Bjoern Spreitzer, general manager for the Americas and Europe for Tourism New Zealand // © 2016 Tourism New Zealand
Feature image (above): Kaikoura Cheese, on the northeastern coast of New Zealand's south island, is famous for it's goat cheese. // © 2016 Kaikoura Cheese/Dan Kerins
Hoping to offer travelers interested in food and wine culture even more reasons to visit the destination, Tourism New Zealand has put together an artisan cheesemaker trail, featuring 14 different small producers and dairies across the nation’s two islands. We spoke with Bjoern Spreitzer, general manager for the Americas and Europe for Tourism New Zealand, about the new initiative, which features maps and details about both off-the-beaten-path producers and cheesemakers located near some of the nation’s more popular tourism destinations.
What made this new cheesemaker trail a good idea for Tourism New Zealand?
The cheesemaker trail is really quintessential New Zealand. We’re famous for small, very local food producers, and cheese is really a way to tell this story. It’s sort of a classic tale of people who are really passionate about food, who start their own business on a small scale with local produce. Our cheese trail helps bring that to life for visitors, taking them to those places, the little owner-operated cheesemakers, and letting them try local cheese across New Zealand.
How long have people been making cheese in New Zealand?
It goes back right to the start of New Zealand. We have always been heavily focused on dairy products and dairy production. And up until the 1920s, we had a lot of small cheese factories dotted around the country, mainly because there was no refrigeration. So we couldn’t really transport milk around the country much, and by default, there was a lot of cheese made locally.
That sort of changed over time once we had refrigeration, so people didn’t have to produce cheese locally anymore because we could transport milk around the country. It’s only been pretty recently — over the past decade, really — where there has been this artisan food-making movement, and it’s not just cheese. It has been with wine and a lot of other locally made food. We’ve had big growth in New Zealand around local produce again and around local cuisine. But the small cheesemaker businesses are based on a long tradition.
What sort of traveler would enjoy visiting some of these cheesemakers?
North America is probably the perfect market. Wine and food culture is increasingly one of the main interests when people come to New Zealand. We don’t expect people to come specifically for the cheesemaker trail, but they can use it to dive into the food and wine experience and history of New Zealand.
Are there a couple of highlights on the new trail that stand out for you?
Most of our visitors will arrive in Auckland, and just about an hour’s north of it is a fantastic opportunity at the Matakana Farmers Market. That market happens every Saturday in the beautiful town of Matakana, and people can try Whangaripo Buffalo Cheese Co.’s buffalo mozzarella. It’s a beautiful cheese to taste, but on top of the cheese tasting, visitors will be able to meet a lot of the other local producers and taste locally made salami, olives and all the other goods at the market.
Completely at the opposite end of the country, in the deep south, there is Blue River Dairy [in Invercargill], and they make an impressive pecorino from local sheep’s milk. There, you can see how a small producer uses local ingredients of the land. The deep south is full of these rolling, beautiful hills and unspoiled countryside, and Blue River Dairy has really brought that to life. That region is off the beaten track for many North American visitors, but there they can see the whole concept come to life and actually see sheep wandering around the green hills.
How can agents learn more about the cheesemaker trail?
A lot of the information about the cheese trail and other great itineraries can be found on our trade website, at TravelTrade.NewZealand.com. It’s a resource we’re promoting heavily to our travel agent audience. We’re also taking the cheese trail story on our road shows across the country starting this month. It’s just another story that travel agents can share with their clients about what makes New Zealand so special.
How has business to New Zealand from the North American market been thus far in 2016?
New Zealand is really popular for North Americans and has been for a while. We’re seeing double-digit growth, about 11 percent [through April] year-over-year at the moment. There is certainly an element of having a lot of exposure via various movies — not only “The Hobbit,” but also a lot of other movies that are being made in New Zealand, so that helps our prominence in the U.S.
Looking toward the future, we’ve got a huge increase of airlift coming our way. In the past week, we had both American Airlines and United Airlines launch new service to New Zealand. So you’ll be looking at about 30 percent more seats to New Zealand out of North America. It’s great for us, because one of our biggest barriers from the U.S. to New Zealand is how easy or how hard it is to get here. For us as a country, it’s really great to have American-based carriers coming to New Zealand, because we haven’t had that for a really long time.