Among the artisanal producers is Mercer Cheese where the eponymous Vintage Waikato, rich and milky with a sweet finish, took the gold medal at the 2020 NZ Cheese Awards and bronze at the 2019 World Cheese Awards held in Italy.
Another famed Mercer cheese is Goat Waikato, a gold winner in the 2019 New Zealand Cheese Awards.
In Hamilton, there are two more cheese makers who are equally familiar with being on the winner’s podium.
There is family-run Meyer Cheese whose signature is the Dutch-style gouda. It’s crafted in a range of acclaimed styles, from smoked, tasty and vintage, to flavoured – cumin, garlic and chives and Italian herbs. Milk from sheep and goats, as well as cows, features.
CEO at Meyer, and son of the founders Ben and Fieke, Miel Meyer says the Waikato is a great place for cheese making as the landscape and climate are perfect for dairying.
“Sitting very close to Hamilton in what we call the golden triangle of Waikato, Auckland and Tauranga, as well as near SH1, we have easy and fast access to our key markets – all with the luxury of a rural outlook.”
The family has its own dairy farm and two conveniently located cheese shops in Hamilton where visitors can learn more about cheeses and purchase some to take home – Miel’s mum’s shop on the Hillcrest Roundabout and a sister shop in Rototuna Shopping Mall.
Also in Hamilton, at Ruakura where the founders were research scientists, there is another frequent award winner, Cilantro Cheese which features goat milk. Styles include Billy the Kid, a classic, crumbly cheddar that has won a Cuisine magazine award, as well as the fresh, slightly citrusy chevre, halloumi, ricotta and cajeta, a Mexican-inspired confection of caramelised goat’s milk with a hint of spice.
As well as calling in at the Meyer family cheese shops, you can stop off to taste and purchase at Mercer Cheese on Roose Road, Mercer, and at Cilantro Cheese on Bisley Road, Ruakura. Or purchase online.
Farmers markets in Cambridge (Saturday mornings) and Hamilton (Sunday mornings) are also great places to find, taste and buy local artisanal food products, including cheeses – and some are also stocked by some supermarkets in the region.