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In demand . . . Moa Cakery, Bakery owner Jane Thompson with her award-winning blue cashew vegan cheese, which is one of her cheeses which will be served at outgoing Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy's farewell dinner. PHOTO: ASHLEY SMYTH

For the first time in New Zealand, vegan cheesemakers have been judged on a national scale, and Oamaru’s Jane Thompson is a winner.

The force behind allergy-friendly business Moa Cakery, Bakery, Ms Thompson won the best surface-ripened category for her blue cashew cheese.

“I was quite shocked, because I’m a little one-person band, and I was up against some quite big companies and some really experienced cheesemakers,” she said.

“I know it was really delicious, but that doesn’t always count for everything.”

The awards were held last Monday at Herne Bay plant-based restaurant The Butcher’s Son, with vegan comedian Tom Sainsbury among the judges.

There were nine categories overall and 30 cheeses were entered.

Judges described Ms Thompson’s blue cashew as “fragrant”, “well-ripened”, with “great mould”, and “authentic”.

“Lovers of blue cheese will enjoy,” they said.

Up until now, the cheese had not been readily available in her store, as Ms Thompson was sending it to a vegan deli in Auckland, but she would have some in stock at her Arun St cafe next week.

Cashews were a great dairy substitute when making cheese, she said.

“They don’t have much flavour, and when you soak them, they go really soft. So it’s really super creamy. You don’t get any kind of grittiness or anything – you can blend them up really nicely.”

Other than the fact it used cashew cream rather than milk, the actual cheese-making process was very similar for the blue, and took about five weeks. Once the cream was made, probiotics and blue mould spores were added.

“Then you culture it, and rub salt around it, to stop the wrong moulds growing. Then you turn it over pretty much every day for about five weeks, and then it’s ready.”

She found the recipe online and “tweaked it a bit”, and the vegan mould had to come from Australia.

Moa Cakery, Bakery began at the Oamaru Farmers’ Market when Ms Thompson moved south from Auckland six years ago.

“I was already vegan and there was nothing available at any of the cafes, so I decided that I would start up this business at the farmers’ market, so that there were some options for people.”

She initially hoped local cafes might stock her food, but when that did not pan out, she decided to open her own cafe as well. She also catered for small events, and had an online store.

“People order off my website, so I send stuff around the country, and I’ve got a few shops I supply around the country as well, from Auckland down to Invercargill.”

Ms Thompson made the move to Oamaru because she thought it would offer a less hectic lifestyle, after she suffered burn-out working in IT in Auckland.

She now has myalgic encephalomyelitis, more commonly known as ME or chronic fatigue syndrome, but managed to work her business around it.

“I was already vegan at that time, and eating healthily, and I think if I hadn’t been I would’ve been way worse.”

She was glad she had made the move, although the sea temperature left a bit to be desired.

“I used to swim a lot in the sea in Auckland, and yeah, it’s not conducive [in Oamaru] to going for a couple of kilometres’ swim.”