French ambassador attends Eketa¯ huna Cheese Festival
Florence Jeanblanc-Risler, Ambassador of France to New Zealand, was present at the inaugural Eketa¯ huna Cheese Festival organised by local cheesemaker Biddy FraserDavies of Cwmglyn Farmhouse Cheese.
In a list of who’s who, two speakers came from England, Dr Paul Neaves and Jill Palmer, Minister of Agriculture Damian O’Connor was a guest speaker. Also attending were Dame Annette King, former deputy Leader of the Opposition, Labour MP Kieren McAnulty and Tararua District mayor Tracey Collis.
The festival was all about artisan cheesemakers networking with each other. The icing on the cake though, was an announcement made by Damian O’Connor launching a new template to enable an easier and cheaper way to certify cheese. The minister Biddy presented her with a 76th birthday present on stage.
Sixteen years ago Biddy Fraser-Davies found compliance was nearly impossible for small cheesemakers. She led the charge taking on the government.
“She was writing to Parliament so often and attending so many select committees, she could have been an MP herself,” said Damian O’Connor.
“In a country that has the biggest dairy exporter in the world, the compliance cost for small cheesemakers was dismissed. Biddy’s persistence paid off. Politicians [eventually] convinced officials there could be a better way.”
He announced a new template for small cheese producers, not only for Eketa¯ huna but across New Zealand.
“That will lower the cost to ensure innovation, awareness and provenance — all those things that go with producing fine local food not only for locals but for visitors to our country to enjoy,” he said.
Denise Clifton from Eketa¯ huna has been working for Biddy for nine years and has shifted from producing thermoset cheese to going purely into raw milk and the bureaucratic nightmare she has had on the way. She is one of only three raw cheesemakers in New Zealand.
“After 16 years hard work she now has had her validation approved.
“There’s been a lot of networking going on between Biddy and Callum Hodgson, chief cheesemonger from Sabato in Auckland. They have both been working together over the past six months, networking with all the artisan cheesemakers from all over New Zealand to get them here. It’s taken a year from conception. Cheesemakers have come on board to support coming to Eketa¯ huna, from Tasmania [Bruny Island Cheese], Auckland, down to Twizel in the deep south.”
Eketa¯ huna has a strong history of cheesemaking, being one of the first regions in New Zealand to start making and exporting cheese and butter. There were many companies, including Newman, Rongokokako, Nireaha, Mauriceville, Hamua, Hukanui, Rongomai — there’s quite a few,” she said.
Eketahuna Community Board chair Charlie Death, a sixth generation farmer from Nireaha, said Eketa¯ huna has a history of bringing things together and making them work.
Dr Paul Neaves, worldrecognised micro-biologist in raw cheesemaking from England, brought HACCP (hazard and critical contact points) expert Jill Palmer with him from England. It was globally significant, an opportunity to talk to artisan cheesemakers. He is the convenor of the UK Specialist Cheesemakers Association and is on their technical committee representing 300 small farms. Biddy is a member of the association.
Jill Palmer said people are enthusiastic about food, provenance and the story behind it.
“The level of buzz in the room bodes well for the future,” she said.
French Ambassador and cheesemonger Florence Jeanblanc-Risler said artisan cheese has a huge future not only in New Zealand but worldwide.
“I’m honoured to be here. Biddy is a wonderful woman and a huge achiever,” she said.
“This is just wonderful to see,” said Labour MP Kieran McAnulty.
“I’m a Masterton boy from an Eketa¯ huna family on both sides. To be able to bring the minister along and celebrate what is a wonderful event in a town that has a proud history not only in cheesemaking but in everything else, to have the mayor with us and the French Ambassador and for Damian to make the announcement after 16 years of lobbying, it’s great news for the industry.
“Cheesemakers can get on with making wonderful tasting and certified cheese,” said Sally Johnston, manager for Food & Beverage at New Zealand Food Safety, launched two weeks ago.
Now cheesemakers can go to MPI for a one-stop shop or can go online “and they can get on with making wonderful tasting and certified cheese,” said Sally Johnston, manager for Food & Beverage at New Zealand Food Safety
From left: Biddy Fraser-Davies, Florence Jeanblanc-Risler, Ambassador of France to New Zealand, MP Kieran McAnulty, Dame Annette King, Minister of Agriculture Damian O’Connor, Gill Whalley (Mount Eliza Cheese which went to a Select Committee hearing with Biddy), and Tararua mayor Tracey Collis.
Sharing their passion — artisan cheesemakers from New Zealand.
Jill Palmer with Dr Paul Neaves from England.
Minister of Agriculture Damian O’Connor presents Biddy FraserDavies with a birthday present for her 76th birthday.