Miel Meyer was recently named Cheesemaker of the Year 2011 at the annual Cuisine Champions of Cheese Awards.
Miel is General Manager at the highly awarded Meyer Gouda Cheeses. A family business in New Zealand founded by his Father, Meyer Gouda Cheeses have been a mainstay in the cheese industry producing some of the finest Dutch style Gouda cheeses New Zealand has to offer.
General Manager & Cheesemaker - where do you find the time?
I’ve been asked this a lot recently. Cheese quality is the core of our business, without it we would sit in the same boat as some of bigger competitors.
With the onset of the global financial crisis, sales slumped and also our head cheesemaker had decided to move overseas. I found myself with more time and with this I was able to look inside the business at what worked well – and what didn’t – and to re-evaluate our core values and increase production efficiencies. It was apparent Cheese quality and service is what set us apart so this is what I decided to concentrate on. What we do we do well!
In late 2010, I decide to make cheese three days per week and the other two and a half days (I had to squeeze a half day on the weekends in) I would continue to manage the company.
It was important to talk to suppliers and customers as well; often I would only be available on the phone so being up front helped the relationship with our partners and even created excitement for our loyal customers.
Making cheese did more than I expected; it gave me opportunities to review ‘SOP’ and other legislative requirements from the shop floor which in the future will become very useful.
The 2010/2011 diary season was tough and a long haul but I feel the improved cheese quality and recognition through Cheesemaker of the Year has been a huge success for the company - and me personally.
So how does it feel being named Cheesemaker of the Year at the Cuisine Champions of Cheese Awards?
Great! Somewhat surprising as I know many cheesemakers in the industry and am always amazed at the quality of cheeses New Zealand as a whole has to offer. I have to say I am a little biased over my own cheese but a creamy blue cheese over a piece of eye fillet is to die for.
I must give huge credit to my Father as he has been a major part in my success as a cheese maker and as a Manager. He is still one of New Zealand’s most experienced Cheesemakers and I can call on him for advice anytime which is so valuable and will be utilized as long as I can.
My aim for 2011 was to make the best quality cheese possible and in the same year winning multiple awards and Cheesemaker of the Year seems to have checked that goal of my list.
What makes a good cheese?
Passion and experience are key to a great cheese, however I think the most important is the best quality milk. Immigrating from Holland, New Zealand milk is what lured us ‘Down Under’. The quality and climate here is difficult to match anywhere in the world. Much of my time is spent ensuring milk supply and quality is perfect.
2011 has seen my brother in-law get into farming and buying his own herd so I purchase that milk from him. This gives me great confidence in the raw product and also allows for regulation and discussions about how we can keep it at the peak of its quality.
Great cheese starts at the farm gate and ends in the maturing rooms.
What innovations in the cheese industry do you foresee? Anything the industry needs that it just doesn’t have quite yet?
I think the cheese industry has come a long way since I was a child; we keep seeing good clean flavors coming through. As New Zealanders learn and experience more about cheese they come to ask more questions – so us producers respond with a new cheese!
20 years ago it was cow milk cheddar and a range of other hard cheese and also some goats milk fetas. Now we have a huge number of cow milk variants from hard and soft cheese, sheep milk, goat milk and buffalo mozzarella and as many flavors as you can think of!
If you like certain flavors you can add it to cheese, see how it tastes and go from there.
At the moment we are seeing huge changes in packaging and the way the cheese is presented! Customers love having it simple so expect to see much more in the form of pre-packaged sliced, cubed and shredded cheeses, even in the specialty cheese varieties.
The one thing the industry needs is a good lesson on how to ‘cut the cheese’. From a young age I ate a lot of cheese and on the market there is a range of tools to use to cut it. New Zealanders, being brought up with square blocks of cheddar, now have to deal with round wheels of Gouda or Brie, or triangular Goats Feta. You name the shape - it can be done and expect to see it. But cutting and caring for these cheeses needs to be done properly and it seems a little education will go along way in this area.
As with all things cheese ‘good things take time’ and we are here to help it along.
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