Crafting Excellence: The Artisans behind our Vintage Cheddar
Creating a Vintage Cheddar that consistently delivers on flavour and texture
17 Nov 2023
Creating a trophy-winning vintage cheese and then producing it at scale is not for the faint hearted. It takes collaboration, meticulous attention to detail and a team of experts who aren’t afraid of a challenge. NZMP’s Vintage Cheddar is a case in point, according to Shehan Winter, Cheese Plant Manager at Fonterra and Dan Packwood, Process Project Manager at Fonterra.
Among other experts, these team members work together for the ongoing success of Vintage Cheddar. They ensure consistency is maintained for this long-hold cheddar and it’s something they’re very proud of. The rich flavoured cheese, which beautifully balances the natural acid/mature notes with complex savoury and slightly fruity flavours, has won a range of international awards over the past fifteen years and they’re determined to keep it that way.
“The part we’re most proud of is the way all our teams work together to ensure the cheese’s consistency,” Shehan says.
“For example, a small cheesemaker entering awards will choose their best tasting block – but when we enter awards, we go into the cool store, find the closest available unit, pull out a block, put our stamp on it and send it away. So, when you go to the supermarket and buy the cheese – it’s exactly the same as the one that won the award. The fact that we are able to make this cheese at scale is what makes it very, very special.”
Ensuring consistency means monitoring the cheese closely, says Dan. “Throughout the season, we’ll be continuously adjusting the recipe to accommodate for the variation in the milk to produce the milk to produce the same quality of cheese. That’s just one of the things that needs a constant eye, to ensure we hit the spec.” All the checks and balances are dependent on a collaborative culture, one in which everyone has their say – and everyone is striving for excellence, he adds.
The thought process behind a winning product
“In my team, the most important thing is to make sure we’re aligned – that we’re all moving in the same direction,” says Shehan. “We have a team of about 90 people working in our plant and it’s very important that everyone’s on the same page. We all need to be working to the same vision, the same end goal.”
It’s important that each person sees beyond the yellow block they’re producing. “I say, which one of you doesn’t have a block of cheese in your fridge at home? Your kids go to school with a sandwich that has cheese in it – cheese that came from your plant, so it’s really important to understand that responsibility and take pride in what you do.”
Making a world-class product goes all the way from the farm right through to manufacturing. Every part of the chain needs to be nurtured to create something wonderful.
- Andrew Huxford, Senior Technologist, Fonterra
For Dan and Shehan, recognition is also a top priority. Sharing the wins with their teams provides valuable feedback and affirmation. Their recent wins for Vintage Cheddar include:
- Gold Trophy, Best New Zealand Cheese, International Cheese and Dairy Awards 2023
- Gold, Best New Zealand Cheese – Vintage, International Cheese and Dairy Awards 2023
- Silver, NZ Champion of Cheese Awards, 2023
- Bronze, International Cheese and Dairy Awards, 2022
- Gold, NZ Champion of Cheese Awards, 2022
- Gold, NZ Champion of Cheese Awards, 2021
Meet the makers behind the cheese
Dan traded his job as a mechanic for the dairy industry, joining Fonterra seven and half years ago. He worked his way up from an entry level position, through working on the floor as a cheesemaker before taking on a team leader role and eventually making his way into projects. He also completed a Diploma in Dairy Processing.
Shehan studied mechanical engineering and began working for Fonterra seven years ago. He started in an entry level role before moving into a technologist position, and then onto plant manager. Together with Dan, he works alongside research and development to oversee the manufacture of NZMP’s Vintage Cheddar.
Andrew Huxford, who also plays an important role in NZMP’s Vintage Cheddar, began his career at Kapiti 30 years ago where he learned the A-Z of cheesemaking. He started working for Fonterra in 2008 and held several roles before taking up his current position. He completed a master’s course in cheesemaking at the University of Melbourne and says he’s been lucky to have learned from the best.
Bringing new products to life
Working with the talented team of Fonterra scientists, Dan and Sheehan are also responsible for bringing new products to life, as part of NZMP’s continuing commitment to innovation. They trial new products, taking a recipe and working out how to produce it at scale. “We have a very good team. We say hey, we’re going to try this new fan-dangled thing, it’s going to be difficult, but we’ll get there. We’re also lucky in that we have a very versatile plant. Dan will sometimes be making five types of cheeses in a week – between 140-200MT per batch.” says Shehan.
Utilise NZMP’s award-winning cheeses for your brand
NZMP has an impressive range of outstanding cheese and dairy products celebrated for their consistent quality, performance, and delicious flavour.
To explore how your brand can make the most of NZMP’s Vintage Cheddar or any of our other world-class ingredients, talk to your NZMP Account Manager or reach out by using the button below.