Charming Cheese Shop

Heading south on a road trip earlier in the week provided the perfect opportunity to stop at Mercer Cheese.  The lone car taking the off ramp at Mercer, there was a stillness in the air despite the traffic that buzzed below. A wide tarsealed road with plentiful angle parking out front, the weathered building the colour of pale cheese stood out on the barren street.

Mercer Cheese Shop

Mercer Cheese Shop

Cheerfully greeted by Steph, the wall of yellow rounds caught the eye. Twenty-three varieties of gouda style cheese with a diverse range of flavours from: walnut, nettle and sundried tomato to mature gouda, parmesean and of course the award winning Mercer Mature Cumin – winner of the Puhoi Valley Champion Artisan Cheese Award at the 2015 New Zealand Cheese Awards.

Cheese rounds

Cheese rounds

Steph assured me Tuesday was the quietest day of the week but in the space of half hour no less than six groups of people came in.  It was no wonder that she said a busy day was like being in the supermarket at peak times.

Cutting the Mercer Cumin Gouda

Cutting the Mercer Cumin Gouda

Dutchman Albert Alferink has been making his trademark rounds for more than 30 years.  The cheeses are made up the road at Onewhero using cow, sheep, goat and buffalo milk.  The shop is well stocked with Dutch products reflecting the owners’ heritage, including biscuits, apple sauce and traditional licorice, as well as local chutneys, relishes and vinaigrettes from Peplers at Te Kauwhata.

Dutch products line the walls

Dutch products line the walls

Mercer Cheese has been winning awards for a number of years, with 2015 the second time that they have won the coveted Champion Artisan Cheese Award with Mercer Mature Cumin. Who could resist its gorgeous spicy packed flavour and a homemade pottle of quince paste to take home.

Clove and cumin goudas with quince paste and chutney

Clove and cumin goudas with quince paste and chutney

Mercer Cheese is the perfect destination to taste and purchase – the cheeses are rarely available elsewhere. And if you’ve got time, there are picnic tables overlooking the Waikato River nearby if you can’t wait until you reach your destination – bring your own plate and knife.

Picnic next to the Waikato River

Picnic next to the Waikato River

Open: Monday to Saturday 10am- 5pm 
Where: Roose Rd, Mercer 
Phone: 09 232 6778

Stop on your next trip south of the Bombay Hills and don’t forget your chilly bag.

Michelle

Oatcakes, Wine and Cheese

Navigating spaghetti junction and the harbour bridge to get across Auckland in peak hour traffic is something one tends to avoid unless out of absolute necessity. Wednesday night, clear skies and no major traffic jams, it was only 50 minutes door to door.

The Foodie Inc loves connecting with food producers so was excited to discover ‘AucklandMade’.  A collaboration between Alex from Yelp Auckland and Hannah from Auckland in a Box, it’s a series of events showcasing an Auckland food producer – the people behind the brand, their story and their vision.  Sarah and Otis Frizzell from The Lucky Taco headlined the first event and tonight it was Morgan Maw from Bonnie

Auckland in a Box - artisan food and beverages

Auckland in a Box - artisan food and beverages

Bonnie Oatcakes
Bonnie oakcakes 2

A cosy venue on a chilly night The Cheese Room, Milford was the perfect location for the second AucklandMade event. Standing room only, a glass of handcrafted Huia Brut from Huia Vineyards (Marlborough) greeted us at the door.  I enjoyed a chat with Morgan from Bonnie before we indulged in a decadent cheese, oatcakes and wine pairing while Morgan and her husband Nic shared their journey – the Huia Brut and Huia Chardonnay a perfect match for the Evansdale Cheese  from Hawksbury Village (half way between Oamaru and Dunedin).

Huia Brut

What started with a love of baking and an Edinburgh “baking club” – a foodlovers book club of sorts and a perfecting a traditional recipe’s taste and texture, Bonnie Oatcakes are now available in 60 stockists nationwide. Handmade, rolled and cut the Scottish style oatcakes use locally sourced New Zealand ingredients including South Canterbury linseeds from a family farm, Bonnie oatcakes are currently available in three flavours: original, smoked paprika and Canterbury linseed.  With plans to extend the range, Morgan might need a few extra pairs of hands to keep up with demand.

A lovely welcome from Alex,Yelp Auckland

A lovely welcome from Alex,Yelp Auckland

Morgan and Alex pairing cheese and oatcakes

Morgan and Alex pairing cheese and oatcakes

Yelp Auckland participants

AucklandMade events are a fabulous opportunity to meet food producers, mingle with like-minded foodies and of course taste some amazing New Zealand food and wine.  To find out more about these events go to the Yelp Auckland or follow them on Facebook Yelp Auckland.

Cheers

Michelle

Cracking the Wheel

Earlier this afternoon, thanks to Farro Fresh, I had the opportunity to have a one-on-one chat with cheesemonger Calum Hodgson and to crack the wheel of a 38kg Parmigiano Reggiano.  Calum is the resident cheesemonger at Sabato, supplier of Parmigiano Reggiano to Farro Fresh and works alongside Farro Fresh to educate their team and customers on the production, origins and tastes of artisan cheeses.

Certification mark – Parmigiano Reggiano Consorzio Tutela and year of production. 3276 identifies the producer

Certification mark – Parmigiano Reggiano Consorzio Tutela and year of production. 3276 identifies the producer

Deciding to leave the cracking of the wheel to the expert, I watched the skillful and precise process from: scoring the thick outer, to the insertion of a fat wide knife into the centre and the gentle prising along a natural fissure in the cheese to ensure minimal wastage in the process – first in half, then into quarters and finally into wedges.  The aim that every wedge support itself to sit upright on the plate for presentation. 

Scoring outer of Parmigiano Reggiano wheel 

Scoring outer of Parmigiano Reggiano wheel 

Inserting wide flat knife into centre to commence cracking down scored line

Inserting wide flat knife into centre to commence cracking down scored line

Fast Facts about Parmigiano Reggiano*

  • 16 litres of milk make 1 kg of Parmigiano Reggiano
  • It takes approximately 550 litres to make one wheel 
  • The optimal weight for a wheel is 41 kg
  • Milk is used straight from the cows without additives or treatment of any kind
  • Parmigiano Reggiano is made by hand
  • Each wheel of cheese has its own marks of origin
  • Parmigiano Reggiano can be aged for 24 months or more
  • A certification mark is applied to the wheels that pass inspection

*Source: Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano Reggiano 2011

Calum and the Parmigiano Reggiano pyramid

Calum and the Parmigiano Reggiano pyramid

That first smell and taste of pineapple still lingers on my mind, a sweetness not anticipated. Time to grab a chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano with a few drops of balsamic vinegar and a glass of wine. Somehow I can't see myself ever buying pre-packaged so-called Parmigiano Reggiano ever again!

Enjoy your weekend.

Michelle

 

 

Unusual Bedfellows and Philistines

It was an intimate affair with hearty introductions all round.  Meticulously laid tables and a strong directive from our black-aproned host. Don’t touch a thing. Don’t smell.  Don’t drink.  And please, definitely no tasting. Wait until she arrives.

The tasting plate

The tasting plate

She, none other than Juliet Harbutt, The Cheese Web - world leading authority on cheese and cheese making.  Informative as expected. Candid, colloquial and witty an amazing surprise.  Charming too, playing on the lively banter of some rather cheeky fellow tasters, who shall remain nameless.

Julie Harbutt, The Cheese Web

Julie Harbutt, The Cheese Web

Tantalising our Senses

Our evening of look, smell, taste began. Cut from the middle, no rind.  Now cut a piece including rind. Squash between your fingers and gently massage, don’t smell, just taste. Yes cheese and onion.  Now smell - that smells like poo! Truly it did. Smell, taste, try it with cider; no don’t bother, try it with Riesling instead. That works don’t you think, to which we responded with delight.

Encouraging us to describe flavours exactly as they tasted; discovering cheese has a tasting vocabulary all of its own.  Supple, grainy, metallic, nutty and even squeaky, as in squeaky clean and much more. 

The Fat Challenge

There was even a test mid-way through. To put cheeses in order of what we thought is their fat content.  Only one or two got the order 100% correct.  One her niece, who we suspect may have been set the challenge once or twice before.

  • Butter                 84%
  • Cheddar            34%
  • Edam                  26%
  • Brie                      24%
  • Feta                     21%
  • Sour cream       18%

Unusual Bedfellows

Eclectic, our fellow cheese lovers and the beverages matches. Cheese and wheat beer. Cheese with dry cider, Viognier and dry Riesling. Many surprised that Pinot Noir and tawny port only got a brief mention when we got to the ‘blues’.

Fellow cheese tasters

Fellow cheese tasters

Raucous laughter.  Off the cuff quips.   A fabulous night had by all, even the guy who detested blue.  One looks forward to more mouthwatering events at Farro Fresh – Your Everyday Fresh Market.

Michelle

ps if you serve cheese after dessert you’re either a philistine or British - Juliet’s words not mine.

Fresh figs with blue cheese, honey & walnuts

 

The simplest dishes are often the tastiest.  And sometimes ingredients harmoniously go together with little embellishment.  Whenever I see fresh figs I immediately think a soft blue cheese would go perfectly.  Add a drizzle of honey, toasted walnuts and fresh rocket and mint from the garden - a simple yet satisfying delicious salad. 

So when I discovered my local coffee place had home-grown figs for sale this week, courtesy of another regular customer, I couldn’t resist buying half a dozen.  The skin was slightly soft and ready to eat. Sweet tender flesh did not disappoint

Figs, blue cheese, honey and walnut with rocket

Figs, blue cheese, honey and walnut with rocket

  • 3 large or 6 small figs, cut into eighths or quarters
  • 2 tsp clear honey
  • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 large handfuls fresh rocket
  • 1 handful mint leaves (torn if large)
  • 1 handful walnuts, toasted and halved
  • 100g soft blue cheese cut into small wedges
  • Cracked black pepper

Serves 2

Whisk honey, red wine vinegar and olive oil in bowl, season and adjust dressing to taste. Divide rocket into two bowls.  Add the figs, mint, walnut and blue cheese.  Drizzle over the dressing and let everyone toss their own salad as they eat.

Enjoy

Michelle

 

Over The Moon

Having driven through Putaruru countless times, I can’t believe that I’ve never noticed Over the Moon Dairy Company on the main street- apparently it’s been there for more than seven years.  Whether it’s because the trip South’s usual coffee stop is Tirau, 14 kilometres up the road, or that the entrance is very close to a roundabout, I’m not sure but with the huge black and white graphic of hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon’ nursery rhyme on the side of the building it’s hard to miss!

The black and white graphic

The black and white graphic

With Hawkes Bay still a good 3 hours away and a takeaway coffee already purchased, it was tempting to just keep driving but as friends had said just turn up whenever, it seemed too good an opportunity not to stop. And so glad I did – greeted by two fabulously knowledgeable ladies who chatted to me about: the history of Over the Moon Dairy Company; the three cheese makers and two French students on a cheese making exchange; and of course the cheese, in between providing tastings and helping other customers select cheese and tasty accompaniments from the deli goods.

Over The Moon cheese selection

Over The Moon cheese selection

With a temperature controlled cheese room, I was delighted to get to taste a huge range of their cheeses from creamy feta, to goat cheese brie to Italian style hard cheese to tasty blue.  Using four types of milk: cow, goat, sheep and buffalo there is a fantastic depth and variety of flavours.  And their cheeses are vegetarian too.  If you want to see the cheese makers in action, then you need to visit during the week - if you’re planning a special trip then ring ahead to confirm cheese making is in progress that day. Over The Moon Dairy Company

Over The Moon Tasting Table

Over The Moon Tasting Table

Purchases came complete with fabulous tasting notes and wine matches: Double Delight Brie - cow and goat milk blend; Buffalo & Cow Blue; and a Lemon and Mint Halloumi.  The ladies even provided a recipe suggestion for the halloumi too.  Cut the halloumi into finger sized sticks, add a sage leaf, a slice of pear (coconut ice peach substituted) and then wrap in bacon (or prosciutto) before securing with toothpicks.  Cook in frypan over medium-hot heat, turning regularly until the bacon is crispy and the cheese slightly softened.  Pop under the grill to finish it off. Serve with extra peach or pear slices.  Delicious - and of course everyone wanted more!

One last thing caught my eye - The New Zealand Cheese School runs their home cheese making workshops throughout the year from Over The Moon Dairy Co. For information The New Zealand Cheese School

Open seven days, might just need to pop in on my way back to Auckland next weekend. The cheese making workshops are very tempting too.

Michelle