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How to create the perfect cheese board is often a complete mystery, but a training course is being developed to fix that.
''Being a chef, I guess one of the really curious things about making a cheese board is nobody really knows what to do,'' Otago Polytechnic cookery senior lecturer Chris Smith says. ''We just kind of cut up a few cheeses, put them on a plate with a selection of nuts and crackers and whatever else. It's always pretty basic.''
The New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association recently released figures showing sales of specialty cheese have grown by 7.3% in value and volume compared to the corresponding time last year. The same data shows the total value of sales in New Zealand are up 2.9%.
Association chairman Neil Willman said the sales figures are proof that New Zealanders are embracing the local cheese industry and getting more adventurous in their tastes.
''It's a reflection of the change to a more international style of eating. New Zealanders are wanting to explore different tastes and flavours and our cheesemakers are offering a broader range of cheeses to meet this demand.''
Whitestone Cheese managing director Simon Berry belived there was a gap in the market for training those involved in selling and marketing speciality cheeses.
So he took the idea for a cheese training academy or affineur academy to Smith.
As a result, an EduBits-based online micro-learning and assessment experience through Otago Polytechnic has been developed in collaboration with Whitestone.
The work-based ''basic affineur skills'' is the first in a suite of cheese-related EduBits to be rolled out.
It provides an introduction to cheese, covering cheese-related history, natural processes, facts, flavour matchings, handling techniques and ideas, and includes exclusive access to a video tutorial by chef Josh Emett on how to design and prepare the perfect cheese board.
Whitestone's national sales and trade marketing manager Franco Sessa was among the course's first graduates.
''Franco now has a digital credential proving this knowledge. In fact, it's part of his email signature. This is powerful messaging for Whitestone, both as a brand and as an employer,'' Berry said.
''We are developing the market so people who handle cheese have a greater understanding - they can go on to provide consumers, in both home and restaurant environments, a greater cheese experience.''
People are being urged to vote for their favourite New Zealand cheese company through the CheeseloversNZ Facebook page and Barkers of Geraldine social media.