The land “Down Under” is home to a diverse array of cheeses many with European influences. The first recorded knowledge of cheese making in the area occurred in the 1700s, when the first European settlers arrived. The earliest varieties were similar to English Cheshire, Leicester, and Cheddar, the latter remaining the favourite Aussie cheese to date.
In the 1930s, a flood of Italian and Greek migrants arrived, bringing with them new market demands for more continental-style cheeses. Today cheese makers from Australia and New Zealand locally produce cheeses from all corners of the world. There are top-quality versions of Italian (Mozzarella, Mascarpone), Greek (Feta, Halloumi), French (Brie, Camembert), and English (Caerphilly, Wensleydale) cheeses, and a whole slue of blue-veined varieties that rival European classics like Gorgonzola, Roquefort, and Stilton.
While some of these “replica” cheeses may vary in flavour and texture compared to the originals, the glorious natural landscape of Australia and New Zealand seems to create cheeses with deliciousness all their own. There are more than 105 varieties of cheese made Down Under, and it’s worth your while to sample your way to discovering a new favourite.
Here are some of the more distinctive cheese temptations hailing from Australia and New Zealand:
One of the first farmhouse cheeses made in Australia, this sweet, buttery blue has a natural orange crust dusted with blue-grey moulds. It’s crafted by the Tarago River Cheese Company, which uses the milk of Jersey cows for a deep yellow colour and smooth, velvety texture. Formed into rounds, the cheese ripens in eight to 10 weeks. Gippsland Blue is a tasty table cheese that can also be grilled or added to salads.
This organic goat’s milk cheese is named for Gabrielle Kervella, a small Australian farm owner who honed her cheese making skills in France. The soft white cheese, formed into rounds or logs, can be enjoyed at various stages of maturity. At two weeks time, Kervella Affine is mild and sweet. With more maturation, it becomes hard, flaky and salty, with a taste reminiscent of macadamia nuts.
King River Gold
Famous throughout Australia, this semi-soft cow’s milk cheese is made on the Milawa farm of David and Anne Brown. Producers of a wide range of excellent cheeses, this one features a slightly sharp taste and a pink-orange natural washed rind dusted with mould. King River Gold is the perfect table cheese and it’s also excellent melted over vegetables. A similar but stronger version of this cheese goes by the name Milawa Gold.
One of the most popular cheeses made Down Under, this semi-soft cow’s milk cheese is similar to a French Pont l’Eveque. Sharp and spicy in flavour, it is distinguished by a square shape and a slightly sticky, wrinkled rind. Polkolbin is made by Peter Curtis at the Hunter Valley Cheese Company. It’s an interesting table cheese selection that can also be used for grilling.
Made by John Healey, this modern cow’s milk cheese is a type of Cheddar – but it’s neither as hard nor smooth as a traditional one. Thanks to a year of ripening, the truckle-shaped cheese is more granular in texture, and quite rich and nutty in flavour. Pyengana Cheddar is favoured for grating and grilling, and it also makes the perfect table cheese.
Hailing from the Adelaide region, this soft, white goat’s milk variety was created by Paula Jenkins. When young, the soft cheese has an almost mousse-like texture along with a breath of fresh acidity. With age, the cheese hardens, displaying a more mushroomy flavour and aroma. Woodside Cabecou is distinguished by a thin natural crust that’s yellow and wrinkled.
Named after the district in New Zealand, this distinct modern farmhouse cheese has a thin, natural crust coated with special red cheese paint. Inside, the cow’s milk cheese has a compact, semi-soft to semi-hard texture and a sunny yellow colouring. Airedale displays a real depth of flavour. Fruity when young, it becomes more full-bodied and savoury with age. This cheese is suitable for vegetarians.
Whitestone cheese takes its name from the ancient white rock limestone found in the New Zealand South Island where it’s made. This unique cow’s milk variety has a fine Penicillium candidum rind that carries the fragrance of lemongrass. The interior is moist and crumbly in the centre and softer toward the outer edges. Vegetarian Whitestone Farmhouse has a fresh, slightly fruity tang that suggests pineapple and guava. It gains more character with age, displaying a nutty edge.
Windsor Blue is New Zealand’s most award-winning cheese. Made in South Island’s limestone area and named after the township of Windsor, the pasteurised cheese is a combination of premium cow’s milk and unique blue cultures. This high cream blue is rich and loaded with full-bodied flavour. If there was one New Zealand cheese to try, this is it.