I can almost guarantee that if you are a serious cheese lover you will have heard about Canterbury Cheesemongers. Their reputation for maturing and selling wonderful cheese is almost the stuff of legends, just mention cheese to any lover of the very best cheese and they will often say something like ‘we have some great places to buy cheese here but have you heard of the guys in Christchurch?’
The reputation is richly deserved. Owned by Sarah and Martin Aspinwell who migrated here from England in the late 1990’s the business has grown from a part-time operation storing cheese in a refrigerated container in their back yard and selling it from a van at the Riccarton market in 2000 to a thriving hive of activity in a shop at the Canterbury Arts Centre.
They don’t make cheese but they do source the very best cheese they can from around the world, age it in their climate controlled facility and sell it to you and me in perfect condition.
As their web site says “We stock proper cheese, carefully made and matured, from New Zealand and abroad. They have natural rinds and long lingering flavours. We cut everything to order, wrap in paper and recommend consuming sooner rather than later. All the cheeses have spent time aging in our storerooms, some are ready almost as soon as we get them, others might be with us for up to two years.”
Martin says the best cheeses are made with raw milk and while they can’t sell locally made raw cheeses (yet) they do support skilled, passionate, small scale cheesemakers and have a beautiful selection of handcrafted cheeses from around New Zealand. One of my favourites is the range of fresh cheeses made by Milk Drop in Nelson, their fresh mozzarella beats anything else I have found.
Because they don’t make cheese Canterbury Cheesemongers import direct and use the expertise of others to source the very best cheese they can from various countries. They have developed a great working relationship with businesses like La Fromagerie, Le Marche Francias, Sabato, The Holland Shoppe and European Foods who all have their own specialty. Canterbury Cheesemongers brings the best of these importers together under one roof.
One cheese producer they have a special relationship with is Neal’s Yard Dairy in London. This business was established in Covent Garden in 1979, and began by making yoghurt and soft cheeses and this is where Sarah and Martin learned all about cheese when they worked there. Neal’s Yard Dairy had become the shop window for the best handmade British and Irish Farmhouse cheeses and in so doing had played a huge part in rescuing traditional territorial cheeses from a decline, begun during the 2nd World War and accelerated with the growth of supermarkets and mass produced foods in the 70’s.
Sarah and Martin want to continue that rescue mission as well as spreading the word about great cheese and giving us, the consumers, choices beyond the traditional supermarket offerings.
Of course great cheese deserves to be enjoyed with other outstanding products so they also have a small bakery within their shop. They bake a range of handcrafted breads fresh each day. These are proper breads, made with little or no yeast, long fermentation times and good flour, all of which ensures the bread is chewy with a crunchy crust and real flavour. As you would expect from an expat Englishman they also simply have to make traditional pork pies and pastries. I can tell you from experience the cheese straws they made are bordering on being obscenely delicious.
We can’t talk about a Christchurch business without mentioning the earthquakes. Canterbury Cheesemongers had to vacate their original site after the September 2010 shake and when they had to close for a short time regular customers had a small moment of panic until Martin and Sarah were able to supply by mail order before reopening in part of the Historic Arts Centre on Montreal St.
As with any small business Canterbury Cheesemongers had a long and winding road to navigate to become the successful business it is today; this is now a small, perfectly formed business that has survived two major earthquakes thanks to the support of many loyal customers who just know the cheese they buy will be in perfect condition, I know I do.
You can buy online and they deliver beautiful cheese properly wrapped and in insulated boxes all around New Zealand. www.cheesemongers.co.nz