Did you know the worldwide group of Langham Hotels has its own signature fragrance? They pump it ever so faintly through the foyer. The refreshing and serene essence of ginger flower is said to give a little lift to each, potentially, wary and jet-lagged traveller upon arrival. Well when I arrived on Sunday morning just past, there was a different aroma altogether and boy, did it give me a lift.
It was smelly, pungent and beautifully stinky in fact. The closer I got to The Great Room the deeper I breathed in. I threw open the double doors and the scene that greeted me was both visually and aromatically, thrilling. Twenty eight judges, heads bent, scribbling, sniffing, chewing furiously their way through over four hundred of New Zealand's finest cheeses in the search for our very best cheese.
They start at 8am and don't stop until late in the day. There's a different team altogether who rise at 2am on judging day to begin the exhaustive, strictly controlled task of taking each lovingly crafted round, mound, wedge or block from the chiller and setting it out to breath and come up to the perfect temperature for the blind tasting.
The efficient tenderness with which they handle each product honours the hours, days, years that each cheese maker invests in making this delicious product.
From the home crafted category to the artisans to the major cheese producers; from fresh unripened to feta to soft rind to washed rind; from goat's milk to sheep and of course cows - to see so many superbly crafted cheeses in one place was beautiful.
Two days later when the cheese makers of New Zealand come together in the same room for their glittering gala awards dinner, where gold medals are given out and the champions named, there was a different whiff in the air - passion. Pure and simply, these food producers do what they do for the sheer love of it and their enthusiasm is infectious.