“We are the champions!”
Paul Wood, a long-time member of Hōhepa Hawke’s Bay’s cheesemaking team, raises his fist in the air.
“I am proud of us all,” he says referring to the six medals Hōhepa won in the recent NZ Champions of Cheese Awards 2022, with the artisan Vintage and Danbo cheeses both winning Gold.
It is the best medal haul Hōhepa has achieved at the annual awards and Paul puts it down to the cows. “We have good cheese because we have good cows.”
He is one of 15 people Hōhepa supports to work on the commercially-certified biodynamic farm spanning 55 acres and grazing 50 cows.
General Manager for Hōhepa, Santiago De Marco, says it’s wonderful to share news of the wins – including three silvers for the Aged Danbo, Fenugreek and Herb Quark and a bronze for the Hōhepa Mozzarella – with the hardworking team.
“The people we support are at the centre of everything we do, working and living in the community, farming, bottling, packaging and selling our organic produce,” says Santiago. “They are brilliant at their work and feel the joy of engagement on the farm tending to the cows, and within the cheesemaking team, making the organic cheeses and yoghurt from biodynamic milk.
Founded in 1956 Hōhepa, supports 180 people in Hawke’s Bay and employs 600 staff across its sites, which include a school, residential home and market garden and many social enterprises, including a native plant nursery.
Sustainability is a cornerstone value at Hōhepa. Hōhepa milk is sold in returnable and reusable glass bottles, and the majority of its cheeses now come in compostable packaging. Meanwhile, the milk to make Hōhepa dairy products doesn’t have far to travel – it’s simply pumped through from the milking shed next door.
The people of Hōhepa learn by example, with artisan cheesemakers employed to teach and guide the cheesery team. “Those we support enjoy being involved so closely in every step,”says Santiago.
Hōhepa is a not-for-profit organisation that supports people with intellectual disability throughout Aotearoa, New Zealand. Its vision is ‘Every life fully lived’.
Santiago says there’s an enormous sense of pride in the weekend’s wins, at every level of the organisation. “It’s a huge moment for us to be recognised among some of the biggest names in New Zealand cheese at these awards, and the excitement we’re feeling is immense.”
Hōhepa cheeses can be found at selected stores throughout the North Island. See www.hohepahawkesbay.com/hohepa-cheese for Hōhepa’s retail partners.
Photos: Kirsten Simcox