Monday, March 12, 2012

Foodie Excursion: Tour & Tasting @ Crescent Dairy Goats

A month ago, I hadn't even heard of the place.  But as soon as I discovered that Crescent Dairy Goats offers a farm tour combined with a cheese tasting, all for $15 (minimum of 10 people, by appointment) and only a short drive away from central Auckland, I just had to check it out.  Reports of an impending "weather bomb"  last Saturday meant that we had to reschedule, but I was determined to enjoy it this weekend, rain or shine.  I was not disappointed.

It turns out that their award winning cheeses are produced from a herd of only 25 goats.  Run by a husband, wife and daughter team (Jan and John Walter, and Emily Ward), they won their first cheese award back in 2001, when they were at their old Albany property, mainly selling goat's milk to people who had trouble digesting cow's milk.  Less than a fortnight ago, their achievements were recognised again, with one gold, six silver and four bronze awards at the Cuisine NZ Champions of Cheese Awards 2012.

Awards and range of goat's cheeses on display.
The family (including the dog and cat) met us at the front of their house, and John gave us an introduction to their business, which began as a hobby.  They don't sell goat's milk anymore, as all of the milk goes into cheesemaking these days, and they have an impressive list of restaurant customers, including The Grove, Mudbrick, Sidart, The Tasting Shed and Huka Lodge.

We were then taken to meet the new season's kids, cute little things that greeted us enthusiastically.  Each of them had a name, and their full names are said with their family names first, like in Chinese, as in "Crescent Jude" or "Crescent Nesta".  Apparently the floppy eared goats produce creamier milk, but in smaller quantities, and the farm has a mix of breeds.

Cute kids!

After quickly walking past the stinging nettle bush by a wall (the leaves of which are used in their Farmhouse Sting cheese), we were taken to the barn and milking shed.  The adult goats were much bigger, but equally friendly, and a bunch of them walked up for cuddles.  We probably saw more of them because it was raining lightly outside, and it was really interesting being introduced to the goats, because they had such different personalities from each other.

Goats hiding out from the rain.
John showed us the milking machine, and we were even able to put a finger inside one of the suction tubes to experience what it would feel like to be milked.  Apparently, they used to milk the goats by hand after the machine was used, to get every little bit out, though they don't bother with that now.

John demonstrates the suction tubes on the milking machine.

Animal visit over, we sanitised our hands, removed our shoes, and entered the cheesemaking area.  Here, Jan the cheesemaker took over the narrative and explained the process behind their various cheeses.  We saw the vats of milk being gently pasteurised on the side (apparently it is too hard for a small scale producer to make unpasteurised cheese, as regulations mean you would need to send samples off to the lab every day), admired the homemade cheese moulds, and walked into the temperature- and humidity-controlled cellar where we both viewed and smelled the cheeses being aged.  It was amazing how much milk went into making a round of cheese.

More mature cheeses at the back.
Smaller cheeses in the cellar.

Finally, the cheese tasting!  We sampled eleven types of cheese, and they all had unique flavours, despite being made from the same basic ingredients.  Some were soft, others more mature; the blue had Roquefort culture introduced, another was washed daily in a salt solution before having an alcohol applied in the final days.  Some cheeses contained additions, such as fenugreek or stinging nettle.  Most of them didn't have any salt added.  It was a varied, insightful and delicious ending to the tour.

Cheese tasting platter.
That was not their entire repertoire either!  I bought some extra cheeses before I left, ones we did not have the opportunity to try, and there were also goat's yoghurt and goat's colostrum for sale.  You can sample their cheeses without doing the farm tour, but I would highly recommend making the trip out with friends so that you can have the full experience.

Farm Details

Crescent Dairy Goats
177A Taupaki Road, Kumeu
(09) 412 2074

Opening hours:
Mondays closed.
Tuesdays to Sundays 10am - 5pm (tours begin at 11am)

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