Kingsmeade Cheese wins 2014 Wellington On a Plate MiNDFOOD Producer Awards

By Nikki Birrell

Kingsmeade Cheese wins 2014 Wellington On a Plate MiNDFOOD Producer Awards
This year’s Wellington On a Plate MiNDFOOD Producer Awards have been announced and the overall winner – and Best Sustainable Producer winner – is Kingsmeade Cheese.

It’s hard to say what is most impressive about MiNDFOOD Producer of the Year award-winners Miles and Janet King. Firstly, there is the fact milking sheep was pretty much an unknown practice in New Zealand when they started their sheep cheese business in 1998. Then again, it’s pretty incredible that Miles is a self-taught cheese maker and has gone on to win numerous awards for his Kingsmeade artisan creations. But, on reflection, the thing that strikes you most when visiting this couple is just how incredibly genuine and lovely they are and how beautifully they work together as a team.

“We’re really good friends,” says Janet on why their working relationship is so successful. That, and the fact the couple oversee two distinct areas of the business. “I’m completely lost in the cheese factory and on the farm, and Miles is lost in the shop and as distribution goes he wouldn’t know where to start. We have such separate areas and yet we can run ideas past each other and get great feedback and different perspectives,” she says. 

The award win took the couple by surprise. “We didn’t have an inkling. We’re stunned and thrilled,” Janet admits. She says of the awards night, “I stood up and in my acceptance speech I said, ‘this is as close as we’re going to get to The Oscars’”.

The Kings started out with just two paddocks and now have 17. Their factory is located adjacent to their home on the outskirts of Masterton and they have a small but tight-knit team working with them on all aspects of the business. Out in the fields, their flocks of East Friesian sheep munch on clover, chicory, plantain and lucerne in lush green meadows and are “big, contented and full of personality” according to the Kings. Plenty of planting has been put in for their comfort and there’s no need to round them up come milking time as they flock to the sound of Miles’ voice. A lot of care goes into looking after these flocks, as without their fantastic milk there wouldn’t be such delicious cheese. 

A winning formula

One of the reasons Kingsmeade was judged overall winner was its organised and comprehensive business strategy, divided into five key areas: pasture management; genetics; milking; recipes and development; and production and distribution. Their business sense extends to their decision to supplement the shorter milking season of ewes with cow cheese, which makes up their profit in the winter. But in essence, all that business savvy wouldn’t mean a thing without a top-rate product, and that’s where Kingsmeade shines – their cheeses are, quite simply, delicious. 

A Spanish-style manchego is flavourful with just the right amount of bite – delicious as part of a tapas spread paired with a quince paste. A pecorino is a flavourful addition to a simple salad and there’s a blue cheese and a havarti at either end of the pungent scale to satisfy all palates. While sheep’s cheese is largely the hero, Kingsmeade cow’s milk cheeses are equally greed-inducing – a French-style brie had the judges “tasting” more than strictly necessary. There are 14 varieties in total and if the judges’ word isn’t enough, the fact Kingsmeade regularly sell to high-end restaurants, not to mention had their product on the menu for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s royal visit, is even more reason to seek it out. 

As winners of the Best Sustainable Producer award, Kingsmeade wowed the judges with the measures taken to ensure minimal impact on the environment – 1200 trees have been planted for shelter and shade for the animals; solar panels are used for water heating, halving gas use; water is recirculated and cleaning water used twice; and their whey waste goes to local pig farms. 

Sheep cheese as a business is immensely complex and takes a great deal of hard work. Janet is proud of how they have balanced that while keeping their integrity. With a major surgery coming up for Janet, she adds, “I’m actually thrilled to be going in on such a buzzy high for the business and for us. This couldn’t have come at a nicer time”.


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