A Northland family business has proved once again it's the big cheese among New Zealand's boutique cheesemakers by winning the national champion of champions title.
Mahoe Farmhouse Cheese, based at Oromahoe, south of Kerikeri, won the boutique producers' supreme award for its Cumin Gouda, described by the judges as ''exceptional''.
Mahoe's Cumin Gouda was also named the nation's best Dutch-style cheese in the New Zealand Champions of Cheese Awards held last week in Hamilton.
Bob Rosevear, who founded the company with his wife Anna 34 years ago, said the award was an honour.
''It reflects how well we work together here. It's a family-based business and our staff are just like family too.''
These days sons Jake and Jesse make the cheese while Tim looks after 60 cross-bred Friesian cows and produces the milk. Tony van Stokkum, who joined the company as a cheesemaker almost at the start, is also still part of the team.
Together they are no strangers to success in the competition.
To date Mahoe has won seven supreme awards, including Jake Rosevear being named the country's top cheesemaker two years in a row.
While the family's Cumin Gouda had won plenty of gold medals in the past this is the first time it has won the top gong.
It was made to a traditional Dutch recipe in which cumin seeds are added to the curd.
''It's a lovely flavour. Cumin goes so well with cheese, especially when it's been matured for 3-5 months,'' Bob Rosevear said.
Called komijne kaas in Dutch, it was especially popular with European customers and one of Mahoe's best sellers. It accounted for about 20 per cent, or 4-5 tonnes, of production.
Their other top sellers were Mahoe Blue and Very Old Edam, which had won the supreme title a number of times.
It was a stand-out year for Dutch cheeses in the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards with a Goat's Milk Gouda by Waikato's Meyer Cheese winning the supreme award for commercial producers, defined as companies making more than 25 tonnes.
Chief judge Russell Smith said the results reflected the quality of Dutch cheeses in New Zealand.
"Kiwis are fortunate to have a handful of brilliant cheesemakers here making these types of cheeses. I judge across the world and Dutch-style cheeses made in New Zealand are as good as anywhere."
The annual awards are organised by the New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association. Mahoe cheese is available from the farm shop on State Highway 10 at Oromahoe, some supermarkets, and farmers' markets in Whangārei, Paihia and Kerikeri.