Chris and Jill Whalley started Mount Eliza Cheese in 2007 when they built a small dairy factory on the lifestyle block they had just acquired near Katikati.
They had decided to relocate from Chris’s home in the UK to Jill’s home in the Bay of Plenty, but had no idea how they would support themselves until they happened to visit a Welsh cheesemaker before they left. That started a passion, and Chris, an industrial chemist, trained with specialist cheesemakers in Wensleydale before departing.
Right from the start they have specialised in British farmhouse style cheeses, particularly Cheshire, Cheddar, Red Leicester, Double Gloucester, and a Stilton-style blue. When the government relaxed the regulations on raw cheeses, they seized the chance and were allowed to start making unpasteurised cheese from 2015, although they still make a pasteurised blue.
Jill, previously an occupational therapist, has schooled herself in the details of raw milk cheese regulations, which she reckons are more stringent than even imported raw milk cheeses. They pick up their milk at dawn twice each week from local farmer, Carl Williams’ herd of Jerseys and Friesians, and the raw milk regulations place extra compliance demands on him too.
The milk is in the vat about half an hour later and Jill and Chris are both involved in the manufacturing, stacking, repeated turning and all the other hands-on tasks required. They do get a short break over winter when the cows dry off, but there are always lots of other tasks to keep them busy. Chris loves the opportunity to blend his training in industrial chemistry and in cheesemaking to deploy the best of modern technology and traditional techniques to produce fine artisan cheeses.