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Award-winning cheesemaker shares recipe for success


Catherine McNamara at work

The reputation of Whangārei’s Grinning Gecko Cheese Company continues to soar after picking up a massive 11 medals at this year’s New Zealand Cheese Competition. This adds to its highly impressive track record of international and national awards won every year during its seven years in business.

So, what is the secret of its success? “Mahi whānau and aroha sums it up pretty well,” revealed owner Catherine McNamara. A winning recipe, but one that will no doubt be tested by the effects of the nationwide lockdown.

In an industry that has traditionally been led by European countries, with heavily guarded hand-made processes and recipes passed down through generations, this small New Zealand business continues to prove it is formidable competition. The latest national awards come swiftly after Grinning Gecko’s now eight-medal-winning Camembert won a gold award at the International Cheese Awards last year.

However, as the Grinning Gecko team will willingly attest, the path to this high praise has not been easy. The clues to its continued success, though, are to be found in the way it approaches every day.

“Our product starts with using a beautifully natural and local ingredient,” McNamara explained. “We use the best certified organic milk from a committed local farmer. We pick up it up ourselves direct from morning milking, bring it to our factory and start making cheese – no storage, just straight from farm to factory.”

McNamara’s human-resource background means she knows how critical it is to have the right people onboard, and it turns out that her team’s passion for quality is what fuels the fire in this close-knit team of six: “We are like whānau, we all share a collective vision for creating the best cheese we possibly can, so there is a lot of respect and aroha that goes into what we do.”

The result of this recipe is surely what keeps Grinning Gecko Cheese constantly out front in the world-class stakes of deliciousness.

Small business can be challenging at the best of times, and the company has always faced its challenges head-on. Its winning business attitude was also recently recognised when it was one of the winners at the 12-week Northland Inc business boot-camp, The Pick, in 2019.

The team is now more united than ever as it quickly adapts to the current uncertainty. Artisan cheese lovers, however, will be glad to know that you can still find Grinning Gecko products during lockdown; its website has a list of retailers, a lot of which are supermarkets and essential service stores.

“We are part of a wonderful local-food producing community across the country,” added McNamara. “It is not easy, but we see it is even more important now to dig deep and make sure that we protect our own food security by supporting local producers.”

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