I have been preaching the gospel of cheeses to anyone who will listen since discovering the magic of cheese in a small Parisienne wine shop in 1983, and realising that the soil, grazing, wars and religion; not PR companies or the whims of a cheesemaker, determined the shape, size and character of Europe’s iconic cheeses. 

Such was my obsession I even moved to London, setting up Jeroboams, the Wine & Cheese Shop, and in 1994 created the British Cheese Awards and Great British Cheese Festival. Hence, on returning to New Zealand in 2016, to indulge my passion I created my Hunter Gatherer Tours with cheese as the ‘Hero’ of the day. 

All my tours, tastings and experiences are bespoke but, despite careful planning, my itinerary usually falls apart when we start sharing stories of food and travel and visiting our quirky, artisan producers and talented artists. After all you can’t hurry a fresh Strawberry Patch fruit ice cream or a honey tasting at Arataki Honey. 

And as cheesemakers see visitors as biological time bombs that can disrupt or even destroy their finely balanced microclimate essential to cheesemaking – visiting them is absolutely impossible – I created my Cheese & Wine Experience, a stand-alone event for 1 – 100, or part of a tour. 

Juliet Harbutt

Typically, after a busy morning Hunting & Gathering we arrive at my home overlooking Black Barn vines [or guests come straight here] and, while my Jack Russell, Winston, takes guests in search of avocados and a glimpse of my wild quail [not on the menu], I persuade the cheeses to come to room temperature and get on with converting our discoveries into lunch. Asparagus drizzled with figgy balsamic, Ya Bon sourdough dipped in Telegraph Hill oil and dukkha, and I make kumara chips. 

Then begins the almost serious part of the day – my Cheese & Wine Experience (Tasting in old speak!!). Discovering the stories behind each cheese and the impact of cider, beers and wines on their texture and taste. Some never to be repeated, others you never want to share. 

The cheeses are all local, nurtured to perfection in my special ‘cellar’ and at least one from each of the seven major types of cheese. I start with fresh cheese – the softest and highest in moisture and too young to have a rind. Today is Monets Garden, my own ricotta inspired by Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’. It’s lemony-fresh, herbaceous with a mousse-like texture that turns cider into apple sauce and chardonnay into apple pie. Sometimes I use Greek Feta to establish what authentic feta (never cows’ milk!) should taste like – I can get quite bossy! 

Next is an aged fresh cheese, Poukawa Fog (goat), with its classic wrinkly ‘brain-like’ rind. It is a small ash-dusted log made by the very talented duo Annie & Geoff Nieuwenhuis, named after Poukawa, south of Hastings known for its fog. Chalky in the centre, almost liquid below the rind it has understated, aromatic, herbaceous, goaty notes – only badly made goat cheeses taste or smell like Billy Goat Gruff.

The 3rd Category are soft white cheeses. The best-known examples are camembert and brie with their white fuzzy rinds and soft interiors. But, just as all chardonnay are not Chablis so all soft white are not Brie or camembert. Instead, they should have unique names, identifying their origin or appearance. Like Moonstone from Nieuwenhuis Goat Cheese. Square, with a soft, white, deliciously crunchy, rind that tastes like button mushrooms and encloses the voluptuous, creamy, almondy interior.

Next is a 4-month-old Danbo from Hohepa, my all-time favourite semi soft cheese. An inspirational place, set up in the 1950s to offer a meaningful life for those with intellectual disabilities, based on the Rudolph Steiner method of teaching and biodynamic farming. Supple and bendy, it tastes like your best-ever cheese sauce with hints of meadow flowers and sea breezes. What a cheese. What a story. 

Some semi soft cheeses are regularly washed in strong brine encouraging a smelly, orange, sticky rind to grow. Once banned on public transport in France, it was the style of cheese King Charles was keen for me to create from his organic Ayrshire cows. Today’s pick is Pink & White Terraces (Cow), best ever name for a cheese, made by Joanie and Richard Williams from Origin Earth, with its distinctive, delicate pink-orange rind, indelicate aroma and almost liquid interior. 

Now for the hard cheeses. Like all types of cheese, they can be made with cow, goat, ewe and even buffalo milk and as they age the complexities of the grazing [or lack of diversity] is released on the palate. 

I love learning by comparisons, so I’ve chosen Hohepa’s 18-month-old Mature Danbo (cow) and Tuki Tuki Gold Danbo (ewe) from Craggy Range Sheep, owned by Kate & James Clairmont, whose well fed, dairy ewes graze the rolling hills of Craggy Range. Both excellent, both made at Hohepa using a similar recipe, yet the difference is mind-blowing. The Hohepa Danbo is intensely savoury, like raw onion and grilled cheese, while Tuki Tuki Gold is smooth on the palate with classic sweet-savoury notes of ewes’ milk reminiscent of caramelised onions, roast lamb, Brazil nuts or lanolin – some might say soggy sweaters! And a local syrah embraces them both.

Last is blue cheese. Not the over-salty, high fat, prepacked blues that sit unloved for weeks in a chill cabinet but a generous hunk of Hohepa Blue, cut from a 1.5kg drum, made by the talented Ignacio and his team at Hohepa. Like comparing newly opened wine versus one opened for days. It melts in the mouth like spicy butter releasing hints of cocoa. Definitely one of New Zealand’s finest. 

Flavour added cheeses, hard cheese with flavours added like cumin or caraway are the 7th type. Look for the following brands – Meyer Gouda, Mercer Gouda or again, Hohepa!

By now my guests are ready to leap up and start preaching the gospel of cheeses and only the prospect of fresh asparagus and homemade tamarillo ice cream gets them down off their soap boxes swearing, “I’ll never buy a ‘fake’ brie again! Or drink red wines with soft cheese!”. 

If you want to join the converted and discover the art of cheese and wine matching or learn to judge a cheese by its cover join me for a Cheese & Wine Experience or a tour of our wonderful, fruitful Bay.

Someone once said that “cheese is milk’s leap to immortality” and more and more I think it might also be mine. Honestly, it’s hard to think of what I do as work. 

Photos: Florence Charvin


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *