Over the moon
The small Putaruru-based team behind Sue Arthur’s Over the Moon Dairy Company is trialling its latest cheese — a white mould with turmeric through the paste. “It’s a sunny bright yellow when you cut it open and it’s delicious,” Sue says.
“We’re offering it through our shops in Putaruru and Cambridge and plan to make it a bit more widely available if our consumers like it. We love coming up with new and unusual cheeses.”
It’s an approach that has seen them right. In just 10 years, Over the Moon has turned local Waikato cow and goat milk, sheep milk from Spring Hill (north of Taupo) and Matakana buffalo milk into an array of delectable rounds — traditional hard cheeses like Cheshire and romano through to soft whites, blues and washed rinds. They’ve collected 116 awards and won many more loyal customers in the process.
Their Burgundy Moon, a cow’s milk cheese with a rind washed with merlot grape skins and seeds, was voted the Bite People’s Choice winner at the New Zealand Food Awards last October. And last July their black truffle brie, by cheese master and judge Neil Willman, was named Best New Zealand Cheese at the Nantwich International Cheese Competition in the UK.
“We’re particularly proud of that,” Sue says. “We beat some of New Zealand’s largest cheese manufacturers!
“Nantwich is the biggest cheese competition in the world. In about four hours, 300 international judges assess about 6,000 cheeses.” Last year Sue was one of them. “I got British supermarket cheddars, and an open British supermarket class. The judging and trade show was held in a marquee the size of a football field and the back half was just row upon row of tables of cheese. It was overwhelming.”
Back in New Zealand, Over the Moon’s biggest sellers are their O.M.G Triple Cream Brie and its sister O.M.G Black Truffle Brie. Although she is reluctant to choose, Sue picks the hard sheep cheeses as her personal favourites. “At the moment I am loving Goat Camembert, too, with its clean fresh taste and a bit of tang. My preference is to eat cheese without the addition of bread, crackers, anything (like the French do)!”
While she thinks Kiwi tastes have got more sophisticated in the 10 years she has been in the industry, Sue says it’s easy to underestimate people’s palates. “In my first week I put out a smelly French-style washed rind, didn’t say what it was, and the locals loved it! I’ve always remembered that as a lesson that perhaps our customers are looking for a bit more sophistication and definitely something different.”
Over the Moon’s cheesemakers make 23,000kg of cheese and create at least three or four new types a year. “Some don’t make it commercially and others we might make seasonally or just a few times.
Ideas come from all over — often we’re all in the tearoom at coffee time and the conversation goes around the room and we give birth to something new or the ideas could come from [her life partner] Neil’s and my travels to Europe every year — we don’t try and copy something we find, rather use the idea and twist it a bit.
For example we’ve eaten lots of fresh goat cheese in the Loire Valley in France, and hit on the idea of making the same thing with buffalo milk. That’s how we developed our Buffalo Volcano.
“Our cheese in New Zealand is different. Our cows are all housed outside, not in barns like they are in the USA and Europe. That means our cow’s milk has more yellow colour and is much better quality. So it’s easier to make great cheese when you have lovely raw milk.”
Eighty-five per cent of Over the Moon’s cheeses are made with cow’s milk. “It all comes from the farm which I used to own next to our house. It’s rewarding to look out the kitchen window and see the cows being lead off to milk, calves leaping around and the grass growing.”
Sue’s cheese tips
White moulds (eg brie, camembert and washed rind): Wrap it back in its original paper which has tiny holes to let it breathe. Hard: Use cling film to keep out the air. Wrap blue cheeses in foil. Then put them in a snaplock box in the fridge to stop them drying out too much.
The French have the best system — buy the cheeses when you need to eat them and don’t keep them too long! I have also grated all the little leftover bits of cheese and frozen them, mixed up, and used that for cheese sauce or a pizza. We have this joke at our house about ‘five cheese bake’.
Warm it up.
“Our history in New Zealand has mainly been about cheddar for a really long time, and that doesn’t take a lot of looking after. I spend a lot of time educating consumers about how to keep their specialty cheese and many people are flabbergasted to hear that the French don’t put their soft cheese in the fridge at all!
We use warmer temperatures to mature our cheeses at the factory, and you can do this at home as well. If you buy a firmer brie/camembert or soft washed rind, take it home and put it on a shelf (out of the sun) and wait until it’s quite squidgy. This could take several days but you’ll be rewarded with a cheese that oozes and gives you lots more flavour.”
“Take a mini round of camembert and fry each side for a couple of minutes to soften it up. Then cut it in half and fry the cut faces. Put on a plate then smear onto sliced French bread. You might not be able to fit dinner in after feasting on this.”