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As you might expect in a region famous for its dairy farming, local cheesemakers have established themselves as leaders in New Zealand, winning multiple awards. But the fertile soil and benign climate also means there other artisan producers are also popping up, helped by the proliferation of farmers’ and other gourmet food stores in the area. Top this off with the award-winning wine makers who have also made the region their home and the thriving café/restaurants scene and you’ve got a foodies’ heaven.
The Hamilton and Waikato region has come to dominate the national cheese awards. Over the Moon, Pukeatua Peak and Kaimai Cheese have all won accolades, not to mention the cheese makers from Mercer and Meyer Gouda Cheese who have drawn on their Dutch heritage to create traditional Gouda-style cheeses.
More artisan cheeses are also sold at markets in the region, including the weekly famers’ markets that are now well established in Hamilton & Cambridge and the monthly Tamahere Country Market.
Other fresh produce sold at the markets includes the organic blueberries of Monavale, a family-owned business which is the biggest BioGro-certified organic blueberry orchard in New Zealand. Free range bacon and artisan sausages from producers like the eccentrically named “Soggy Bottom” are also for sale (the name is a reference to the farm’s boggy lower paddocks.)
Another local enterprise selling its product at markets is the organic Lane’s End winery, based just outside Hamilton and developed by Rainer Eschenbruch, a scientist with a formidable background in wine research in New Zealand. Also based around Hamilton are Mystery Creek Wines, and the long established, family-owned Vilagrad Wines, producing chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot gris and other varieties.
Other distinctive food producers have also chosen the region to base themselves in, including Toku Gourmet Foods, a family-owned business in the south of the region which specialises in chutneys, pickles and sauces made from the iconic New Zealand paua and based on traditional recipes.
A new player on the scene, and one with a striking difference, is Zealong Tea Estate, just outside Hamilton. Zealong is exporting its locally grown premium oolong tea, making it the first time oolong tea has been commercially grown outside of Asia. A retail centre and café, the Camellia Tea House, have been opened amidst the 1 million tea plants, allowing visitors to learn about the tea as well as taste it for themselves.
Meanwhile, once a year, things take a seriously indigenous twist with the Kawhia Kai Festival. Based at the west coast village of the same name, it is held in February around Waitangi Day and draws thousands to a celebration of Maori food. Visitors can buy the likes of pipi and kamo kamo pickles, chilled kawakawa tea and kooki (shark liver pate).
Becoming known as one of the nation’s best spots for café culture and nightlife, local eateries, restaurants and gourmet food stores act as proud advocates for regional products and produce which can regularly be found gracing their menus and shelves.
With such a thriving foodie scene, its not wonder the region is produces some award winning cuisince, including:
- Good George Brewery, Hamilton: Gold & Silver at the NZ Brewers Guild Awards 2014
- Chim Choo Ree Restaurant, Hamilton: Cuisine Magazine Best Regional Restaurant Award 2014
- Victoria Street Bistro Restaurant, Hamilton: Montheith's Wild Food Challenge Winner 2014
- Smith & McKenzie Chophouse, Hamilton: Hospitality NZ Best Restaurant Award 2014
- Vilagrad Winery, Hamilton: Gold at the NZ International Wine Show Awards for their Pinot Gris
- Sweetree Honey, Waikato: Gold & Silver at the National Beekeepers Association Awards 2014
- Aroha Organic Goat Cheese: NZ Champions of Cheese Award winner
- Mercer Cheese, North Waikato: NZ Champions of Cheese Award winner
- Meyer Gouda Cheese, Hamilton: NZ Champions of Cheese Award winner
- Over the Moon Dairy Company, Putaruru: NZ Champions of Cheese Award winner
Fore more information about the Hamilton & Waikato Region visit www.hamiltonwaikato.com.