An Oamaru cheese company has been represented at an international competition.
Whitestone Cheese national sales and trade marketing manager Franco Sessa was selected to judge the 2022 World Championship Cheese Contest in Wisconsin.
Mr Sessa, who is based in Auckland, has been a judge at the New Zealand cheese competition for the past 15 years and in recent years started judging at international level, including at the World Cheese Awards in Italy in 2019.
Last month, he was one of 60 to judge cheese from around the world.
Judges were split into pairs and since it was Mr Sessa’s first time at the awards, he was paired with a ‘‘cheese master’’, Terry Lensmire, of Wisconsin.
At international competitions, all cheeses are considered winners, so start with 100 points, Mr Sessa said.
Judges methodically go through each cheese in their categories and deduct a point for every defect they find. Cheeses are marked on five main characteristics — appearance, body, smell, flavour and how it fits into its category. Judges give each cheese a score and make notes.
‘‘It’s a job that has to be done in peace and quiet, and there is no discussion between the pair of judges,’’ Mr Sessa said.
It was important judges did not influence each other and their scores.
However, if their scores were more than three points apart, they were encouraged to try it again.
Usually before a competition, judges have a ‘‘calibration session’’ during which they judge a cheese and discuss it to make sure they were ‘‘on the same page’’.
‘‘Sometimes half a point makes the difference between a gold and silver medal.’’
In two days, Mr Sessa and Mr Lensmire judged about 160 cheeses and the biggest difference in their scoring was 1.5 points.
That proved they were the right people for their categories.
‘‘That was quite outstanding.’’
For Mr Sessa, it also meant his judging skills were recognised alongside one of the best.
‘‘It was a benchmark for me to measure my ability.’’
Afterwards, the judges’ notes were given to the cheese-makers so they could make improvements.
There were 2919 entries in 141 classes by cheesemakers from 28 countries.
Mr Sessa had been invited to judge other international competitions recently, but was unable to attend due to restrictions when coming back to New Zealand.
When the Government announced the self-isolation rules for returning New Zealand citizens in February, Mr Sessa was able to confirm his attendance, albeit at the last minute.
Covid-19 restrictions were more relaxed in Wisconsin than New Zealand and, luckily, he did not catch the virus, he said.
‘‘It all worked out very well.’’