In a year where the international Master Judge said the quality of New Zealand-made cheese has never been better, the top two awards have gone to small, independent cheesemakers.Countdown Champion of Champions Cheese – Commercial, was awarded to The Cheese Barn Organic Cumin Seed Gouda, and Puhoi Valley Champion of Champions Cheese – Artisan was awarded to Clevedon Buffalo Ricotta.Master Judge Russell Smith, from Australia, who judges cheeses at competitions around the world, said the quality of New Zealand cheese continues to improve. He says New Zealanders should be proud of the local cheese available from their supermarket or cheesemonger.Countdown Champion of Champions Cheese – Commercial, The Cheese Barn Organic Cumin Seed GoudaFor more than 20 years Kelvin and Cathy Haigh have owned and run The Cheese Barn in the Thames-Coromandel district. They make BioGro certified organic cheeses and yoghurts that are unhomogenised, gluten free, have no GMO, no artificial additives, no antibiotics or growth hormones and no chemical sprays. They have entered cheese in the NZ Champions of Cheese Awards since 1998 winning many medals. This is the first trophy-winning cheese, and so the first time they have also been awarded the commercial champion of the show.Master Judge Russell Smith said “this Cumin Seed Gouda was an absolutely superb cheese and that’s why it’s been named champion. The flavour profile exhibited all the best characteristics of this traditional style.  The piquancy of the cumin blending beautifully with the slightly sweet yet savoury notes of the cheese.”To be eligible for the Champion of Champions Commercial cheesemakers must produce over 25 tonnes per annum.Puhoi Valley Champion of Champions Cheese – Artisan, Clevedon Buffalo Ricotta.Owned and operated by Richard and Helen Dorresteyn, Clevedon Buffalo Co. is in Clevedon, a rural town, south of Auckland city. The first people to commercially farm buffalo in New Zealand, they own 150 head of Riverine water buffalo and use their milk, which contains more protein and calcium and roughly half the cholesterol of cow’s milk, to make a delicious range of mozzarella, bocconcini, yoghurt, marinated cheese and ricotta.Russell Smith said “What an amazing feat for a fresh style of cheese to win Champion. This indicates just how good this ricotta really is. Sweet with just a hint of savoury all balanced by a superb texture from the buffalo milk. Ricotta just doesn't get any better than this.”Clevedon Buffalo were awarded four trophies including the Puhoi Valley Champion of Champions Cheese – Artisan, to qualify for the Champion of Champions Artisan cheesemakers must produce less than 25 tonnes annually.Three Trophies for Meyer CheeseWaikato’s Meyer Cheese were also significant winners, collecting three trophies: Milk Test NZ Champion Cheesemaker Award for Geert Meyer, Eurofins NZ Champion European Style Cheese Award for Meyer Maasdam and Martinborough Vineyard Champion Flavoured Cheese Award for their Meyer Cracked Pepper.Curds & Whey Champion Home Crafted Cheese & CheesemakerAir New Zealand Dreamliner pilot and keen home cheesemaker Tony Hamblyn, was named Curds & Whey Champion Home Crafted Cheese & Cheesemaker for his Karaka Brick Gold cheese. Brick style cheese is a take on English cheddar, originally made in Wisconsin, US, its name comes from its brick-shaped form. Tony lives on a lifestyle block near Waiuku and has four cows. He was mentored by New Zealand Specialist Cheesemaker’s Association member, Lyn Haycock from the Glenbrook Cheese Company and learned a few tips from her.This was the 15th NZ Champions of Cheese Awards, run by the New Zealand Specialist Cheesemakers Association. More than 2000 kg of cheeses were assessed by 28 judges supported by 30 stewards on Saturday 24 February at the AUT School of Hospitality and Tourism. They awarded; 23 trophies, 41 gold medals, 66 silver medals and 53 bronze medals to New Zealand cheesemakers. The NZ Champion of Cheese trophy winners were announced at Fale Pasifika in Auckland at a gala awards event on Thursday 15 March.THE COMPLETE LIST OF NZ CHAMPIONS OF CHEESE AWARDS TROPHY WINNERS 2018 IS:Countdown Champion of Champions Cheese Award – CommercialThe Cheese Barn Organic Cumin Seed Gouda – The Cheese BarnPuhoi Valley Champion of Champions Cheese Award – ArtisanClevedon Buffalo Ricotta – Clevedon Buffalo CoMilk Test NZ Champion Cheesemaker AwardGeert Meyer – Meyer CheeseGreen Valley Dairies Champion Fresh Un-Ripened Cheese AwardClevedon Buffalo Ricotta – Clevedon Buffalo CoKiwi Labels Champion Feta Cheese AwardZany Zeus Creamy Feta – Zany ZeusCHR Hansen Champion Soft White Rind Cheese AwardThorvald Sheep Milk Camembert - Thorvald180 degrees Champion Goat Cheese AwardTalbot Forest Goat Parmesan - Talbot Forrest CheeseSheep Milk NZ Champion Sheep Cheese AwardThorvald Sheep Milk Curado- ThorvaldThermaflo Champion Washed Rind Cheese AwardPuhoi Valley Cellar Range Washed Rind – Puhoi Valley CheeseEcolab Champion Blue Cheese AwardPuhoi Valley Matured Kawau Blue – Puhoi Valley CheeseEurofins NZ Champion European Style Cheese Award Meyer Maasdam - Meyer CheeseAsureQuality Champion Dutch Style Cheese AwardBarrys Bay Aged Cumin Gouda – Barrys Bay Traditional CheeseMinistry for Primary Industries Champion New Cheese AwardClevedon Buffalo Cherry Mozzarella – Clevedon Buffalo CoFonterra Co-operative Group Champion Original Cheese Award Over the Moon Southern Cross by Neil Willman - Over the Moon DairyTetra Pak Champion Cheddar Cheese Award Fonterra Lichfield NZMP Strong Cheddar - Fonterra Co-operative GroupEmerson’s Farmhouse Cheese AwardThorvald Sheep Milk Camembert - ThorvaldMartinborough Vineyard Champion Flavoured Cheese AwardMeyer Cracked Pepper – Meyer CheeseRenco New Zealand Champion Export Cheese AwardKapiti Kikorangi – Fonterra Brands NZAUT School of Hospitality and Tourism Aspiring CheesemakerThomas Fredrickson – Mercer CheeseNew World Cheese Lovers’ Choice AwardKapiti Kahurangi Creamy Blue – Fonterra Brands NZCheese Lovers’ Choice Favourite NZ Cheese Company Award in association with New WorldWhitestone Cheese CoCas-Pak Products Ltd Champion Cheese Packaging AwardClevedon Marinated Buffalo Cheese – Clevedon Buffalo CoCurds & Whey Champion Home Crafted Cheese & CheesemakerTony Hamblyn, Karaka Brick Gold