Off the Top of My Head
By Paul Murray
After 52 years of “running around after other people,” Dianne Anderson said, “Right… It’s my turn now; I want a cheese room,” and, just like that, she started a new career at 69 by becoming a cheesemaker.
Dianne has been a supportive wife of husband Russell and mother of three on their family dairy farm between the townships of Karamea and Little Wanganui at the top of the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Born in Leeston on the Canterbury plains, her family moved to Waimangaroa when she was 12 years old. She attended high school in Westport and was a community nurse when she met a dashing young farmer named Russell Anderson at a cabaret and has been a Karamea girl ever since.
She discovered a passion for cheesemaking when asked to make some cheese for a community fundraising effort for Karamea swimming pool renovations. She’d never made cheese before but found herself on a knowledge quest into the art and science of cheese and embarked on a mission to thoroughly understand the craft.
Through her research, Dianne discovered Waihi-based cheesemaker Jean Mansfield and purchased her book “How to Make Cheese: Learn the Secrets to Successful Cheesemaking.” She also went to Waihi and took a cheesemaking class with Mansfield.
On the way back from Waihi, she called in to meet artisan raw-milk cheesemaker Biddy Fraser-Davis in Eketahuna after seeing her on TVNZ’s “Country Calendar” programme.
Fraser-Davis’ appearance on the show drew the attention of the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI), which took exception to her amateur home cheesemaking business. MPI demanded compliance with their laborious and costly food security, hygiene and safety regulations. Fraser-Davis fought back hard, took on the bureaucracy and forced the government to rethink its policies. This led to a simplified and cheaper set of rules for small cheesemaking operations that enables people like Dianne to operate a legally compliant home business that meets all food safety and hygiene regulations without costing the Earth.
Fraser-Davis advised Dianne to purchase a book by Gianaclis Caldwell titled “Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking: The Ultimate Guide for Home-Scale and Market Producers.” Dianne said, “I bought the book, read it up, and, if I’d known there was so much science in cheesemaking, I would never have started making cheese…I was lucky I’d already started before I read that book!”
Dianne’s culinary skills are legendary in the Karamea region. She is a self-taught kitchen master, having spent over five decades feeding family, farm workers, and friends, catering for community events and fundraisers and spending 15 years running an international farm-stay business on the family farm. Visitors worldwide have enjoyed the Anderson family’s hospitality on their Karamea property and Dianne’s delectable cuisine, mostly made from her home garden and produce from the farm.
Dianne recently won two awards in the 2022 New Zealand “CHAMPIONS OF CHEESE AWARDS,” which the New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association runs to promote and develop the New Zealand cheese industry.
GOLD: Curds & Whey Amateur Cheesemaker & Cheese Dianne Anderson, Pine Ash Bloomy Rind
BRONZE: Curds & Whey Amateur Cheesemaker & Cheese Dianne Anderson, Haloumi
The Anderson Family farm is wedged between the roaring Tasman Sea and the forested mountain peaks of the Kahurangi National Park. Their 520 Friesian/Jersey cross cows are all exclusively grass-fed on lush West Coast pasture and do not receive any nutritional supplements or additives to their feed. They thrive on the healthy, verdant fields, fresh rainwater and warm West Coast sunshine.
She is also experimenting with the unique natural botanical flavours of the native bush in the Karamea region. She has also teamed up with a local berry grower and created a hard cheese soaked in blueberry and aronia berries juice and skins that creates a beautiful deep burgundy coating and subtle berry flavour to the finished product. Dianne also has a unique hard cheese made with a New Zealand native pepper coming out soon that her enthusiastic local cheese tasting team have called; “Incredible,” “Amazing,” “Fantastic,” “Unbelievable,” and “Tremendous.” Halloumi, Feta, Camembert, Gouda, Havarti and Cheddar are also in her repertoire.
Interest in cheesemaking has spread throughout the Karamea community, and Dianne’s superb results have inspired many others to give it a try. The Karamea Cheese Competition evolved from the surge in local cheesemaking, and it is a hotly contested event that attracts up to 80 entries from budding caseiculturists. If you win the competition, you are, apparently, permitted to wear your underpants on the outside for the whole year! No one has ever done that, but the cheese competition has significantly increased local interest in cheese, and cheesy conversations are common in the bars, cafes and restaurants around town.
Now that she is a consummate cheesemaker and bonafide cheese champion, Dianne’s next challenge is negotiating the minefield of compliance regulations for establishing a food-processing business. This is particularly treacherous for cheese production, given the need for absolute hygiene and regular testing for pathogens, unwanted bacteria, and other contaminants. The regulations and associated expenses have put the cheese room’s estimated cost at upwards of $70,000.
Husband Russell, understandably, had some concerns about this, but Dianne was quick to point to his new digger and other farm equipment in support of her argument in favour of the expenditure. Dianne won her day in the Anderson Family Court, and an allocation for her cheese room was added to the farm budget.
Dianne is studying business via a Development West Coast sponsored Co.Starters course on Wednesday nights in Karamea to prepare her cheese operation for market success. The course is helping her focus and hone her business idea to ensure she has a complete grasp of the cheese business’s compliance, legal, accounting, and marketing aspects before launching the venture.
Dianne plans to work four days a week when she is in full production, with another day dedicated to sterilising the cheese room. She has a pasteuriser that will enable her to process 100 litres of raw milk per batch, resulting in approximately 10 kilograms of cheese per day. So, each week, Dianne hopes to turn 400 litres of milk from their farm into 40 kgs of artisan cheese. She initially plans to offer the cheese to the local market by stocking the local produce shop and attending the Saturday Market with her range. Her cheese will also, undoubtedly, be popular with visitors to the Karamea region, who are always keen to try local artisan food products.
So, after over half a century of hands-on kitchen experience, considerable expense and study, Dianne Anderson is ready to present her lovingly crafted cheese range to the world from her home base in Karamea, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand. Cheese aficionados, start your engines!