Cheese trade coming of age

Mapua cheesemonger Robynne Harvey with, from left, a wheel of Meyer vintage gouda topped by a Meyer maasdam and a wheel of Karikaas vintage maasdam topped by a Whitestone sheep's milk blue.

SAY CHEESE: Mapua cheesemonger Robynne Harvey with, from left, a wheel of Meyer vintage gouda topped by a Meyer maasdam and a wheel of Karikaas vintage maasdam topped by a Whitestone sheep’s milk blue. PATRICK HAMILTON/NELSON MAIL

Article published in the Nelson Mail on 1 February 2007.

From blue to brie, from camembert to cumin spiced – there are so many choices when it comes to cheese. Naomi Mitchell spoke to a Ruby Bay cheesemonger who is passionate about everything cheese.

Cheesemonger is not the most common of job titles, but it is one that Robynne Harvey is proud of.

Harvey says it is her job to hand pick quality cheeses from throughout New Zealand and ripen them until they are at the perfect age to eat.

“What we get in the supermarkets is very unripe, which is dreadful,” she says.

At any one time Harvey normally has between 70 and 80 cheeses ripening in a special industrial-sized chiller on her Ruby Bay property. They are aged anywhere from three weeks to five years old.

As well as running a website she also sells at the Nelson Saturday Market, and has only missed one weekend since she started with the business five years ago.

“I have a passion for it.”

Harvey said people were now more aware of specialty cheeses and what is on offer, something she thinks might be because more New Zealand cheeses were winning international acclaim.

“Thirty years ago really all we had was big square blocks of colby.”

The majority of cheeses Harvey sells are made in New Zealand, but she does import buffalo mozzarella and parmesan from Italy.

The cheeses range in price from $20 a kilogram to $70.

It is clear by looking in Harvey’s chiller, that ripening cheese is a fine art.

She has shelves of large wax-coated wheels of cheese, and several more shelves of bries kept in special plastic bags.

“They are in their own microclimate, with their own air,” she explains.

The cheeses must be turned regularly to ensure they ripen evenly and Harvey uses a “cheese iron” (a special instrument which can take small samples from the whole cheese) to determine when the cheese is ready to eat.

Harvey handpicks the cheeses that feature on the cheeseboards at Hopgood’s restaurant in Nelson.

She recommends when putting together a cheeseboard that you include one soft cheese (like brie), one blue cheese, one hard cheese, and one flavoured cheese (like cumin or herb).

Round cheeses should always be cut into wedges, but square cheeses can be cut in blocks.

Cheese wafers, fruit, crackers and breads are good additions to the platter, as are fruit pastes, relishes or preserved fruits.

Harvey also creates her own chutneys, and pickled figs to accompany the cheeses.

Harvey says “there are no rules” when it comes to matching cheese with wine, and people should experiment and find out what works best for their tastes.

Another tip – some speciality cheeses are covered in beeswax, which creates a rind. Harvey advises that you cut the rind off before eating it.

(She feeds hers to her appreciative dog and her neighbour’s guinea fowls).

Cheeses are best eaten as soon as they are purchased, but if there are any leftovers, they need to be properly stored.

“The fridge is horrible for cheeses.”

In winter, cheeses can be wrapped in waxed paper and stored in a plastic container in the cupboard.

The container will need to be put in the fridge over summer, but Harvey says it should be taken out at least three hours before you want to serve the cheese.

While she is normally quite happy to eat cheese with an apple for lunch, or nibble at it from a platter, some people like a more substantial cheese meal and Harvey recommends the recipes shown on the recipe page of her website.