North Otago limestone cave
We’re often asked, how many of your cheese recipes come from the New World versus those based on old recipes? Great question...
Cheese is just like wine, their heritage styles date back to old Europe and Middle East. And just like wine, each little village in Europe put their own twist on cheese recipes to forge their own style. Such as Camembert being from Camembert, while Brie is from Brie.
This Old World would soon branch out into the new. As civilizations split and expanded around the globe, up popped the New World producers. In the case of wine, California's Napa Valley, South Africa, Australia, Argentina and New Zealand all joined this group. They each made the most of similar climatic conditions to grow European grape varieties and developed their take on traditional wines.
It’s exactly the same with cheese. Thousands of miles from the traditional home of Brie and Camembert, at Whitestone we discovered that the local great grass growing combined with fantastic dairy meant we could produce European style cheeses. The result was a Mt Domet Double Cream Brie, Waitaki Camembert and Lindis Pass Brie all named after local source icons, stamping our kiwi regional characteristics to these classics.
The original Brie de Meaux recipe was crafted many moons ago in 774 AD. 1240 years later, give or take a few birthdays, Whitestone Cheese found we had complimentary growing conditions to the birthplace of this famously soft cheese. Can you imagine how incredible it was when we discovered we could make an equally enjoyable brie in our own backyard?
To our delight there was also a growing demand for it.
So here’s the secret. Whitestone’s milk is grown on limestone soils, a limestone style that is known to be found in two other places: Bath, England, where they produce Stiltons; and in the Roquefort valleys of France where they produce the famous Roquefort sheep milk blue.
The limestone soils of North Otago have been famous for a variety of reasons – Oamaru stone building materials and rich volcanic soils which produce one-of-a-kind new potatoes and tomatoes. Knowing we had a world class raw material on our door step – fresh milk, this inspired us to ask the question, what if we found our own New Zealand blue culture?
We therefore embarked on swabbing our local limestone caves in search of a new penicillium roqueforti – a.k.a. blue mould, named after the French Roquefort caves where it originated from. Bio-prospecting is the term and we had very limited success – until now.
A recent discovery has been isolated from a stack of silage, a blue mould identified as a penicillium roqueforti strain, so we have had it cleared by multiple international labs and have named it 45 South Blue and the new cheese is to be Shenley Station Blue, after the farm it was found on. This is pushing us further into cheesemaking innovation, pushing the new world boundary with a new natural blue mould profile discovered locally. Fantastic.
Why do we keep going? Because we’re innovators, craftsmen, engineers and alchemists! Creating the perfect blend becomes a wonderful challenge, development takes plenty of time, patience and trial and error. However you know when you’re onto a good one. There is no better test than looking at the reaction of your consumers as they taste your creation, I have seen some squirm with joy – what a delight to produce something that enables such a reaction.
Some cheeses like the Lindis Pass Brie, take longer to work their way into the market, can take up to a year before they grab hold of both retailers and customers.
But the wait is always worth it. Recently we took our Windsor Blue to Paris where the unanimous verdict was something we were surprisingly thrilled about. We were told it tasted ‘sweet,’ which was unique for a blue cheese. Such a proud moment for us all watching a French cheesemaker’s eyes light up and say, ‘this cheese tastes like nothing else’ adding, ‘What exactly is going on in New Zealand?’
In reality we’d applied a little Kiwi innovation. We took an established blue mold penicillium roqueforti strain and naturally refined by isolation, through trial and error we developed our own specific Windsor blue mold strain which produced a real sweet flavour finish. We then applied this to an established European blue cheese style recipe – so we pushed that boundary a bit to produce a blue cheese flavour like no other.
Along with the craft of making cheese is the equally important craft of the business. Relationships are key, and it’s not just commercial business to business relationships. It’s about the people behind each company, crafting that relationship out with other peers. We must all craft these connections to a long lasting trustworthy relationship, get them right and get them right at the top-quality world class level.
We want to craft a connection with the farmer that supplies our milk, the connection with staff, the connection with our wider group – the Whitestone Family, these are our people. Just the same as people, you don’t just suddenly jump into a relationship with someone new. We sit down eye to eye, meet and get on getting to really know a person.
These relationships must stand the test of time.
You need an especially strong relationship with your customers as you do your suppliers. Having been with some of ours for 30 years means we can go to them directly with new ideas knowing they’ll be implemented.
By blending craftwork we feel we’re on track to continue to crack the New World of cheese.
Plenty on the horizon ahead – just keep on marching past those barking dogs along the way.