As I write this, over two tonnes of New Zealand cheese varieties are being plugged, sniffed, fingered, bent, chewed and judged by eight overseas cheese experts as well as 26 local specialists. Australian-based Master Judge Russell Smith believes it provides an incredible opportunity to showcase New Zealand to the world.
The 2017 New Zealand Champions of Cheese Awards has attracted more than 350 entries across 23 categories. In recent years, New Zealand’s Dutch cheesemakers have dominated the gold and supreme awards. This year has seen a surge in Italian-style cheeses and flavour-added cheeses, with new cheesemakers and industry stalwarts vying for accolades for their cheese as well as yoghurt and butter.
I must admit to an addiction to goat’s cheese. My first ever foray into this unknown world was in France 30 years ago and my taste buds rebelled. However, as New Zealand cheesemakers developed this variety slowly but surely — first introducing cheeses that were mild and sweet then finally providing upfront goat’s cheeses that linger on the palate — my addiction became intense. Spread on crostini and topped with ripe tomatoes, melted into pasta dishes or combined with chocolate and rolled into truffles — goat’s cheese has become a refrigerator essential.
Another love is fresh mozzarella. It’s traditionally prepared from buffalo milk but delis and supermarkets also sell cow’s milk mozzarella. Boconccini are little balls of fresh mozzarella.
MEDITERRANEAN MOZZARELLA LASAGNE
Cheese and three veg! If the fresh pasta is thick, pre-cook it before using. If the tomatoes are pulpy, squeeze out the seeds.
400g each: courgettes, eggplant
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 kg firm, ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, diced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
12 large basil leaves, torn
250g fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
300g fresh lasagne sheets
100g freshly grated parmesan
Top and tail the courgettes and eggplant. Diagonally slice into 5mm rounds. Brush both sides with olive oil. Heat a ridged frying pan and grill the courgettes and eggplant in batches, until char-grilled. Cover briefly to soften.
Preheat the oven to 190°C.
Lightly brush a 29cm x 21cm baking deep pan baking with oil. Place a layer of the sliced tomatoes — about 1/3 — on the base. Season.
Next, layer with half of the courgette and eggplant slices. Sprinkle with half each of the garlic, balsamic vinegar, basil, mozzarella and lasagne. Repeat, ending with a layer of tomatoes on top. Sprinkle with parmesan.
Cover with foil and bake for 60-70 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes or until the parmesan is golden on top. Serves 6.
GOAT’S CHEESE PASTA SALAD
The soft goat’s cheese melts and forms a sauce to coat the pasta.
2 plum tomatoes, quartered
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 cups (125g) small shell pasta
75g soft goat’s cheese
2 cups baby rocket, chopped
1/4 cup flaked almonds, toasted until lightly golden
1-2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan
Preheat the oven to 190°C. Put the tomatoes skin-side down on a lightly oiled baking tray. Season and drizzle with half the olive oil. Bake for about 20 minutes, until soft.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. Drain and place in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the remaining olive oil.
Crumble the goat’s cheese over the top. Gently stir until the cheese is melted and the pasta is evenly coated. Season and fold in the tomatoes, rocket and almonds.
If too thick, add 1-2 tablespoons of warm water. Top with freshly ground black pepper and the parmesan. Serves 2.
SMOKED CHEESE QUESADILLA
A light meal.
1 each: red, yellow capsicums, seeded
1 tablespoon olive oil
500g fresh sliced white mushrooms
2 cups shredded aged smoked cheddar cheese
8 medium soft flour tortillas
sour cream, coriander and chopped chillies for topping
Finely slice the onion and capsicums. Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick frying pan on medium-high. Sauté the onion for 2-4 minutes or until soft. Add the capsicums and sauté for 5 minutes, until soft. Transfer to a bowl.
Add 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan and melt on medium-low heat. Sauté the mushrooms for 5 minutes or until golden brown. Add to the capsicums and onions and toss gently.
Wipe the pan clean. For each quesadilla, melt a small knob of butter in the frying pan then add a tortilla. Top with 2 tablespoons of cheese, a 1/4 cup of the capsicum mixture, 2 tablespoons of cheese then another tortilla. When the underside is golden, press the quesadilla with the back of a wide spatula and carefully flip it over. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until the base is golden and the cheese melted.
Remove and cut into wedges. Repeat to make the remaining quesadillas. Serve topped with sour cream, coriander and chopped chillies. Serves 4.
SUPER TASTY GOUGERES
Excellent cheese puff nibbles to serve with drinks.
1 cup water
100g unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain flour
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
pinch cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups shredded aged cheddar cheese
Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line two oven trays with baking paper.
In a medium-size heavy saucepan, combine the water, butter and salt and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and add the flour. Mix with a wooden spoon until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and form a lump. Set aside, without stirring for 5 minutes.
Add an egg, mixing well until the mixture combines. Repeat with each egg. Mix in the mustard, cayenne and cheese. The dough will be loose and sticky.
Place heaped teaspoons on the baking trays. The mounds should be about 2.5cm in diameter. Leave about 1.5cm between each gougere.
Bake until puffy and golden, about 25 minutes, rotating the trays halfway through. Remove from the oven and serve immediately. Alternatively, turn off the oven, open the door slightly and keep the gougeres warm for up to 1 hour. Makes about 30.