Over the Moon Cheese

July 2010
Two years ago we visited the Grahams at their Pukeatua property where they farm milking goats biologically a system that they say is beyond organics. To get around the problem of intestinal worms in their herd they keep them in a tunnel house and bring forage to them.

This system is effective but it creates a mountain of waste feed mixed with bedding material, dung and urine. The Grahams have set up an efficient composting system that rapidly conditions the material to produce compost of high nutritive value. This they mix with lime, molasses and trace elements and topdress it back onto their paddocks. They have more than enough for their own uses, and so sell made-to-order compost mixes to other farmers and horticulturalists.

Their pasture management system results in grass of high Brix (sugar) value, which results in healthier animals and better quality milk. They took advantage of this last year when the co-op they had been supplying organic goats milk to for the past decade was unable to take all the milk their 400 dairy goats were producing. In response the Grahams decided to create their own cheeses with the surplus.

They consulted Putaruru specialist cheese maker Sue Arthur who handcrafted five cheese types for them using recipes formulated by cheese guru Neil Willman. A year later they now produce and sell goats milk feta, haloumi, camembert, blue cheese, and their award winning Maungatautari cheese that took out the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) champion new cheese award at the Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards this year.

Pukeatua Peaks Maungatautari pipped 14 other entries to win this category before going on to take out the Supreme Award for Smaller Cheesemakers at the event.

The Grahams sell their cheeses to selected restaurants and enjoy taking them to local farmers market.

A unique selling point to our cheese is that it is produced from a biological farming system, which people really love. But although we have had great response to our cheeses wherever we have sold them, it was still a surprise for us newcomers to take out the supreme award, says Fiona.

We were anticipating that our cheeses might take home a few medals, but getting medals for each of them and also winning the top prize for Maungatautari was incredible.

How do they do it? Producing superior feed in order to produce superior milk and cheese takes some effort. Jeff says that they are very conscious that their soil biology needs to be nurtured so that soil depth and fertility increase, and their use of compost and lime-based fertilizers is one key to that.

Another benefit is that in increasing the depth of their soil they sequester large amounts of atmospheric carbon into soil carbon, making their farm at least carbon neutral if not carbon positive (sequestering more than they emit). Moreover, says Jeff, they believe that the higher quality feed results in less methane and nitrous oxide being release from soil and stock. Certainly, they are measuring their soil carbon every year and hope to be able to sell the carbon credits on the informal carbon market.

As well as nurturing the soil their Pukeatua Peak brand is also putting something back into the community a donation from each cheese sold goes to support the nearby Maungatautari Ecological Island.

Over the Moon is an adventurous boutique cheesemaking company that uses the world's finest ingredients to make exciting new dairy products, while paying homage to the great traditions of cheesemaking internationally.

The principal is Sue Arthur who has made a name for herself as a staunch advocate for rural communities and entrepreneur.

Over the Moon makes premium cheeses and through onsite training run by our sister company the New Zealand Cheese School, it equips the nation's industry to do the same.

Over the Moon cheeses are traditionally crafted using modern-day recipes developed by internationally renowned Master Cheesemaker Neil Willman. They use non-animal rennet.

Over The Moon Dairys credits include:

NZ Cuisine Champion of Champions Cheese Awards .

Winner NZ Champion Artisan Cheese 2009

Producer NZ Champion Artisan Cheese in 2010

Champion Washed Rind Cheese 2009

Champion Washed Rind Cheese 2010

18 medals from 22 entries 2010

World Champion Cheese Contest 2010

Class Winner - Soft and Semi Soft Mixed milk Cheese

Class Winner - Flavoured Soft & Semi Soft Sheep Cheese

3rd Place - Surface (Mold) Ripened Mixed Milk Cheese

5th Place - Semi Soft Goats Milk Cheese

Master Cheesemaker Neil Willman prepared the recipes for Pukeatua Peak cheeses, which are used by Over the Moon Dairy to make the cheese.

Neil is responsible for training most Australian and many of New Zealands cheesemakers through Gilbert Chandler College (1980 2005) and now his own training and consultancy company Cheese Expertise. He is also responsible for training most of Australia's cheese graders and judges and currently conducts 30+ cheese related training courses per year.

Neil is now the honarary Principal of the New Zealand Cheese School and delivers all of the industry courses as well as some courses for the public.

From 2000-2006, he was chosen to operate the Australian Specialist Cheesemakers Advisory Service, to provide technical support and advice to Australias specialist cheesemakers.

He regularly conducts in-house training programs for Australian cheese manufacturers and conducts international training programs for Japanese, Chinese and Korean cheese industries.

Head Judge of the three largest dairy competitions in Australia, Neil has been a specialist cheese competition judge for the past 12 years at Australian state, national and international dairy product competitions and is a regular Guest Cheese Judge at International competitions including New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Associations Cuisine Champions of Cheese awards 2006, 2007 and 2008, where he is Head Judge.

In 1993 Neil co-authored and published Home Cheesemaking, a book which has now sold over 10,000 copies.