Northland may not have some of the country's biggest cheese makers, but it does have some of the best, with two companies from the region coming away from the New Zealand Cheese Competition with a swag of awards.
Grinning Gecko Cheese Company, from Whangārei, won 11 awards at the competition - a gold medal, four silver medals and six bronze medals.
And Mahoe Farmhouse Cheese, at Oromahoe in the Bay of Islands won five awards - two gold, two silvers and a bronze.
Grinning Gecko won gold for its camembert; silvers for its brie, feta, halloumi and maroe, and bronze medals for its haurangi, Woolleys Bay, kau piro, cumin and garlic, caraway seed and hot chilli.
Mahoe, meanwhile, won gold medals for its farmhouse blue and cumin gouda; silvers for its farmhouse gouda and montbeliarde and bronze for its very old edam.
Both companies have had previous success in the awards, and will now have to wait until May to see if any of their cheeses will be named the Champion of Cheeses 2020.
Grinning Gecko owner Catherine McNamara said the secret of her company's success is simple.
"Mahi whānau and aroha sums it up pretty well," McNamara said.
She said it's a winning recipe, but one that will no doubt be tested by the effects of the nationwide lockdown.
The latest national awards come after Grinning Gecko's now eight-medal-winning camembert won a gold award at the International Cheese Awards last year.
"Our product starts with using a beautifully natural and local ingredient," McNamara said.
"We use the best certified organic milk from a committed local farmer. We pick up it up ourselves direct from morning milking, bring it to our factory and start making cheese – no storage, just straight from farm to factory."
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Mahoe's cheeses are made by brothers Jake and Jesse Rosevear, sons of Bob and Anna who started the company in 1986.
Jake said the secret to their ongoing success was about the quality of the milk and focusing on the quality of the cheese.
''It's in the fresh milk. All our milk is from our own small herd of cows that we have on the farm,'' he said.
''We follow organic principles and make sure they have plenty of good feed and as little stress on the cows as possible. We're a small, family business, with a few loyal staff and we really focus on the quality of the cheese.''
Jake was pleased with the latest success at the awards, but revealed that one of the medals may not have happened.
''It was a last minute decision really to enter the blue, but I'm glad we did. It was one of only four blues to win gold, and considering how many blue cheeses NZ has, that's pretty good.''
The NZ Champions of Cheese Awards has been running since 2003 and is organised by the New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association (NZSCA). The judging was held in late February 2020 and had 300 entries and 23 judges, under the guidance of Australian Master Cheese Judge, Russell Smith.