Of all the cool things to do in Auckland, New Zealand, once you’ve checked the usual suspects off your list, like looking down at the harbor from atop the Sky Tower, taking in the vibrant city sights while shopping on Queen Street, museum hopping, climbing the tallest volcano – Mt. Eden, meeting the penguins at Kelly Tarlton’s, cheese-tasting should definitely be a priority. There are numerous little cheese shops dotting the city right from North Shore to the isthmus and Maukau stretches, and most of them carry at least a couple of award-winning cheeses.
Online catalogs will likely recommend some boutique vineyards and wine bars, which no doubt offer more than just a cheese-board tasting experience with some of the choicest wines, Waiheke island that opens up not just breathtaking vistas, but also hand-crafted specialty cheeses and fine wines, and above all, the Stardome Observatory, which has a special Wine, Cheese and Astronomy show once a month, too.
But our top pick, if you have half a day to spare when in Auckland, is a lovely little cheese shop tucked away in the most idyllic pockets of Puhoi Valley. The short drive up North is nothing short of magical, with lush rolling meadows unfurling at every bend, speckled with well-fed sheep. The village of Puhoi was founded way back in the 1800s by Bohemian settlers, and the museum at the old country school offers wonderful insights into its rich history. You could go kayaking on the Puhoi river all the way up to Wenderholm Regional Park, while you’re there. You could also sample some top-notch beverages at the Puhoi Organic Distillery, accompanied by classic finger foods and Ukranian zakuski!
About Puhoi Cheese:
What started off as a humble endeavor in farming and goat’s milk products in the 1980s, has since grown to encompass a wide range of European-style cheeses and ones with indigenous flavors, too, at Puhoi Valley Cheese, with those sweet-sounding Maori names. Even today, some of the employees at Puhoi belong to the original Bohemian families. The master cheesemaker, a Frenchman, Franck Beaurain, is on top of his game..with a truly crackerjack take on several classic, French-style cheeses.
What had us completely smitten when we set foot in the Puhoi Valley Cheese Store campus was the picturesque setting: a little fountain in a lake housing egrets and lilies, alluring, grassy expanses surrounding it, and a little park for the kids to play in. The store and cafe is bustling on any given day, and there’s quite a line at the ice cream counter, too. The coffee is great, and you can take a peek at the rows and rows of cheeses being made and put up on display – right from fresh to aged, soft to hard, through the glass enclosure. This gives you a sense of closure as you taste the cheese, because you know for certain they are made and matured on site.
The award-winning Gold cheeses, like Camembert and Blue, are excellent. The cow’s milk Feta with basil pesto is a merry riot of Mediterranean flavors exploding on the taste buds, tart and just perfectly creamy. The aged Cheddar and peppered Havarti are unique and full-bodied in taste and texture.
The Brie is superb, both the traditional and Mahurangi varieties – mushroomy, slightly earthy and magnificently smooth.
The washed rind range of cheeses is fantastic, too. The Kaipara and Gold washed rind cheeses have a piquant, lingering after-taste. They have a sweet and soft, melt-in-your-mouth core, and a thick skin to protect their tenderness.
The cellar ripened cheese platter is a must-try. It comes with black grapes, dry fruits, homemade apricot chutney to slather on delicious crusty bread, all with your choice of three Puhoi Valley award winning cheeses.
Tadka Tip: We thought the wine selection was rather tastefully put together, and our favorite was quite easily the Oyster Bay Chardonnay. (We also loved the Giesen Estate Pinot Gris). They also have a handful of non-alcoholic beverages, beer and cider, too, if you prefer those, to wash the cheese-and-crackers down with.
Tadka Tip: If you’re looking to pick up cheese to carry back home, like we did, to India, we highly recommend the Puhoi Semi Soft Smokey Gouda, Windy Peak Gouda (both slighty sweet and buttery), the Puhoi Aged Cheddar (a salty, bittersweet, tough goodie), the Peppered Havarti (bursting with peppery, spicy goodness and comes in a small pack, too – so you can perhaps buy a couple of them) and of course, the Puhoi Parmesan, which is a class of its own! The cheeses are all reasonably priced and worth every dollar, because they are hand-made and crafted with the irrepressible passion that stems from years of experience.
You’ll come out feeling satisfied and a little heady, after your cheese-tasting experience at Puhoi Valley. The breathtaking backdrop of green crests and troughs against sunny skies, if you’re fortunate, and long, white clouds, will stay with you long after you’ve rolled away with the hills and vales, much like the rich aftertaste of the cheese and wine.