New Zealand’s cheese industry is in fine heart with the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards showcasing a great collection of the finest from large makers through to boutique cheesemakers.

The Kiwi cheese industry’s night of nights, the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards Gala Dinner in Hamilton was a celebration of excellence in New Zealand cheese craftsmanship.

Twenty-six trophy winners were announced following an extensive evaluation in early March assessing more than 250 locally produced cheeses, with the finest 187 already honoured with gold, silver and bronze medals.

Fonterra Co-Operative Group, NZMP Epicure – also sold as Mainland Epicure aged cheddar, took the top title of Woolworths Champion of Champions (Commercial). Of this winner the judges said: “Beautiful. An abundance of calcium lactate, intense good strong mature flavour yet well balanced, and clean. Pleasurable savoury tone, with fruity, sweet and nutty alongside.”

This was one of nine NZ Champion of Cheese Trophies for Fonterra, cementing its position as the country’s number one cheesemaker. Among its haul were trophies for limited edition boutique cheese and commercial cheeses including; Mainland Special Reserve Chilli & Garlic Brie, which won two trophies; NZ Specialist Cheesemakers Association Champion New Cheese and Big Chill Distribution Champion Fresh Flavour Added Cheese and Anchor Traditional Cream Cheese which collected the trophy for Wintec Te Pūkenga Champion Fresh Unripened Cheese.

r cheesemaker and principal technologist at Fonterra Brands New Zealand Bridge Street site in Eltham, Taranaki, was – for the second time in three years – crowned as the country’s top cheesemaker. To win the coveted MilkTestNZ Champion Cheesemaker title each cheesemaker entered three cheeses of different styles showing their cheesemaking breadth. Lang showed Kāpiti Artisan Ash Rind White; Kāpiti Artisan Bridge St Blue and Kāpiti Rarama. Lang made a remarkable transition into cheesemaking in 2005 after two decades in veterinary science. Her success is a testament to her ability to blend cheesemaking science with creativity. Since joining Fonterra in 2014 Lang has been instrumental in driving its NZ specialty cheese development, with her dedication to excellence consistently recognised with numerous national and international accolades.

Open Country received the Woolworths Sustainability Award. This award was assessed by a panel who reviewed cheese companies’ sustainability initiatives, with a focus on production. The judging panel noted Open Country demonstrated a clear understanding of the challenges and opportunities associated with sustainable cheese production. The judges said; ‘We were particularly impressed by the company’s initiatives to addresses decarbonisation within their value chain and commended Open Country’s decision to phase out coal boilers and use renewable energy.’

Artisan cheese also took its spot on the winners’ podium, with many smaller companies recognised. Waikato’s Over the Moon Dairy was a triple trophy winner for its buffalo milk Volcano. Over the Moon Volcano was awarded NZ Specialist Cheesemakers Association Champion of Champions (Mid-Sized), Innovative Packaging Best in Class Buffalo Milk Cheese and IFF Champion Farmhouse Cheese. The judges said: “Authentic, looks great… Smooth cream cheese texture, great flavour depth, hints of lemon…Perfectly orchestrated flavour – judges loved it.”
Hawke’s Bay boutique sheep milk cheesemaker Craggy Sheep Dairy collected five trophies. Four trophies for Craggy Range Sheep Dairy, Pecorino; Puhoi Valley Champion of Champions (Boutique); Sabato Best in Class Sheep Milk Cheese and IXOM Champion European-Style Cheese and NZ Specialist Cheesemakers Association Chefs’ Choice. A fifth trophy, the NZ Specialist Cheesemakers Association Champion Aged Flavour Added Cheese was also awarded to Craggy Range Sheep Dairy, Clive Cumino.

Belle Chevre Creamery, Betta than Feta was the OJI Fibre Solutions Best in Class Goats Milk Cheese. A medal winner in 2021 and 2002, the feta from the Waipu artisan cheesemaker is made in the traditional Greek way, with goat’s milk from the Belle Chevre farm and sold in brine, making it easy to store.

Wellington cheesemaker Zany Zeus was awarded Cheeselinks Champion Fresh Italian-Style Cheese for its Italian Style Ricotta with the judges saying: “Very smooth and creamy mouthfeel, delicate…. good clean flavour, lovely cheese, well done.” This capped off a great NZ Champions of Cheese Awards for Zany Zeus – sporting its new brand livery – it entered 11 cheeses and received 11 medals and one trophy.
Southern cheesemakers were also recognised. Akaroa producer with more than 125 years of cheesemaking history, Barrys Bay Traditional Cheese was recognised with Wainui Vintage Cheddar named Tetra Pak Champion Retail Cheddar Cheese. The judges assessing Wainui Vintage Cheddar said: “Great earthy flavours, well rounded and complex”.

Sticking with Canterbury, Karikaas Natural Dairy Products – which is celebrating 40 years of cheesemaking in 2024 received two trophies. It took the highly contested AsureQuality Champion Dutch-Style Cheese for its Gouda as well as Fonterra Co-operative Group Champion Original Cheese for Karikaas Natural Dairy Products, Pumahana.

Further south still, North Otago’s Whitestone Cheese Co, Waitaki Camembert is Novonesis Champion Soft White Rind Cheese. It also received a second award, collecting the dish Champion Greek-Style or Danish-Style Cheese for Whitestone Cheese Co, Ferry Road Halloumi which according to the judges is “Beautifully balanced, great squeak, nice bounce, well executed salt levels, true to form and lovely”.
Judging was conducted at Hamilton’s Wintec Te Pūkenga in early March with thirty judges, led by Master Judge Jason Tarrant, meticulously evaluating 253 New Zealand-made cheeses. Seventy-two gold, 71 silver, and 44 bronze medals were awarded, underscoring the relentless pursuit of perfection by New Zealand cheesemakers.

The complete list of NZ Champions of Cheese Awards 2024 medal winners can be found on and