An award winning, family-run dairy operation and cheese producer.
Meyer Cheese produces high quality, handmade traditional gouda cheeses from their own dairy farm. A business model that holds quality, “a good honest product” and family lifestyle as paramount, has produced a thriving boutique business that produces award winning cheeses and supports a large extended family. Meyer Cheese is presently rebranding to assure they communicate the genuine family origins of their cheeses.
Ben and Fieke Meyer were inspired by monks hand-making cheeses in their home in the Netherlands. Independence, working close to nature and producing a “good, honest product” appealed to the young couple, and Ben went on to learn the craft from master cheesemakers there.
The couple emmigrated with their 3 small children in 1984. They settled in Cambridge, Waikato on a 5-acre block, quickly setting up their cheese production. Initially they struggled, as the composition of milk produced by Kiwi dairy cows milk differed dramatically from milk produced in the Netherlands.
After much trial and error, and the help of a Dutch cheesemaker based in Mercer, they began producing good cheeses. They further realised that to maintain control over cheese quality they needed to control the milk production, so they bought a dairy farm in Temple View and this is where the business remains today.Today the farm and cheesery are run by the next generation of Meyers – Manager Miel, Head Cheesemaker Geert, and son-in-law Bert continue the business of diary farming and making cheese.
Ben and Fieke retired in 2007 and their youngest son Miel took over. Miel continued the winning traditions of their business – scooping the 2011 ‘Cheesemaker of the Year’ award – the youngest perosn to do so in the history of the NZ Cheese Awards. In 2011 their elder son Geert came home to take on the role of Head Cheesemaker. Their daughter Fieke and her husband Bert run the dairy farm.
The boutique cheesery produces a variety of different goudas, from the young gouda and Amsterdammer cheese (ripened for 4 weeks) to a variety of flavoured goudas (Garlic & chives, the classic Dutch Cumin Gouda etc) and matured goudas (tasty/vintage etc). However they continue to adhere to traditional handmade practice in their dedication to good quality cheeses.
Traditional cheesemaking is about working with your hands and controlling production based on what you see and feel is happening in the milk and the cheese. Miel says, “traditional is about working with your hands, getting elbows deep into the cheese, which we still do – cutting the blocks by hand, feeling the curds. In a non-traditional sense, it would be a pH measure – “Yes, the pH reached its point” – whereas with us, it’s about, “Yes, the curds feel good and they’re tasting good and it looks good” – you can see the milk.”
Over the years they have adopted some technologies such as a mechanical hoist for the brine racks, and a data capture system for the required food safety protocols. However Miel stresses, “The automation helps with the efficiency of running the plant, but it doesn’t take away from the traditional aspect of actually making cheese, which is really important to us and the brand. Quality is paramount. If you’ve got a good-quality cheese, it’s going to sell itself, and we’ve seen that over the years.”
Before adopting any new practice of technology, they ask themselves, ‘Is that going to be doing the right job? Is it going to change the quality of the end product?‘
The dairy farm is an important part of the operation. It supplies milk directly to the cheesery through a connecting pipe. And the quality of milk is crucial to the end product. “For our cheese in particular, it’s from the farm that we’re located on. We’ve actually got an overhead line which connects us directly to the milk vat where the cows are, so within 3 minutes or 5 minutes after they’ve finished milking the cows, we’re starting to produce that milk into cheese, so you can’t get much fresher than that.”
The main advantages of having the local supply of milk is being able to talk about it with Fieke and Burt.
Miel says, “We know where the milk’s coming from, and what the cows are being fed. With us, it’s important that we have a natural and traditional cheese product, so we want the cows to be traditionally farmed as well. We need to make sure that there’s not too much supplement being fed, and any drugs, are controlled. Anything like that’s all minimal here on the farm. It’s a natural system, so the cows are on a twice-a-day milking, only milking throughout the summer period.”is aware of the importance of story in the marketplace and the demand from consumers for information on where their food comes from. Miel say’s “It’s okay in my mind, but we need to make it okay in the consumer’s mind”.
They also wanted a single homogenous look for their products that to date have had a variety of labels, including different labels for Countdown and New World lines.
Meyer Gouda Cheese scooped the Supreme Award at the New Zealand Cheese Awards in 1994 and 2012. Their cheeses continue to pick up awards each year. In 2017, Meyer Cheese picked up 5, including the Countdown Champion of Champions Award.
“Cheese of the Decade” is given by the New Zealand small cheese makers association and Meyer Gouda received it for consistent success over a 10 year period.