New Zealand Woman’s Weekly
How I live... MY JOB is the GRATE-EST
LISA POWELL (33), OF CAMBRIDGE, IS A CHEESE TECHNOLOGIST AND WAS A JUDGE AT THE NZ CHAMPIONS OF CHEESE AWARDS
Let’s just say cheese has always been the dream! I’ve wanted to work with cheese, beer or wine since I studied and moved back home to New Zealand from the UK to become a senior cheese technologist. I’ve been doing that for six years and this was my first year being a cheese judge.
When most people hear about what I do, they can’t believe it’s a job and always ask if I get to eat cheese all day. The answer is yes! I eat cheese at least once a day – you have to when you’re making it. But they probably wouldn’t know about all the other details of what I do as a cheese technologist, which to some might sound a bit boring.
Believe it or not, I spend most of my time on the computer doing project development work, which could involve looking at new ingredients and trialling them in our factories. It takes a lot of work!
By the time you do a trial, you might do a couple of vats worth of cheese – each vat holds 30,000 litres of milk.
You end up with quite a few tonnes of cheese. Then you do a maturation profile to see how the cheese develops over the next year – does it need to be stored at a different temperature, for example?
It can be a long game. Generally, an Edam takes about six months to become the block you would see on the supermarket shelf, and a tasty cheese can take around 18 months. And then you have the beautiful vintages that can be closer to three years! That’s why you might pay more for the older cheeses because it costs to store the cheese for longer.
Another major part of the job is product and technical support for customers to let them know how best to eat their cheese. Our cheese is sold globally, with 95% of it exported around the world.
‘ New Zealand has some world- class cheeses and we’re particularly good at vintage cheddars’
Out of the 330,000 metric tonnes we make per year, that’s quite a large amount!
Since joining the industry, I have always wanted to be a cheese judge. A few people I work with have been judges for a very long time, so they took me under their wing. Last year, I did sensory training and helped at the cheese awards, and this year I was chosen as a judge.
On the day of judging, you aren’t allowed to wear any perfume, deodorants or moisturisers that have a high fragrance, which could affect the other judges’ sense of smell. You also shouldn’t have a strong coffee or anything highly caffeinated because caffeine can dull your senses.
Then when you go in, you get assigned to one table that has one type of cheese. At each table there’s a technical judge and an aesthetic judge – they are often food critics or writers. I am a technical judge.
In my category, I tasted about 27 different cheeses throughout the morning. In the afternoon portion, all cheeses that have won a gold award are then tasted by all the judges. They have to rank their top six to pick an overall winner.
By the end of the day, I have no idea how many cheeses I’ve tried! Taste fatigue sets in and you need to take a break, so you have a soda water as a mouth cleanser and a green apple.
To be honest, I’m a huge vintage cheddar fan. The older the better, I say. If I was to choose a cheese I didn’t like, I would choose a washed rind cheese. They are more of an
acquired taste. But New Zealand has some world-class cheeses and we are particularly good at vintage cheddars, I reckon.
I think I have passed on my love of cheese to my little girl Arabella, as well. She came up to me the other day asking to put cheese in her suitcase! She thinks my job is purely eating cheese. And my husband has come to love it more since he’s met me.
I hope to be working in cheese for the rest of my life. The goal, one day, is to make it as a judge to the Nantwich in Cheshire, England, and the Wisconsin cheese shows. Now that would be a dream!”