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Outstanding cheese producers Janet and Miles King were the only choice for us.
Apart from the fact that Pip grew up on the farm nearby to Miles and Janet and has known them all her life - Kingsmead cheese has a reputation both within the Wellington region and nationally as one of the premier artesian producers in New Zealand.
Making the Cheese
Working in the factory along with Miles, we have Andrew, our cheese maker extraordinaire and Rhian, our maturation manager and packaging expert. With about 300 kilos of curd being moved by hand each day, and hundreds of kilos of hard cheeses needing to be cared for, turned and painted, cheese making is a serious work out!
Making the cheese is an unusual blend of art and science. Getting the right temperatures and acidities throughout the process is vital. The cheese maker also needs to have a really good feel for the curd because it is this that determines when the whey is drained off. This is critical for getting the right texture and our distinctive Kingsmeade flavours.
Unpasteurised (raw) milk from the afternoon sheep milking is collected in a bulk tank and held at chill temperature overnight (or if we're making a cow's milk cheese, it is transported to us in the morning from a nearby farm). In the morning the cold milk is pasteurised and then piped into the cheese vat. Initially, starter culture (different for each type of cheese) is introduced to turn the milk sugars (lactose) to lactic acid. Then a tiny measured amount of vegetable rennet is introduced to the milk to separate the curds from the whey, after which the milk is heated again. Kingsmeade cheeses are unique in that we only use vegetable rennet, making them completely animal friendly (remember, the sheep like being milked).
Once the curd has set (usually enough time to have morning tea), it is cut into small cubes using specially designed curd cutters. The vat is then stirred in a different way for each type of cheese. This can take up to an hour of regular gentle stirring.
The whey is then drained off (to be fed to the neighbours' pigs) which leaves curds at the bottom of the vat. This is divided into the molds and then, depending on the type of cheese, the curds are usually pressed and turned regularly for the next 24 hours.
Finally, the cheese is ready to be either salted (where a fine layer of salt is added to the outside, to start the maturation process and add to the flavour), put into large brine tubs to develop special flavours, or turned directly onto wooden boards for anywhere from 3 weeks to 2 years! Every cheese is turned regularly to ensure even maturation throughout each cheese. Some of them are painted with a special wax paint to encourage them to hold their shape and create a shell. The blue cheeses have their own special room where they are 'spiked' frequently in order to encourage the blue mould growth. The brie also has its own room.
The cheese factory is operated under extremely strict hygiene standards and anyone working inside needs to wear factory overalls, gloves, industrial strength gumboots, hats and must sanitise everything frequently throughout the day. Despite this, we still manage to have a good time while creating our masterpieces.