Kapiti Cheese recently took out a host of medals for their cheeses at the New Zealand Cheese Awards. We asked cheesemaker Darren McMechan a few questions about what it takes to create a winning wheel of cheese as well as tips for finding your new favourite flavour.
How did you get into cheese-making?
My career started 33 years ago in the laboratory. Most of my early studies were in the technical & analytical aspects of dairy manufacture. After many years in laboratories, I made the move towards management and entered the production part of the business as a team lead. This gave me the opportunity to learn the skills of cheese-making and many of the other processes that go towards the production of our many great varieties of cheese. I have had the honour of working with many skilled artisans throughout the years and have learned a huge amount about the craft.
What’s been the most valuable thing you’ve learned since you began making cheese?
The key to consistently making quality products is having the ethos of respecting your customers’ needs and expectations. It is incredibly hard to find individuals that adhere to this ethos but, when you find them, they are the key to success.
What’s the trickiest part of the process, or type of cheese to get right?
Haloumi has been a very tricky product to get right. It has a very complex production process with very tight parameters to keep to. It is also a fresh cheese that needs to be used as fresh as it can to ensure perfect functionality (hint for the consumer – check the dates).
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to expand their palate and learn more about cheese?
It’s all about being open-minded and adventurous. Not every cheese flavour will suit everyone and different cheeses are best used in differing applications. The key is to check for recipes and known pairings for each cheese – and to be brave! It’s very easy to smell a cheese and decide it’s not for you but it is very surprising how, with a little courage, you can add a whole new chapter to your list of culinary favourites.
What’s your personal favourite type of cheese?
Kapiti Kikorangi is a personal favourite. It is versatile and indulgent. Try slapping a slice on your next steak or burger.
We have a Kapiti prize pack containing a beautiful cheeseboard, knife and three wheels of cheese to give away. Click here to enter the draw.