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Little River Estate – Cheese Awards Winner

If you follow news about food you will be aware that the new free Trade Agreement with the UK means cheesemakers won’t be able to use the name ‘Feta’ in nine years time. Feta is such a generic cheese style world-wide it is difficult for me to see how European producers can claim any sort of exclusive use of the name.

I guess it is a trade-off for tariff-free access to the huge European market place and if the government can’t, or won’t, step up to the plate to help our wonderful small cheese producers retain the use of widely accepted and used generic names, then the industry needs to move now to rebrand this wonderful cheese style and claim the new name as ours – maybe Atef (pronounced A-Teff) is my suggestion to get the discussion going.

The impact of this decision will hit New Zealand’s boutique producers hardest. While large corporate cheese makers like the various Fonterra brands export a significant amount of cheese to Europe, feta is a tiny component but for our artisan, small and medium size cheese local cheesemakers who sell about 95% of their produce in the New Zealand marketplace it will have a big impact.

On a much more positive note, at the 2022 NZ Champions of Cheese Awards one Nelson producer, who has always had a total focus on producing the highest quality cheese they can, has had their efforts rewarded by being awarded one of four Supreme Champion Trophies. Little River Estate was awarded the New World Champion of Champion Cheese Award – Mid-sized cheesery with their Little River Mt Richmond which is a firm favourite cheese in our house. From my quick research I think this is the very first time a cheese made in the Nelson Tasman region has won a Supreme Champion Trophy

In the first round of awards announced in February the Little River Mt Richmond won the IXOM Champion European Style Cheese Award and moving on to win a Supreme Champion Trophy is a magnificent achievement. Add to that the fact the same cheese (then called Little River Estate Aged Swiss) was awarded Champion European Style Cheese in 2021 as well you can buy this cheese with absolute confidence in the quality.

Master Judge Jason Tarrant noted Little River Estate, Little River Mt Richmond; is “A very near perfect cheese scoring a consistent 99/100 across the judging panel. Superb.” High praise indeed and something Dave Barrett and his team at Thorvald and Little River can be very proud of.

When I spoke with Dave after the awards were announced he told me that their French cheesemaker, Francis, brings a huge amount of experience to his role at Thorvald (sheep milk cheeses) and Little River (A2 milk cheeses) and, while this win is huge for them, they are really proud of the full range of cheeses they make at the dedicated factory on Neudorf Rd, Upper Moutere.

I wanted to know what makes a champion cheese, “a total dedication to quality, doing everything to the highest standards, using the best milk we can get, and of course having great staff who are experts in what they do” says Dave.

Thorvald cheesemaker Francis selecting aged cheeses for packaging

“Our Cheesemaker, Francis, studied food technology and cheesemaking in his home country of France. He honed his skills in Compte, a renowned cheese-making region in France and has more than 10 years experience in the industry working in Australia, France, Switzerland and New Zealand. He has married a New Zealander and has made New Zealand his home so we are incredibly fortunate to have him hand-crafting our artisan cheeses.

“The milk we use is really important too, we only use Oaklands whole A2 milk in our Little River Estate range of cow’s milk cheeses. We don’t use preservatives, fillers, thickeners, stabilizers, sweeteners or other unnecessary additives in any of our products. The same goes for the sheep milk cheeses we produce under the Thorvald brand, top quality raw materials and excellence in everything we do is paramount.”

In the case of the Supreme Champion Cheese for mid-size businesses Dave says “this is a really special cheese for us, obviously winning the best European style cheese two years in a row is a significant achievement and the Supreme Champion award is the icing on the cake, everyone in the business is hugely proud of these awards.

“Last year it was called  Little River Estate Aged Swiss but we are keen to create cheeses with our identity rather than relying on being associated with a foreign cheese. We are also excited about the opportunities the decision to stop using the name Feta gives the industry, we need to be proud of the quality of cheeses made in New Zealand so we should be creating our own identity.”

So what drives Dave and his wife Sue to dedicate so much time and energy to making and selling exquisite artisan cheeses? “I have had a passion for fine food for many years and believe in supporting locally grown, ethically produced products. We have some fantastic producers in the region and if we can use products like Oakland’s A2 milk and create something special with it then we’re respecting the producer of the milk and their dedication to quality too.

“I’m also keen to explore how old traditions can be rediscovered and reinterpreted in our local context. Making cheese in New Zealand, using local milk but applying old world traditional techniques lets us create something special that reflects us and where we live.”

Dave and Sue have taken this philosophy and have created a group of businesses that are complimentary. Thorvald and Little River Estate produce more than just cheese, their range includes yoghurts, Kefir, cream cheese and sour cream with the full range available at The Junction.

They opened the Junction on the corner of McShane Road and the Appleby Highway initially as an outlet for their cheeses but Dave and Sue always had plans to sell more than cheese, today it is a euro-style deli that sells a wide range of premium deli products and Kahurangi Estate wines. They even have a Cheese Master on-hand who has curated a wonderful selection of cheese from other regions in New Zealand and overseas. “Virginnia is hugely important to us, our quest for quality in everything we do, and she loves talking cheese and helping our customers make great buying choices.”

Little River Estate and Thorvald dairy brands are businesses the whole region can be proud of, they use as many local products as they can to make their outstanding cheeses and other dairy products while their commitment to absolute quality is obvious in the end products. Next time you’re looking for a nice cheese check out their range that is available in supermarkets and of course, at The Junction.

Published in the Nelson Mail 06-07-2022

I have been writing a regular wine column for The Nelson Mail newspaper since 2000.

Unfortunately the column space is not big enough to include my thoughts on all of the many wines I taste. Hopefully this blog will fix that. It also gives me somewhere to archive the many columns I write. I will also include some favourite recipes from my dearly beloved who loves cooking and of course because wine and food simply go together. I will also point you in the direction of upcoming events and websites I think are great. Enjoy, Neil

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