Peter Hargrove started his career 43 years ago with the big boys and now he's happy as Larry making award-winning cheese with the "little boys".

The Yorkshire man came to New Zealand with the navy. He fell in love with a Kiwi girl and the rest, as they say, is history.

He worked in the Waikato for NZ Co-op before it became Fonterra.

These days you can find him at Hohepa with fellow cheesemaker Inacio Guimaraes and trainee Jacob producing unique and award-winning cheeses.

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He says the secret to their success is the small herd made up mainly of shorthorn with a few jersey and friesian thrown in and the Demeter milk used to produce their cheeses.

There are no chemicals used and everything is done by hand.

The cows are milked in "possibility the only five-a-side milking shed left in New Zealand".
Any byproduct such as the whey goes straight back on to the land.

During summer the herd can produce up to 900 litres of milk. Some is sold as pasteurised milk from the on-site shop in Clive, the rest goes into cheese.

They make fresh cheese such as quark which can be eaten the day it's made and the balance goes into Hohepa's signature cheese Danbo.

Their cheeses have won medals every year for the past 11 years at the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards and this year was no different. Hohepa was awarded the gold medal for their Hohepa Vintage, a silver medal for their Hohepa Tasty and two bronze medals for their Hohepa Fenugreek and Hohepa Biodynamic Blue.

I have long been a fan of Hohepa cheese and always line up at farmers' markets to buy it. The tasty is my favourite but I have just discovered their blue — it is outstanding.

Peter says vintage and tasty are popular, "however our cumin cheese is the most popular — it's very unique".

"We have our set recipes but every batch of cheese is slightly different," Peter says.
"It depends on the grass, the weather, all sorts of things play a part in the end result.

For instance, our blue is made when our spring grass is at its peak, in fact all the best cheeses are made in spring — can't give away too many secrets though."

Peter and Inacio also make haloumi cheese which they say is a good seller.

"It's a beautiful cheese but you have to know how to cook it to get the most out of it. You need hot heat and a non-stick frypan — don't think you even need any oil."
Peter says making good products is satisfying. "I love my job."

His tip for getting the "wow factor" out of your cheese is to take it out of the fridge two hours before you are going to eat it. "Half an hour might do in the summer."

■Hohepa was formed more than 60 years ago to provide education and social therapy for children, young persons and adults with disabilities. They believe that every life should be fully lived and work hard to ensure that those with disabilities have a purpose and somewhere that they can belong.

Hohepa HB are leaders in bio-dynamic farming practices in NZ and attribute this to the quality and taste of the cheese they produce. Hohepa strive to create a diversified and balanced farm ecosystem that generates health and fertility as much as possible from within the farm.

They operate from their idyllic on-site boutique cheesery with milk pumped from the adjacent milking shed where they have about 46 hand reared cows. Everything used in this process comes from the land on which the cheese is made.

Visit Charlotte and Wendy in the shop in Clive and try these award-winning cheeses for yourself. What will your favourite be?