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A brief history of innovation in New Zealand cheesemaking

Authors: Keith A. Johnston, Alister B. Barclay and Craig G. Honoré


The key innovation that was to define the commodity cheesemaking industry for decades, not only in New Zealand but also world-wide, occurred from 1960 onwards, when the essentially manual cheesemaking industry was mechanised and automated. Driven by the need to reduce cost, increase scale and reduce labour inputs and the need for greater product uniformity and consistency, the cheesemaking process underwent significant changes with respect to the equipment and processes used. Those changes maximised milk processing capacity and minimised labour input while maintaining, and in many cases enhancing, product quality. As a consequence of this revolutionary approach to cheesemaking, cheese plants in New Zealand became larger and fewer, and the companies that operated them amalgamated.

Although the past 40 years have not seen the same magnitude of change in technology that defined the mechanisation of the cheesemaking process in the decade preceding 1970, continued innovation has seen significant refinements in the way in which cheese is made by the mechanised process that have led to further reductions in cost, increased scale efficiencies, greater product uniformity and consistency and fewer labour units being required. Recent published literature and patent applications would suggest that the next innovative steps in the evolution of cheesemaking in the 21st Century will be the development of new ways of making cheese together with the continued refinement of the traditional processes that we have seen to date.

As an example, in February 2008, the New Zealand dairy industry commercialised an innovative mozzarella process that is an alternative approach to traditional mozzarella manufacture. Unique to New Zealand, this process produces a functionally acceptable
product in a shredded format directly off the line in less time than the traditional process.

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