Open Country Cheese Masters Recognised On World Stage

Open Country has won three awards at this year’s prestigious International Cheese and Dairy Awards in Nantwich in England.

The showcase is the world’s largest platform on which world class cheese producers are championed. Over 5,000 entries from around the world are blind tasted every year by a team of international judges, who are a range of industry professionals. Every cheese is excellent, but these awards are about recognising the exceptional.

So, when we came away with gold for our Mature Cheddar, and a Silver and Bronze in two Best NZ Cheese categories, it was an opportunity to acknowledge the ‘cheese masters’ behind the scenes making it happen.

It’s not about the factory

Step inside the Open Country cheese plant in Waharoa and you’ll be struck by how much stainless steel there is. Highways of pipes and silver vats fill an area that’s nearly the size of a football field. From above, it looks like a shiny Google Map.

As good as our factory is, it’s not the reason we win local and international cheese awards.

As the saying goes: “One passionate person is better than forty people merely interested.” Open Country has it better than that. In our cheese plant, we have a whole team of people passionate about making world-class cheese.

Leading the way is Bruce McInnes. Bruce runs the entire site and works closely with Keith Williams, the plant manager. If Open Country Cheese was a sports team, these two would be the coaches.

Mr Cheese

The Richie McCaw of the team is Chris Vickers. Chris is the Cheese Maker, the gatekeeper of all things cheese. Career-wise, this is all Chris has ever known. The technical expertise he possesses is the result of 30+ focused years in the industry.

Among his many responsibilities, Chris’ job is to create the recipes.

Making cheese with the perfect profile is difficult. It must have the right colour, a certain flavour, a texture that allows the cheese to grate well, or stretch fully, or melt just so in the oven. It is a science and an art.

What makes profiling even tricker is that there aren’t many cheese levers to pull: milk, salt, rennet and starter cultures are the main ingredients. This is where technical experience shines. 30 years of scientific curiosity allows Chris to shape the variables down to gold-winning detail.

Story Cheese Team

The man with the educated taste buds

Andre Chauval is the factory’s Sensory Grader. “Sensory Grader” may look bland on a business card, but Andre’s job is anything but. He is the one Open Country relies on to taste and test whether a cheese is ticking the profile boxes.

If the acidity levels are a fraction under (or over), he can taste it. If the colour is a little off, he’ll know. Same with the aroma, body, appearance, and the way a cheese performs. This is a crucial role.

Cheese Andre 1

Andre Chauval is the factory’s Sensory Grader. Open Country relies on Andre to taste and test whether a cheese is ticking the profile boxes.

A proud team

Inside the football field of pipes is the team running the engine room. Under the direction of a dedicated and focused team of shift supervisors, the plant’s operators, quality controllers and packaging specialists are the team that makes it happen. It takes a large crew working round the clock to make great cheese.

Everyone cares about the work. Everyone is a stickler for details. They all know the cheese market is ultra-competitive and that Open Country is vying for the right to be on global shelves.

How do they know they’re doing their jobs well? When customer contracts are won. It is a source of great team pride when Open Country cheeses are selected ahead of other major brands.

Cheese Plant Waharoa 1b

Giving the customer what they want

The key to winning the world over is listening to what customers want. For the public buying products from the supermarket, it could be supplying a product with a certain flavour profile in a new convenient format.

For a customer wanting to use an Open Country cheese as an ingredient in their own product, something bespoke may be needed. A cheese that balances out existing ingredients.

That’s when Chris and the team begin experimenting. Existing recipes are reshaped and reformulated. Other ingredients may be added. New techniques are tried.

Once trials are completed, a new product is evaluated by the grading and marketing teams. Only when the cheese meets the client’s exact profile requirements is it submitted for their approval. If the entire cheese team has done its job, the contract is won.

Along with the awards, these commercial wins are the endorsement of everything our cheese team is doing, and of the quality of milk our Open Country farmers are supplying.

The world recognises our work, and we are very proud of that fact.