New Zealand cheese championship kicks off in Auckland

Date: February 2020

A panel of judges at the New Zealand Cheese Championship in Auckland are tasting their way through hundreds of samples to crown the victor of the prestigious prize.

The judges appear to have the best job in the world – blind-taste-testing cheese.

First, they unwrap their mystery parcel, then cut it, assess it, and finally spit it out. They rinse with water, then repeat.
The panel of 23 judges are tasting more than 300 samples on their hunt for the winners of the New Zealand Champions of Cheese Awards, and they’re overseen by Master Judge Russell Smith.

So who are these cheese connoisseurs?

“People who make cheddar, they are used to grading cheddar or goudas, blues – people who are experts in that field,” Smith told Newshub

He says not all cheeses are made equal, and for this reason the judges are separated into the categories they’re expert in.

“You have a blue cheese, a cheddar, a brie. They have anything in common? Only that they’re made from milk,” Smith says.

“What is an attribute in one cheese, something you’re looking for, might be a defect in another cheese.”

The cheese is judged on three criteria; appearance is worth 10 points, texture is worth 30 and flavour tips the scales with 60 points.

Smith says the judges have their work cut out for them and palate cleanses are a must.

On each table is a bowl of apples, crackers and bottles of mineral water to swill before moving on to the next sample.

And while it seems sacrilegious to spit the cheese out, it’s a necessary step.

“You probably wouldn’t feel well after 40 or 50 cheeses. But also if you’re full your brain just turns off when you’re trying to assess the criteria,” Smith says.

It’ll take up to a month to tally up which cheese reigns supreme, so Newshub asked Smith which his favourite was.

“My favourite cheese is usually the cheese I’m putting in my mouth at any one time. I like nearly all of them.”

Smith says people should try out all the different types of cheese available at our supermarkets because you just might find a new favourite of your own.

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