Albert Alferink first emigrated to New Zealand from Holland in 1973, discovering a love of cheese. He took a brief sojourn to Holland in 1979 and 1980 to learn the craft of cheese-making.
Since 1981, the small town of Mercer, just south of the Bombay Hills, has had one of the country's finest cheese makers ‘Mercer Cheese’. There are awards littering his walls, from years of success at the New Zealand Champions of Cheese.
Albert makes most of his cheeses between September and January, parking his tank at the neighbours' farm for the evening and picking it up the next morning. The milk for his cheese is not pasteurised but flash thermised, which is effective for killing unwanted bacteria but is less harsh than pasteurisation. The milk retains some of the desirable characteristics, which are highlighted in the cheese.
From February onwards, Albert makes only the creamy Walnut Gouda and the Bel Paese (italian-style aged cream cheese), as the milk changes over this period with the higher fat ratio making it better for these cheeses and not some of his others.
There is little else on the street in Mercer and no other way to buy the cheeses - no website, no mail order, no courier, no delivery, so I personally go to Mercer to hand select from his range and bring it back to Auckland.
Alfred, in one breath talks about nearing retirement, but, a couple more questions in, his love of cheese takes over and a ‘romantic’ discussion of having another cheese shop in a town that makes only ‘fresh’ cheeses takes over! I must have that knowing smile on my face by now… he isn't going to retire anytime soon!
Aged Gouda or Pecorino? It's a tough choice to for me - so I asked Albert his favourite; he starts with Pecorino, and then adds Aged Gouda, but then keeps going. Cumin Gouda, Maasdam, creamy Walnut Gouda…but I understand completely it must be like choosing a favourite child. So I didn't entirely pick either!
I have a recipe that works with both the Aged Gouda and the Pecorino (and probably a lot of really good quality aged cheeses)…
Crispy Cheese Recipe
So simple and can be served in almost any context - salad or soup, garnish or an interesting addition to a platter…(eating them just as they are is also pretty good!)
100g grated Aged Gouda (or Pecorino)
Cracked black pepper
On a sheet of greaseproof paper, make ‘little piles’ of the grated cheese and then sprinkle on the pepper.
Place under the grill until the melt and then turn golden and start to bubble a little.
Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Gently remove from the paper.
And that's it - simple, crispy cheese!
By Channel Editorial
Channel Magazine: Issuu 55 June 2015