Delicious cheese is a serious business at Crescent Dairy Goats farm in Kumeu, writes Phil Parker.
The flavour of the cheeses at the Crescent Dairy Goats farm will vary depending on which day you go. Cheesemakers Phil and Jan Walter say the flavour of their goats' produce is influenced by the way the goats feel, the weather - and the cheesemaker's state of mind.
"The goats are real wimps," says Jan. "At the first sign of rain they run to the shed, so production can be lower on a wet day. And each batch will vary depending on what they have been eating - for example when they are indoors, they eat dry hay, reducing the yield and making the milk less rich."
The goats are fed whole grains during milking to sweeten the milk and eliminate the "goaty" flavour.
And what of the human factor? "It can make a difference if you're pushed for time and in a hurry," smiles Jan.
The Walters farm approximately 30 goats, including bucks and kids, with a milking herd of 25 on a sprawling 5.2ha block in Kumeu. All the goats have names.
If you get a group of up to 10 people together, and $120, the Walters will take you on a 35-45 minute "Meet the Goats" tour, which includes a tour of the milking facilities and a talk about their farming practices, followed by a visit to the cheese-making room and cellar for a tasting session of the cheeses.
Crescent makes just a few rounds of their Farmhouse Cheese per day. Fresh cheeses including feta and ricotta are available between September and April with cellar-matured cheeses available all year round. All the cheeses are sold direct from the farm shop, and larger orders can be couriered.
Only organic goat's milk is used with no extra cream added. By New Zealand law, goat's milk must be pasteurised, but the coolest and slowest methods possible are used in order to retain flavour and character.
So far, every cheese produced by Crescent Dairy Goats has won a gold medal in cheese competitions.
Here's their current line-up:
* Farmhouse Sting - a soft creamy cheese marbled with nettle leaves. Light grassy flavour.
* Ricotta - authentic ricotta made solely from the whey of the Farmhouse Cheeses. It is unsalted and naturally very low in fat. Moist and creamy, it can be used in sweet or savoury dishes. This was champion cheese in the 2010 Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards.
* Feta - classic goat feta, creamy and soft with mild coconut flavours.
* Chevrolait - a soft, creamy French-style cheese that is full of flavour.
* Haloumi - a mild cheese ideal for cooking with. It can be grilled and maintains its shape and texture without melting.
* Old Gold - richly dry, a crumbly aged cheese that is matured in a cold, dark cellar for over a year.
The Walters began their foray into making goat's cheeses in 2000, having farmed goats for over 10 years on 3ha in Albany. In November 2009 they made the move to Kumeu, where their pedigree herd is comprised of three distinct breeds - high-yielding Swiss Sana goats, rare Swiss Toggenberg goats that produce high quality milk and rare Nubian goats, which originated from Egypt and India.
Meeting these gorgeous animals is almost as good as tasting the cheese they produce. Almost.
Crescent Dairy Goats
Where: 177A Taupaki Road, Kumeu.
Phone: (09) 412 2074
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Farm shop open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm.
How to get there: Head west on SH16. Drive through towards Kumeu. Turn left at the roundabout just past Soljans Winery into Taupaki Rd. Stay on Taupaki, taking the right at the Nixon/Taupaki fork. Travel about 1km and look for the signs on the left side.