As you might expect in a region famous for its dairy farming, local cheese makers have established themselves as leaders in New Zealand, winning multiple awards. But the fertile soil and benign climate also means there other artisan producers are also popping up, helped by the proliferation of farmers’ and other gourmet food stores in the area. Top this off with the award-winning wine makers who have also made the region their home and the thriving café/restaurants scene and you’ve got a foodies’ heaven.
The Hamilton and Waikato region has come to dominate the national cheese awards. The well established Mercer Cheese in the north of the region has been a consistent award winner and in 2009 it was joined at the top of the tree by a newcomer, Over The Moon Dairy Company from Putaruru - between them they took out two supreme awards; and the reputation of the regions artisan producers is steadily growing – including others like Pukeatua Peak near Maungatautari and Aroha Organic Goat Cheese near Te Aroha - all of which consistently appear on the awards list.
Wine lovers can sample the offerings from wineries including Vilagrad in Ohaupo just south of Hamilton (established in 1922 and still family run) and Mystery Creek Wines near the airport. Boutique, organic Lane’s End Wines, based just outside Hamilton also sells its product through the weekly farmers markets. Grape varieties grown in the region include chardonnay, merlot and gewurztraminer.
Locals breweries are also popular with the likes of the award winning Good George brewery, which offers a variety of beers, ciders and ales all brewed onsite and guided tours by arrangement, and the newly opened King Country brewing in Waitomo.
With its excellent growing climate, the Waikato also has a number of orchards, berry growers and market gardens so the best of fresh produce is never far away including, in season, prized asparagus and blueberries. Then there is free range pork, bacon and eggs along with jams and chutneys made by the likes of Wild Country Foods and Savour The Taste. The newest addition to the list is Zealong Tea just outside Hamilton, which is grows premium oolong tea and is the first plantation of its kind outside of Asia.
Farmers’ markets are held every weekend in Hamilton and Cambridge along with a host of other popular markets varying from weekly to monthly and selling foodstuffs as well as crafts, including at Tamahere, Raglan, Pirongia and Tirau. Between them, they showcase a range of locally produced foods including breads, honeys, cheeses and meats. Everywhere you go, you are likely to find roadside stalls offering the freshest produce at bargain basement prices, or you can pick your own.
Becoming known as one of the nation’s best spots for café culture and nightlife, local eateries, restaurants and gourmet food stores act as proud advocates for regional products and produce which can regularly be found gracing their menus and shelves.