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nutrition

Fonterra employee named New Zealand’s 2020 Champion Cheesemaker

  • May 08, 2020
  • 2 min read

There was great recognition for our farmers’ top-quality milk and our Co-op’s cheesemaking expertise at the 2020 NZ Champions of Cheese Awards earlier this week.

The Lichfield team at the 2018 NZ Champions of Cheese Awards

One of the highlights was Lichfield’s Brine Salt Cheese Process Project Manager Sam Pokaitara winning the NZ Champion Cheesemaker title, receiving the highest aggregate score across the three cheeses he entered in for judging.

The awards are organised by the New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association (NZSCA), and the cheeses were judged at the end of February in a pre-COVID-19 environment.

Sam thought his colleague, Iain O’Donnell, was pulling a prank on him when he received a message from Iain saying he’d won.

“I didn’t believe him since we take the mickey all the time! When I found out it was true, I had a big grin on my face.

“Everyone on site has been calling me ‘champ’ – I don’t think I’m going to live this down!”

Sam has been working for the Co-op for 15 years, primarily in cheese, and has developed a strong passion for making it.

As a process manager, Sam is responsible for the cheese manufacturing process from start to finish - from ordering ingredients and getting the milk on-site, to managing the recipes and troubleshooting to streamline the process.

We make specialty cheese on a commodity scale, so every single block is top quality.

Sam Pokaitara, Brine Salt Cheese Process Project Manager at Fonterra Lichfield site

“At the brine salt cheese plant, it’s a highly mechanical process with thousands of moving parts. I love that it’s a different challenge every year!”

While work has been a bit different since COVID-19 came around, Sam has enjoyed being on site.

“You get cabin fever being at home, so it’s great to see different faces aside from who’s in your bubble.”

Sam says the secret to making the best cheese is top quality milk and experienced operators.

Sam Pokaitara at roadshow
Sam Pokaitara and Iain O’Donnell graduating with Diploma in Dairy Technology

“Manufacturing world class cheese is only possible with the best quality milk from the mighty Waikato, and good operators who know what they’re doing.”  

Sam’s win wasn’t the only highlight for our Co-op on the night. Fonterra products claimed six other categories while the icing on the cake was Kāpiti’s Awa Blue  picking up the evening’s Supreme Award, the Champion of Champions (Commercial Cheese) prize, possibly the first time our Co-op has taken out this prestigious title.

Our Co-op’s other winners were:

  • Champion Original Cheese - Kāpiti Awa Blue
  • Champion Fresh Unripened Cheese - Anchor Food Professionals Cream Cheese
  • Champion Retail Cheddar Cheese - Kāpiti Tuteremoana Te Tihi Aged Cheddar
  • Champion Bulk Cheddar Cheese - Fonterra Stirling NZMP Mild Cheddar
  • Champion Export Cheese - Fonterra Lichfield NZMP 3MC
  • Innovative Packaging Champion Butter - Mainland Semi-Soft Butter