Wangapeka Family Dairy

Cheese Please

Artisan Wangapeka Cheese - yes please

You can’t even buy them yet but Wangapeka Cheese products are already creating a buzz, writes Colleen Simpson.

About an hour’s drive from Nelson lies a sheep and beef farm owned by husband- and-wife team Karen and Daryl Trafford.

On this 800-hectare block, Karen has been quietly learning the art of cheesemaking for the last couple of years and they are now about to go global – well, local at least.

While Daryl tends the farm, Karen tends a small herd of cows which are milked once a day to give a high-protein, full- cream milk – the raw product for the magic she creates in the cheesery.

The couple, North Islanders by origin, spent 22 years milking for Fonterra but an opportunity to exit their business arose and they took it, seeing it as a chance to pursue a different way of farming that made both them and the animals they cared for, happier.

So now they farm fewer animals, milk only once a day, interfere less with the land and generally let nature run its course. In essence, they wanted to turn back the farming clock.

“We wanted a whole new philosophy and approach,” Karen says. “We wanted to go back 50 years to when grandad had small herds and every cow had a name and when the milk quality was better.”

And so they have. Wangapeka is in the final stages of testing before it is able to go to market, figuratively and literally, at the Nelson Farmers’ Market. It hopes to be there within four weeks. But the phone is already ringing with stores and delis wanting to stock Wangapeka products even without trying them.

Perhaps it is the offerings themselves. Karen produces an extensive assortment of cheese and dairy products which includes double cream, clotted cream, cultured butter and more.

Double cream is not often seen on the shelf here in New Zealand but is more common abroad. While in other countries gelatine may be added to help with the thickening process, Wangapeka’s raw cream is put in a centrifugal skimmer and the result is a cream four times thicker than pouring cream which can be spooned straight from the tub onto anything where whipped cream could be called for.

One of the products Karen is most excited about is the Greek yoghurt, made in the traditional way of being hung within a cloth to remove the whey. “It’s just as it should be,” Karen says. “Some amazing things will be done with our yoghurt.”

Karen has also looked to the past for inspiration in making her cultured butter, though she has given it a modern twist in the name of safety. The butter was once made by allowing cream from several milkings to ferment before churning it.

Now, it’s a safer option to add bacteria and allow it to culture overnight before churning. The butter is becoming more popular because of its health benefits which include being low in lactose. Wangapeka’s operation is tiny. There are no large vats or commercial scale operations in the converted 100-year-old cottage she works in on the farm property. The products are a labour of love. The art of mozzarella making was learned from an 82-year-old Italian woman who lives locally who was only too happy to share her knowledge.

Tapping into the local network of home cheesemakers was one of the ways Karen taught herself the art, and now she shares that knowledge with any who ask.

“We really promote home cheesemaking,” Karen says. “We sell raw milk on the understanding that it is for cheese which will be made and eaten at home and not sold. When people come and buy it, I know that it is going to be a really good thing for their family.”

Wangapeka might still be in its infancy but Karen is brimming with ideas of how the future might look. She thinks one day part of the cottage could be converted into a farm shop and says the farm’s other attractions could be parcelled into one experience.

“People could come here and do a cheesemaking course, we have some lovely trout in the rivers and of course some beautiful walks out here.”

* Wangapeka Cheese earned a highly commended placing in the dairy category of the Taste Farmers’ Markets Awards. The small business entered its butter, ghee, feta cheese, double cream and yoghurt.

 

Christchurch Press Article : July 6 2011