Production-wise, Mahoe Farmhouse Cheese is on the cusp of being a big cheese but that hasn't stopped the company taking the biggest prize - the 2015 Champion of Champions in the New Zealand Cheese Awards.
It is not the first time Mahoe, in the Bay of Islands, has won the grand title - in fact, it's the fourth year in row - but company co-founder Bob Rosevear said that when its Very Old Edam style cheese was named the best of all categories at Tuesday night's awards, he nearly fell off his chair.
That is because the company had entered in the big production field, for churning out over 25,000 tonnes of cheese a year. The 2012, 2013 and 2014 grand wins were just as prestigious but were for cheese entered in and winning the smaller scale artisans' category. This year's chief judge, Russell Smith, said Mahoe's cheese "is as good as it gets anywhere in the world".
New Zealand-born but of Dutch heritage, Mr Rosevear isn't convinced there is a genetic factor, but the "Dutchies" - edam and similar styles - took the top three awards for the third year in a row.
The 2015 competition was one of the toughest yet, with more than 470 specialty cheeses, yoghurts and butters entered.
Mahoe Farmhouse Cheese is a true family affair. It was founded by Bob and his wife, Anna, and their three sons, Tom, Jacob and Jesse, are all qualified cheesemakers. Jacob was named NZ Cheesemaker of the Year twice in the past four years.
Mr Rosevear says that a good part of the 29-year-old company's success is due to the healthy, small herd of Friesian-cross cows on the family's organic-styled Oramahoe farm. He puts the success of New Zealand's Dutch-style cheeses, in general, down to the stock being grass, not grain, fed.
Tim Rosevear now manages Mahoe's dairy farm, while Jesse Rosevear plans to develop two small herds of French cattle breeds and diversify into French-style cheeses. But Mahoe's success is also due to a growing taste for cheeses.
"There are a lot of new cheesemongers around who are really enthusiastic about cheese. It's great to have people at the market's coalface who know about the product," Mr Rosevear said.
Meanwhile, Whangarei cheesemaker Grinning Gecko has been producing cheeses for just over two years and says its success at the cheese awards was a sign the time had come for New Zealanders to embrace great cheeses. Grinning Gecko, based in Port Rd, won the much sought-after champion soft white rind cheese award for its Grinning Gecko Brie and was the only cheesemaker to receive a gold medal in the category. Grinning Gecko also received a silver medal for its halloumi and a bronze for its camembert.
Catherine McNamara, managing director, said it was amazing to do well in the awards, especially after only starting up in January 2013.
"It's expensive to set up but, if you have a passion, dedication and the right people, then you can make a difference. People are really getting to understand what real cheese is. For decades, New Zealand only really had processed cheeses and didn't know any difference. But now people are learning about real cheeses and know that it just tastes so much better," she said.
The company has an annual production of about 6.5 tonnes of cheeses.