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Cheese tourists could be attracted by South Island factory tours, academic says

November 9, 2015 –

Opening farms and factories to cheese-lovers could attract tourists on to South Island food trails.

Canterbury and South Island cheese merchants could benefit from cheese’s “pulling power”, doctoral candidate Francesc Fuste Forne says.

Forne, from University of Girona in Spain, has ended six months at Lincoln University where he has compared New Zealand’s cheese tourism to rural Catalonia.

Tourists might visit New Zealand for up to 20 days but not visit dairy farms or factories to see the link between milk and cheese-making, he said.

People wanted a sense of local culture and cheese was “part of the identity of South Island landscapes”, he said.

Tastings, cheese-making displays and cheesemonger stories could give extra value to cheese production and reinforce the “100-per-cent Canterbury made” brand, Forne said.

Lincoln University doctoral exchange student Francesc Fuste Forne sees cheese as a way to promote “100-per-cent Canterbury” food production.

Farmers markets were selling most of Canterbury’s craft cheese, as well as butter, yoghurt or milk itself. Cheese attracted tourists in the North Island at spots like Puhoi Valley Cafe and Cheese Store in Auckland.

The South Island had some of the best outlets, such as Barrys Bay Cheese on Banks Peninsula and Gibbston Valley Cheese in Queenstown, he said.

Canterbury food producers had much to offer. Food tourism was mainly wine-based but there was growing interest in unfamiliar products and novel cooking methods, such as hangi.

Cheese was being sold alongside hazelnuts, wine and berries.

Barrys Bay Cheese owner Mike Carey said it seemed ever since the “food miles” carbon footprint debate, people were more interested in how food was made and where it originated.

His customers ranged from simply curious to “enormously knowledgeable”. The shop was open year-round and it noticeable how people associated it with previous trips to the peninsula.

The company originated in the late 1900s and the existing factory was built in 1852.  Carey had run it for 10 years and felt like a “guardian” of cheesemaking in the area.

Some of his trade was from Akaroa cruise ships, although he had to tell some customers the shop was too far for a walk.

Forne said farmers markets had a key role in reaching market niches, exploring new tastes and selling to locals and visitors. Projects such as the Canterbury food and wine trails had been adding to this entrepreneurship, he said.

Traditional rural businesses needed to be productive enough to compete in markets that had increasing amounts of “authentic local produce”.

Catalonia did not market its cheese particularly well. Farm retailers usually needed a government ‘region of origin’ certificate to do well, he said.

TIM FULTON

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