If you think New Zealand cheese means processed cheddar slices, be prepared for a surprise. The country has seen a mini boom in artisanal cheeses in recent years, with producers taking advantage of a pristine environment and prime, grass-fed dairy cattle to create cheeses that would be at home in any gourmet emporium. Dutch-style cheeses like edam and gouda have been particularly successful. According to Sarah Aspinwall, owner of the award-winning Canterbury Cheesemongers in Christchurch, cheesemakers in New Zealand now produce "the best Dutch-style cheeses outside of Holland." There are many other varieties being made besides, and while skeptics might raise an eyebrow, you should taste for yourself before deciding. Many of these new cheeses are available abroad and can be ordered over the Internet. Our favorites:
KAPITI Renowned for sumptuous ice creams in flavors such as gingernut or feijoa (a native fruit that tastes like pineapple), this dairy company also produces a wide range of cheeses. Their washed-rind Port Nicholson, smoked cheddar and camembert are excellent; other cheeses are infused with herbs, pepper, garlic and other spices, all of which make them useful additions in cooking. You can even find out what wines to pair them with at kapiticheeses.co.nz
WHITESTONE CHEESE This South Island company produces some excellent sheep's milk and organic cheeses. Their fetamade from both sheep's and cow's milkis smooth in texture but tangy on the tongue, and is available soaked in oil. They also make pressed farmhouse and airedale cheeses. See whitestonecheese.co.nz.
PUHOI CHEESE This small company makes some exquisite double-cream brie and salty feta. Their distinctive blue cheeses come in a mild version for beginners andfor aficionadosa sharper, stronger, crumbly blue-veined variety called Kaha Blue. They also make two flavored feta cheesesbasil and pesto, and garlic and cuminboth of which make food seasonings. Recipes are available at puhoicheese.co.nz.
FONTERRA Okay, this may be a multinational giant, but at least it's collectively ownedby no less than 13,000 New Zealand farmersand produces some distinctively Kiwi cheeses. Try the taupo (produced with extra-creaminess to satisfy the Japanese market); the egmont (somewhere between Gouda and Cheddar, semi-hard and rindless, with a smooth body and nutty flavor); or the colby (a washed-curd, rindless cheese). Read more at fonterra.com.