following a big night. Take a slice of cheddar, place it on a piece of white bread, then fold it in thirds and toast it in a sandwich press—that’s it. New Zealand cheesemonger Calum Hodgson says they’re also ubiquitous at school fundraisers and similar community events—think of them as the Kiwi equivalent of corn dogs or Frito pies.

Sonia Cousins

An Australian cheese educator and judge who enjoys cheese in all its forms, Sonia Cousins is particularly fond of artisan varieties made in her home state of New South Wales.

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