One of our favourite cheese makers, Cranky Goat, may be based in the Marlborough Sounds but you will find them at the Nelson Market every Saturday so I think that qualifies them to appear in this column.
Cranky Goat Limited is a small cheese company nestled at the end of the Mahakipawa arm, near Linkwater in the beautiful Marlborough Sounds and is owned by Hellene and Simon Lamb.
Their daughter Hannah takes care of the marketing and sales as well as managing their social media and works with different organisations to showcase their products. I was lucky enough to attend the launch event for New Zealand King Salmon’s Ora King Awards in Nelson where these delicious cheeses were showcased to chefs from around the world.
My experiences eating goat cheese have been quite varied, many have a strong goat flavour while others are simply creamy deliciousness and I am very happy to say the cheeses produced by Cranky Goat fit into the latter category. In fact, if I didn’t know they were goat cheeses I would have thought they are just a deliciously different cow’s cheese.
I had a chat with Hellene and Hannah after the Saturday Market a couple of weeks ago to find out a little more about them and their cheeses. Hellene told me Simon is the cheesemaker and hand-crafts every cheese they make.
“He loves experimenting, working with cheeses that have a French influence but designed for the NZ palette, cheeses with nice flavour notes without being challenging.”
Simon spent 32 years in the RAF and the New Zealand Air Force before retiring recently and turning his hand to making cheese.
“When we lived in UK we spent a lot of time in France, my parents lived there” says Hellene “and one of the things we love about the French way of life is that food is part of everyday life and regional cheeses are an important component in almost every meal.”
So how did this former Paratrooper- Security Specialist, NMDHB Payroll Quality Manager (Hellene) and pre-school teacher (Hannah) get into making and selling cheese?
Hellene says “our neighbours were milking about sixty goats and were supplying the milk to someone else, in 2011 Simon started making cheese as a hobby with some of their milk. He did lots of research and taught himself how to make it, it was science for him.
“He did a lot of playing around and had many successful batches of cheese mixed among plenty we will call experiments that didn’t quite work.”
Simon was coming to the end of his time in the military and decided to expand his cheesemaking hobby, “he started just making the cheeses in the kitchen, swapping them for massages, food and bottles of wine before we decided to give it a go as a business” and according to Hannah “we have a ¼ acre section so we knocked down the carport on the side of the house to build the cheese facility, it’s a long walk to work!”
Because the goats are milked by their neighbours, Andrew and Jackie Leslie, the milk is being turned into cheese less than an hour after milking each day. Their herd now runs at about 120 goats and Cranky Goat take all of their production, “to do things properly we focus on cheese and they focus on nurturing happy goats to produce the great milk we get seven days a week from August to May” says Hellene.
Hannah told me “people always seem to forget you need a really good milk supplier to make great cheese and dad prefers goat milk.
“We really want to change people’s perception of goats cheese, it isn’t just feta and it doesn’t always have a strong goat flavour. We are supplying high quality, handmade goat cheeses using traditional methods with locally sourced milk so we know everything about the cheese, we watch the happy goats over the fence and Simon hand-crafts every single batch we make.”
Hellene told me Simon has a lovely old French cheese book by Patrick Rance who spent 40 years travelling around small villages in France tasting and writing about cheeses produced in each area, “Simon says ‘let’s have a go at making this one’, hence we have 13 cheeses.”
All of the cheeses produced by Cranky Goat are named after local places or have a story attached; in 2016 they wanted to raise money for Riding for Disabled and produced a cheese especially for the purpose, “we named it the Nag because of that and it has turned out to one of our most popular cheeses, warmed Nag with a rocket salad is delicious.”
When they started the business the family used to sell fresh goat’s milk as well but as the cheese business grew they decided to move away from the fresh product and focus just on the cheeses. They have passed the fresh milk part of their business to Tracy Hay from Everbrook Dairy, “She is amazing with her knowledge of goats and we took some of her milk through the winter last year. They are getting more goat’s milk into the market for people who have an intolerance to cow’s milk.”
Collaboration is important to Cranky Goat too, they work with Lake Chalice Sauvignon Blanc to create a wash rind cheese called Cullensville Gold and their Lynton Noir is made using black garlic from Marlborough Garlic while French Craft Pate use the smoked cheese in one of their pates.
These cheese producers are also making their mark on the national scene, they are stocked in places like Moore Wilson in Wellington and Canterbury Cheese Mongers in Christchurch; they have also been very successful in the New Zealand Cheese Awards in recent years with their soft goat’s cheeses.
Hannah says “we are tiny in comparison to some of the other producers so going up against those big boys and still coming out with gold medals is a huge accomplishment for us.
“Mum and I also go to the markets and get instant feedback from people who try our cheeses but Simon doesn’t get that each week so the awards are really for him to acknowledge the hard work he does”.
In keeping with the family attitude of having fun with the cheese, in both making it and selling it, Hannah says even mistakes become products for them to sell, “we call them oops cheeses and sometimes people come back asking if we have more of it”, she also recommends trying their Pelorus Pearl soft cheese spread on top of Pic’s peanut butter on toast.
Apparently it’s delicious but I think I will stick to using their applewood-smoked soft cheese in salads with a nice juicy steak.
Check out Cranky Goat cheeses at the Nelson Market every Saturday or on-line at www.crankygoatltd.co.nz
Published in the Nelson Mail 06.03.19