Mt Eliza Cheese

This being  Cheese Month, NZ Life & Leisure has posted a feature story I wrote about Mt Eliza Cheese last year. Great pics by Simon Young. Click to read

Give NZ Cheese a Chance

I spent the morning at the Beehive today in support of  artisan cheesemakers Biddy Fraser-Davies (Cwmglyn Farmhouse Cheese) and Jill Whalley (Mt Eliza Cheese). The three of us presented submissions to the the Primary Production Select Committee who are labouring over the NZ Food Safety Reform Bill.  The proposed reforms are a reaction to Fonterra’s whey protein contamination scare back in 2013. The bill aims to tighten the regulatory framework.

Biddy and Jill gave compelling accounts of the costs they already face in complying with laws designed for the big dairy companies. My submission outlined the reasons why we need to support our artisan cheesemakers. 


Jill and Biddy pose for MPs and their iphones after demonstrating the different regulatory standards for NZ and European raw milk cheeses

My verbal submission as follows:

I am a former food manufacturer, now a journalist and food writer. For the past 15 years I’ve written and made feature stories about New Zealand’s artisan producers – including many who operate in the dairy sector. In light of the proposed tightening of our Food Safety laws I want to  speak in support of the small scale cheese makers who are already suffering from the significant costs and constraints of the current regulations. I know many of them are too intimidated to speak for themselves

I’ve stood alongside Biddy and Jill and Chris Whalley as they make their cheese and I can tell you they are good operators – their premises are spotless, they know the science, they monitor, test  and record every step of the process, and they produce very good, characterful cheese – cheese that New Zealanders can be proud of.

New Zealand is the world’s leading dairy exporter. Milk, butter and cheese: it’s how the world sees us – and yet our food safety laws make it nearly impossible for our artisan dairies to operate. Listen to the submissions today and you’ll wonder how these businesses make any money at all. I believe we are reaching a tipping point – by trying to eliminate risk we risk losing the artisan sector.

We need these small businesses to succeed because they do what the big companies don’t. They innovate, they set trends, they test the market, and the big companies follow.

You see it across all food categories –  craft beer, artisan bread, coffee, ice cream, even butter (thanks to Lewis Rd).

I speak from experience having introduced fresh pasta to New Zealand many years ago. We started small, built the business over several years (with no food safety issues) then sold it to a multi-national who saw value in further developing the category. It’s now mainstream.

Could we have built that business under the current and proposed food safety regulations? Given the compliance costs, I don’t think so. Neither, I suspect, would Kapiti Cheese who started at the same time. They’re now owned by Fonterra. That’s how it works in the food industry. Small companies innovate, big companies follow, or take over.

So I find it strange that on the one hand we talk about the need to add value to our dairy industry and on the other hand we pass laws that make it extremely difficult for people to do so. Bills such as this one will continue to stifle innovation – to the detriment of the industry as a whole.

Without the artisans we wouldn’t be making goat and ewe’s milk cheeses – products with enormous potential. Without people like Biddy and JIll we wouldn’t be making raw milk cow cheese, so why do we insist their cheeses meet a much higher standard than raw milk cheese imported from Europe? Where is the sense in that?

Of course we need to keep our food safe but this is risk management gone mad. It’s paranoid and it’s unfair. If Fonterra had to pay more than 40% of their revenue in compliance costs – as Biddy will this year – they’d be screaming, and the regulators would be making more than the producers.

It’s high time that dairy scientists and MPI got together with the specialist cheesemakers to work out a sensible validation and testing regime that’s appropriate to the scale of their smaller non-export businesses. And then maybe their compliance costs could be subsidised by the bigger dairy companies who stand to gain the most from a well-supported artisan sector.

As you go through this Food Safety Reform bill, clause by clause, put yourselves in the shoes of small businesses who want to create new products, and try to strike a balance between the need to minimise risk and the need to create an environment that fosters the sort of innovation that will add value to our most important primary industry.

The celebratory dinner hosted by the French ambassador Florence Jeanblanc-Risler in Wellington on Monday night (21/3/16) was everything I love about French dining. Beginning with an aperitif and polite conversation, we moved to tables graciously set with a regiment of silver, and proceeded to work our way through an elegant procession of dishes representing the best of French cuisine.

The occasion was the launch of Goût de France, an annual event (now in its second year) that celebrates French gastronomy in various restaurants worldwide. It’s all about honouring the legacy of the greats – we toasted Carême, Escoffier, Vatel, Brillat-Savarin – and recognising the techniques and ingredients that remain the backbone of contemporary French cuisine.

In New Zealand eight restaurants are combining local ingredients with French inspired recipes this week (commencing 21/3/16) – Hippopotamus, Jano Bistro and Whitebait in Wellington. Bracken in Dunedin. Hopgood’s in Nelson, Kazuya and The Grove in Auckland, and Pacifica in Napier.

Each will bring their own style to the event. The Wellington menu  was fairly traditional, as befits an embassy occasion. The ambassador’s chef Fabien Le Gall worked with former embassy chef Veronique Sauzeau (now Le Marché Francais) and Laurent Loudeac (Hippopotamus Restaurant) on a six course menu beginning with consommé and ending with chocolat. French and New Zealand wines accompanied each course.


Entrée of salmon, three ways

Laurent’s signature dish of Aoraki salmon served trois façons (ie, confit, tartare and wood smoked) was followed by a classic pot au feu (tenderly poached filet de boeuf in bouillon with ‘forgotten’ vegetables and a dash of truffle oil). It came with toasted walnut bread that was slathered with bone marrow and salt crystals – it was the perfect rustic counterpoint to the refined bouillon and I confess I had to dunk it. Discreetly, I think.


Pot au Feu, filet de boeuf

The dessert was a degustation of chocolate – crowned for me by a dark chocolat ganache with a sliver of candied orange peel.

The cheese course was magnificent: an oven baked Mont d’Or with sautéed oyster mushrooms and crispy fried parsley to garnish.


Baked Mont d’Or, Vacherin

We  broke through the crust and took it in turns to spoon the melted cheese on to our plates. It was unctuous. No one does cheese like the French.  Ripe and savoury, sensual, sophisticated – it was un vrai goût de France.


…the end.

Yesterday, at Old St Paul’s, Wellington’s restaurant community farewelled a much loved colleague, Pierre Meyer.  I’m hoping the Dominion Post is researching his obituary as I write this because he deserves to be celebrated as a much loved chef and restaurateur who made New Zealand his home and changed the face of dining in Wellington.


Pierre’s Restaurant, drawing by Michael Fowler

When his eponymous restaurant opened in the late 70s on Tinakori Rd there were only 4 licensed restaurants in Wellington and all were fine dining establishments. Pierre’s was different. A French bistro housed in a refurbished wooden villa, it was at the forefront of a change to chic but casual dining. He served duck parfait, whole roasted poussin, delicate fish dishes, apple tarts and homemade glacés. It may not seem special these days, when ice cream is flavoured with everything from liquorice to miso, but back in the day Pierre caused a sensation with his kiwifruit ice cream. It must have stayed on the menu for as long as his restaurant stayed open, which is to say for many years.

Not many restaurants retain their popularity for as long as Pierre’s. Its success was as much to do with the man himself and the team he built around him as it was to his food.

The turnout at his memorial service was testament to that. The church was filled with his friends:  people who dined at his restaurant and attended his cooking classes;  people who worked for him, socialised with him and rubbed shoulders with him at food and wine events. His fellow restaurateurs were there too, representing a slice of the capital’s culinary history: Marbles, The Roxborough, City Limits Cafe, Boulcott Street Bistro, Brasserie Flipp, Cafe L’Affare. They were all there, along with one or two of us who used to supply them.

Dan and I owned a fresh pasta business back then. That’s how we first met him. We supplied him with  pasta, and it was typical of Pierre that he demanded the best and he demanded bespoke. I remember having to put our regular production on hold to make very small quantities of saffron fettuccine for him. It was inefficient, uneconomic and a pain in the neck to be honest, but he was so charming and so encouraging it was impossible to say no. And of course we were proud to have our pasta on the menu of an establishment that made almost everything from scratch.

We all had our Pierre stories yesterday. I never knew he was such an appalling driver. And I never knew he influenced a change to our licensing laws when a table of parliamentarians witnessed a raid on his restaurant. Close down Pierre’s? It was unthinkable. Rumour has it the law was changed the very next day. Thank you for that, Pierre. Thanks for everything.

The Boxed Set

Who else remembers magazines with recipe pages designed four to a page and formated on both sides so you could cut them out and collect them as recipe cards? Food pic on one side and recipe on the other, they were a good idea but the boxed set never really challenged the traditional way of filing recipes in ringbinders and scrapbooks. Well now they’re back – not as magazine cutouts but as fully formed sets of cards neatly stacked in boxes that look good on the bench. Penguin the publisher has its version and so has Ripe the delicatessen.

Ripe: The Boxed Set

Ripe: The Boxed Set

I love the Ripe version. It arrived just before Christmas in a flat pack with assembly instructions that make the building process quite simple – no nails required. Whoever thought this system through is a genius. The laminated cards stack up neatly between colour-coded dividers in a smart plywood box that has a metal lid which doubles as an angled card holder – no more using the pepper mill to keep the right page open on the bench.

The indexed dividers are smart too, arranging the recipes in a way Ripe devotees like to cook. There are sections for Salads, Nibbles and Dips, Dressings and Rubs, Soups & Starters, Lunch & Dinner, etc. and a handy secton for measurements, tips and conversions. My box came with two sets of themed cards: Summertime and Festive Celebrations. I’m told more sets will be published on an ongoing basis and there are also a few blanks for recipes that come from elsewhere. I’ve already started stuffing my box full of extras and I’ve also tried out a few of the original recipes. These are fresh and flavoursome with Ripe’s signature emphasis on clever salads and decadent baking.

Given the retro nature of the boxed set idea I was particularly drawn to a recipe that reinterprets a dish from the 70s. Back then, when I was little, dining out with my parents was a huge treat. I loved being able to choose three courses from a menu. I like to think I was pretty adventurous but when it came to the entrée I always chose the avocado. In those days it was an ‘avocado pear’ and it came either halved and filled with vinaigrette – how I loved scooping out the flesh and dunking it into the oily pond – or it was stuffed full of shrimps coated in Thousand Island Dressing. I liked them either way but now I’m a grownup I much prefer Ripe’s Asian-inspired avocado boats filled with spicy prawns. Recipe below.

Ripe: The Box comes with two sets of recipe cards and some blank cards. RRP $60  Order online

Link to NZ Life & Leisure on Facebook for the chance to win one of two Ripe recipe boxes

                         ANGIE’S AVOCADO & SPICED PRAWN BOATS


400g FRESH PRAWNS, tail on

1 or 2 CHILLIES, finely diced

zest and juice of 1 LEMON


2 KAFFIR LIME LEAVES, finely chopped


1 SPRING ONION, finely sliced

½ cup CORIANDER, roughly chopped

½ YELLOW CAPSICUM, finely diced

½ GREEN CAPSICUM, finely diced




SALT & freshly ground BLACK PEPPER

2 LIMES cut into wedges to serve

To marinate the prawns: in a bowl, place the prawns, chillies, lemon zest & juice, sugar, lime leaves & sesame seeds. Toss to coat the prawns in the marinade.

Place in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. In another bowl, mix the spring onions, coriander, capsicums & Thai basil leaves together.

Place a frying pan over a high heat; once the pan is smoking hot add the coconut oil.

Then add the prawns & the marinade, fry for a few minutes or until the prawns are caramelised & golden.

Remove from the heat & transfer the prawns with any remaining marinade in the pan, into the bowl with the spring onions & capsicums. Season to taste with salt & freshly ground black pepper.

Cut the avocados in half, remove the stone but leave the skin on.

Place the avocados on a serving platter. Top each avocado with a big spoonful of the prawn mix. Serve with wedges of lime on the side. Serves 10 as an entrée.

Searching for Samphire

I first came across marsh samphire in France on the Île de Ré where it grows alongside the island’s famous salt pans.  The French call it salicorne, they pickle it in vinegar and use as a garnish for cold meats and terrines in much the same way as cornichons, the little baby gherkins.

I had no idea it also grew in New Zealand until chef Anthony North brought some to the City Market in Wellington. He had a bag of it under the counter – not for sale but to give away to like minded foragers and foodies. I’ve written about Anthony in NZ Life & Leisure (Mar/Apr 2013). He was at the forefront of the English foraging scene and has since discovered many of the same plants growing in his new hunting grounds in the Wairarapa. For the purposes of my story he took me to his favourite foraging places including the sea shore at Lake Ferry where we picked sea spinach and samphire. Last week I revisited the same spot with my husband Dan and our dog, confident we would collect enough of the salty-tasting plant to pickle a jar or two.


Samphire. Pick only the tips so the plant will flower and seed for the following year.

Dan reckoned he’d seen samphire growing on the shoreline much closer to home in Wellington. He said we really didn’t need to make an expedition of it but I much preferred the idea of foraging on the wind-blasted Wairarapa coast. And so we drove for miles to Lake Ferry, parked up on the gravel, searched the shoreline for a good hour and, unbelievably, found not a skerrick. I was quite sure we were in the right place and we were certainly in the right season but there was no samphire to be found. Maybe it was because the ground was so dry, or maybe the cattle had eaten it all. I wouldn’t have thought cattle had a taste for samphire but then they do like licking salt blocks and we did find plenty of cow pats dotted around.

The dog had the time of his life but we were windswept and grumpy so we retired to the Lake Ferry Hotel for a beer and a basket of  fish and chips. On the way home Dan insisted we pull over on the shoreline at Petone. And there we found it – drifts of bright green samphire growing between the rocks at this unremarkable layby in Petone. Dan’s a good man. He resisted the urge to say ‘I told you so’, didn’t mention the tank of petrol we’d wasted, and patiently set to picking a bag of samphire for pickling.


Samphire on the Petone foreshore

Once found, samphire is unnmistakeable in appearance and flavour. It is a tiny little plant and it grows into a mass of succulent branches that break off at the nodes and taste like salty asparagus.  You don’t need to pickle it; it can be simmered for 3 minutes then refreshed in ice cold water so it keeps its colour and crunch. Cooked like this it makes a tasty addition to mixed green or grain salads. It works well with seafood – try it with cockles and spaghetti or pan-fried fish and a beurre blanc sauce. I’m pickling mine so I can serve it atop some raw oysters for Christmas. Here’s the recipe:

Pickled Samphire

This quantity makes enough for a small preserving jar (as pictured)

120g samphire

1 ½ cups white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

10 peppercorns

¼ teaspoon mustard seeds

2 bayleaves


Pickled Samphire

Wash the samphire in plenty of fresh water then blanch it in boiling water for about 1 minute. Drain and refresh in ice cold water and set aside.

Heat vinegar and sugar in a small pot over medium heat and stir occasionally until the sugar is dissolved. Add peppercorns, mustard seeds and bayleaves. Continue on the heat for another minute and then allow to cool down completely.

Pack the samphire into a sterilised jar and pour over the pickling liquid until it is close to the top of the jar. Seal the jar and keep for 3 weeks in a cool dark place before opening. Once opened keep in the fridge.

Salmon is fast becoming the new chicken. Once an occasional treat, salmon is now a regular item on restaurant menus, a favourite at dinner parties and a necessary part of the canapé platter. Its popularity is partly due to the fact New Zealand farmed salmon is a high quality product, so much better than the flabby farmed salmon I’ve encountered in Europe and, I think, better than the Atlantic salmon from Tasmania.

In NZ we farm the chinook or king salmon. It was introduced in the early 1900’s and has thrived in an environment that’s free of the parasites specific to the species. That means we don’t have to dose our farmed salmon with antibiotics. We are also lucky in that we have an extensive coastline with deep sheltered waterways and good tidal flows – perfect conditions for aquaculture.

New Zealand has also pioneered the raising of salmon in fresh-water hydro canals. Our alpine salmon is superb, apparently because the fish are constantly exercising their muscles by swimming against the fast flowing glacial currents in the canals. There is nothing flabby about these fish. 

Alpine king salmon is the fish used by Sealord in its new range of hot smoked salmon. Unlike cold-smoking, hot-smoking cooks and smokes the fish at the same time. Sealord, despite being the second biggest seafood company in the country, is using a traditional smokehouse with manuka wood chips to create a more artisinal product that is very good. Its Manuka Smoked Salmon took out the Supreme Award at the NZ Food Awards 2014. I’ve used Sealord’s Peri Peri Hot Smoked Salmon in the following recipe for kedgeree, its mild chilli flavour goes well with the spices that flavour this Anglo/Indian dish. If you want more  of a kick, add more cayenne.

Salmon Kedgeree

Salmon Kedgeree

Hot Smoked Salmon Kedgeree

200g (1 cup) basmati rice

375ml (1 ½ cups) water

2 free range eggs

2 tablespoons neutral oil

½ onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon grated ginger

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon ground coriander

pinch cayenne

25g butter

1 x155g pack Sealord Peri Peri Hot Smoked Salmon, skinned and flaked

½ cup cream

salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander and a few leaves for garnish

Rinse the rice and place in a pot with the water. Bring to a boil then immediately lower heat to a slow simmer. Cover the pot with a lid and allow rice to cook for 12 minutes without removing the lid. Remove from heat and keep covered for a further 10 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed.

Soft-boil the eggs for 6 minutes and set aside to cool before peeling off shells.

Heat the oil in a high sided frying pan and cook onion, garlic and ginger over med-low heat until softened but not browned, about 3 minutes. Stir in  turmeric, coriander and cayenne and cook for a further minute. Add butter and when melted, add cooked rice, flaked salmon and cream. Stir to combine and heat through. Add fresh coriander and season to taste.

Serve topped with a soft boiled egg and a scattering of coriander leaves.

Makes 2 main servings or 4 small plates (as pictured).