For A Bolder Macaroni, Look For New Zealand Cheddar Cheese

New Zealand is big on cheese, with dozens of popular varieties available. These range from hard to soft cheeses, double-cream brie, semi-soft ripened, and washed rind cheeses, all uniquely defined by the environment and longtime fromagerie practices. New Zealand cheddar cheese arguably leads the pack and is prominently available in overseas markets such as America. The fascination with New Zealand cheddar increases for mac and cheese devotees who crave bold cheesy flavor with a creamy, meltable texture. 

New Zealand dairy products in general get a lot of kudos for sustainable practices such as pasture-fed cows grazing on naturally nutritious green grass rather than on grains. The overall environment contributes to the quality as well, including relatively clean air and a temperate climate for year-round outdoor pasture feeding. Fresh milk from local dairy farmers supplies cheesemakers with pure milk full of beta carotene from the grass, which gives the cheese its characteristic pale-yellow hue. 

A primary factor giving New Zealand cheddar a bold flavor profile is the aging process, which generally falls between six to 12 months. This results in a sharp, robust cheese that's still soft, buttery, and creamy enough for a hearty macaroni dish. Some cheddars from the region age as long as two years, but those are generally much sharper and more crumbly, making them less suitable for macaroni dishes and more ideal for cheese and wine pairings.

Why New Zealand cheddar?

With so much cheese coming from a relatively small country – by some estimates 300 distinct cheese types from 40 mostly small producers — it begs the question of how New Zealand cheese tastes compared to other nations. However, you can put this issue to rest as New Zealand cheeses have won countless awards in decades of production. Its cheddars, the punchy semi-hard cheeses that rock a bowl of macaroni, are known to come out on top. 

At the annual International Cheese and Dairy Awards (ICDA), New Zealand cheeses routinely rate among the best. In 2023, more than 30 cheeses from New Zealand Milk Products (NZMP) were accepted into the competition, winning 13 medals, including 10 for cheddars. The prize that year for best New Zealand cheese also went to a humble vintage cheddar. 

If you think New Zealanders are above the lowly cheddar-based macaroni and cheese dishes loved by Americans, nothing could be further from the truth. Comfort food is the same wherever you live, and New Zealand variations on the dish range from lobster infusions to ones mixed with chipotle, pancetta, jerk chicken, ginger beer, mustard, truffles, or oysters.