Big read: Will cheese become New Zealand's next craft beer?

The gourmet cheese market could follow in the footsteps of the craft beer industry. 

I once read that before World War I, back before decades of blander mass production, New Zealand seed catalogues looked a lot more like they do in the 21st century, with much more variety. People were growing endive and cavolo nero, for example, and lots of interesting fruits.

But with one of the highest mortality rates among countries who participated in the war, followed by a deadly flu epidemic and then the Great Depression a decade later, it's no wonder that from the 1920s New Zealand focused on survival … and therefore on potatoes, cabbages and the accursed mashed swede.

In parallel, better transport links and better refrigeration and mass production led to lots of our food industries consolidating. Local dairy factories progressively closed and companies combined until eventually Fonterra emerged as the behemoth it is today. Local breweries followed the same path until DB and Lion shared most of the market. Flour and bread, seafood, vegetables, canned fruit ... all followed suit.

Mass production has been a boon for New Zealand. We produce a lot of quality food and drink for reasonable prices, and we sell much of this to the world to pay our way. But sometimes it has been at the cost of, well, flavour, texture, and adventure.

But that missing variety has been coming back. We Kiwis are now much better off for being able to buy a fresh dark rye loaf, try a local truffle, eat a weird-looking heritage tomato, drink some outstanding beer and, increasingly, obsess over some of the best cheese in the world.

More than that though, this flowering of experimentation is becoming a serious value-add contributor to our economy. Craft beer exports have the potential to follow our wine exports. I reckon our artisan cheese industry might be on the same path.


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