Aroha Organic Goat Cheese

May 2015

John and Jeanne van Kuyk produce champion cheeses including a raw goat milk cheese

In the heart of Waikato cow country, Jeanne and John van Kuyk are producing champion cheeses and the country’s first ever raw milk goat’s cheese. 

John and Jeanne van Kuyk arrived in New Zealand in 1981 as fresh Dutch immigrants and they have not looked back. Their desire to come here was sparked by a documentary they saw in Holland about share milking in New Zealand. They were both from farming families.

A contact in Holland knew someone in Whangarei and from that point a connection to a whole new life began. They came to NZ with their three young children and started their farming lives in Awarua ( Northland) where they took up contract milking.

They worked hard and within 6 months of arriving they went from being farm workers to contract milkers and after 3 years they had saved enough money to buy 50/50 into a share milking situation (buying the cows 50/50).

In 1990 they really wanted to buy their own land and purchased their farm in Te Aroha with the help of old friends from Holland who had emigrated out here before them. 

The farm is about 10 minutes from Te Aroha. They have approximately 100 acres of flat land split into 42 smallish size paddocks which they converted to organics about 10 years ago.

They started with Saanen goats but recently introduced the Anglo Nubian breed as well. Jeanne believes the two breeds complement one another, especially for cheese making as one is high in butterfat but low in volume and the other vice versa. They have slowly built up the herd and have nearly 30 goats now, which they milk for about 10 months of the year.

As well as good pasture management, the goats are drenched weekly with a home made cider vinegar and herb concoction to keep their immune systems strong. They also receive regular foot trimmings and checks for foot rot and have their feet bathed in a copper solution.

The goats are milked twice daily – around 7am and 4pm, producing around 60 litres of milk for the cheese. Any surplus is sold at the gate as raw milk. They have a keen base of customers for this, but are only allowed to sell 5 litres per person per day. 

In March 2014 , Jeanne won the Champion Cheesemaker award at the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards. The award has added to an already impressive reputation Jeanne has for the cheeses she makes.

Cheese is made three days a week in a separate part of the family home which has been converted and certified to NZ Food Safety Standards as a cheese making facility. The cheese making takes up about 3 – 4 hours/day in separate blocks of time.

Cheese making was a venture that Jeanne learnt from scratch. Initially they milked the goats and sold the goat milk, but they still had spare milk and so Jeanne tried her hand at making cheese.

Obtaining detailed cheese making information was not easy as she found NZ cheesemakers very secretive, so Jeanne sought help from friends in Holland via email and through internet recipes. After a few teething problems such as milk turning sour in the heat and cheese coming out a funny soapy texture , she eventually fine tuned the art and bit by bit a boutique cheese business was formed.

To give them an indication of how big the interest in raw milk cheese would be, Jeanne conducted a survey back in 2010, asking each of her customers and cheese friends “would they buy raw milk goat cheese if available and would they be so kind to reply with a simple yes or no”. They were blown away by the overwhelming positive feedback of 99% “yes”.

From May 2010, they took part in raw milk cheese trials under the supervision of MPI. Quite a few different standards needed to be implemented, validated and certificated. Jeanne said they had a few interesting and educational meetings with MPI officials, who came out to look at the operation..

Jeanne and John also attended raw milk cheese and HACCP (Hazard & Critical Control Point) workshops, which she says were very interesting and educational.

Jeanne says “During a 2½ year period, we submitted and re-submitted the required paperwork a few times, updating requirements as requested , moving forward very slowly”. She said it was frustrating at times especially having been raised in a country where raw milk products were just part of their daily lives.

Although she was selling raw goats milk from the farm gate, selling raw milk cheese was a massively challenging underataking.

The process to become certified to produce this cheese for retail sale took three years. All other cheeses in New Zealand are made from pasteurised milk, which is heat treated to avoid unwanted pathogens.

Working with raw milk requires the highest standards of care, both of the milk and the goats themselves.

“It all goes back to hygiene, really. Hygiene and good health” says Jeanne.

The Ministry of Primary Industries certified Aroha Organic Goat Cheese in December 2012, and the farm has now had 2 seasons of producing raw milk cheese alongside its operation of pasteurised cheese.

Jeanne says pasteurised cheese loses beneficial vitamins, nutrients and enzymes. Raw milk is more natural.

“Different elements contribute to a healthier product,” she said. “The flavour is also a little bit richer”.

Cost of compliance pushes the price of the cheese into the stratosphere. Jeanne says they try to keep the price down to a bare minimum, but the testing regime means she has to sell her 800gm raw milk cheese for close to $90 just to break even. She says the milk being used has to be tested as well as the final cheese, and they have to sacrifice one cheese for each batch just for the testing.